Publisher’s guide to contributors and their rights
Magazine and newspaper publishers are always on the lookout for high quality, relevant content, and writers are always keen to get their work out in front of an audience. Both sides are often happy to do this on an informal basis (sometimes for free), particularly when starting out. But even when the relationship is an ad hoc one, it can really help to establish some ground rules – for the benefit of both parties.
Lis Ribbans, former managing editor of the Guardian, and consultant to NLA media access, gives the following advice:
It is important to understand who owns the copyright for a piece of writing, and what rights they may want to give to another party to copy or distribute it.
In cases where publishers do not acquire copyright, they should ensure they have written agreements with contributors that cover rights granted over the work – for example, concerning where the piece may be published and licensed, and the levels of exclusivity around usage.
This situation was more simple when content only appeared in hard copy. Now many newspapers and magazines reproduce their content on a website and in other digital formats. Others publish solely online. Content can be accessed around the world on multiple devices, and many publishers also syndicate their material to other titles. It’s hard to totally future-proof contracts, but it’s worth considering the ways in which your content may be used.
The Independent, for example, in its standard terms for contributors, refers to:
“the right to syndicate, distribute, license, republish or retransmit the Material in all present and future media and formats, including print, electronic, online, telephony, mobile and tablet apps and all others”.
Typically a freelancer would be paid a fixed fee for an article that includes an agreed transfer or grant of certain publishing/distribution rights to the publisher. Where an article has been written for free, it is still important to publish on agreed terms to avoid complication over rights of use and revenue around the piece – now or in the future.
Secondary licensing (a service that NLA media access provides) involves granting permission to companies and other organisations to make copies of a title’s content, eg for press clipping packs. Royalties from this licensing — which are distributed to newspaper publishers by the NLA and to magazines via the Publishers’ Licensing Services — can represent a valuable additional revenue stream for publishers.
However, publishers may have to share a percentage of that revenue with contributors if they do not have appropriate contracts in place to cover work that is copied.
Comprehensive freelance terms and conditions are published online by both the Independent and the Guardian newspapers (click links for direct access). They include clearance for various defined rights over content produced by external contributors, including the explicit right for such work to be included in NLA licences.