When you submit a bylined article to a media outlet, it is customary for an editor to ask you to sign an author agreement. It is important to understand the terms before you sign the agreement. Keep in mind that the goal of the editor is to protect the publication’s ability to provide original content. The publication is not trying to steal your copyright. A written agreement allows both parties to understand how the content will be used, which is helpful.
What is an author agreement?
An author agreement outlines the terms and rights of the publication and the author regarding who owns the copyright of an article and how the content can be used in the future.
Below are three things you need to know before you sign an author agreement.
1) You might be transferring copyright of the article to the publication.
Many author agreements transfer the copyright of the article to the publication. That means you do not own the copyright to the article you wrote, even though you are the author. If maintaining ownership of the copyright of the article is important to you, make sure the author agreement allows you to retain the copyright. An alternative is to offer an exclusive license to publish an article rather than transferring copyright. In this arrangement, you as the author retain copyright, but you grant a publication the exclusive rights to publish and disseminate the article.
2) You might have to pay reprint fees to post your own article on your website.
Author beware, just because you write an article that is published by a media outlet, it doesn’t mean you can always publish the article on your website. While some publications invite you to repost the article, there are publications that require you to pay reprint fees or receive written permission to post the article even though you wrote it. Read the author agreement carefully to determine what rights you have as an author to publish the article on your own platforms. Some publications invite authors to post the content, while other publications are strict about the content appearing on another website, even if it is the author’s own website.
3) You may not be able to publish the article in other publications.
Many author agreements require exclusive content, but the terms vary. Some agreements do not allow an article to be published anywhere else without written permission. Other agreements grant first publication rights, which means a media outlet is granted the right to publish the article before any other publication, but then the article can run in other publications in the future. If you want to be able to use the content in the future, consider a non-exclusive license that allows you to retain the rights to reuse your own work in whatever ways you want.
For the best relationships with editors and to protect your work, read author agreements carefully. Most editors prefer to use a standard agreement with all authors and they often do not want (or do not have the authority) to alter author agreements. So it is best to consult your attorney with any questions before signing an agreement.
Please note that this content is provided for educational purposes and should not be considered legal advice. Please consult your attorney for questions regarding copyright and author agreements.