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Freelance Writer’s Rights

Most writers have a certain ownership of their words.

Of course we do! As professionals, we also expect others to pay us for our words.

When publishers or editors purchase an article or story, they often request or require certain rights to that work.

In other words, the author may not maintain complete ownership of his or her darlings.

How do you know which rights you are willing to give up and which you will cling to until your ship sails out into the great big sea? You’ve got to read the fine print.

Here, in a nutshell, are the common rights often requested by editors and publishers.

Have a contract that isn’t perfect? Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

All rights or sole rights

When you sign away all rights, you sign away all rights. You maintain authorship and a byline to the piece, but you cannot publish the piece anywhere else – forever until the end of time.

As you might guess, many writers hesitate to sign away all rights, but there may be instances (perhaps if the payment is exponentially large) where you might consider giving up all rights.

First rights

Here, you are giving a publication the opportunity to be the first to publish your work. You maintain a byline to that work. Typically, you give up rights for a specified amount of time – say three months. After that, all rights revert back to you and you are free to resell and republish the piece.

Giving up first rights is very common. Many publications want to be the first to publish an article, they aren’t as happy with reprints. Writers don’t mind giving up first rights because after the specified amount of time, all rights return to them.

Resale or reprint

With resale, you are selling an article a second (or third or fourth) time after its initial printing. The publication knows it is purchasing a reprint, so typically the paycheck will be smaller as compared to a first rights article. You maintain a byline and all other rights to the work.

Syndication or self-syndication

Syndication is resale on steroids. Here, you sell one article (or often a series of articles) to multiple sources at the same time. In theory, you collect a bunch of small paychecks versus one larger paycheck for a first rights article. You maintain authorship, a byline, and other future rights to the work.


The main difference between ghostwriting and other freelance work is authorship and a byline. With ghostwriting, you give up the byline. In exchange, you typically garner a larger paycheck. Ghostwriting often pays well.

Because you are giving up the byline, you are also giving up the option to resell the piece in other markets.

Private Label Rights (PLR)

With PLR, you are selling your words and giving the purchasing entity all rights to them. This means they can be revised, edited, cut, added to other material and changed in any way. You don’t maintain your byline. You don’t have control over where your piece is published.

It goes without saying that a writer wants to have good reason to enter into a PLR situation. If you do, make sure it will benefit you.

Other contract considerations

Every contract is different (or so it seems). Some contracts will give the publishing entity right to change or edit a piece. Other contracts allow the author to maintain those rights. Sometimes a contract allows the purchaser to publish the article in print and online. Sometimes, in large companies, the contract stipulates that the work can be printed in any of the company’s publications.

None of these contractual requests is innately “bad” or “good.” It all depends on your situation and what you want your specific article or story to do for you. If you are confronted with a contract that seems less than perfect, don’t be afraid to ask questions of the editor or publisher. Often, contracts can be revised so all parties are satisfied.

Freelance writers make a living from their words (or they try to). The rights you give up to your work can differ greatly from one publication (and contract) to another.

Bottom line? Read the fine print before signing on the bottom line. If you sign away specific rights, do so because the benefits to your writing career outweigh the costs of giving up those rights.