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Freelance Writing Rights Part 2

Yesterday, we explained several kinds of legal rights authors might encounter in their writing careers. Today we continue that discussion with more possible scenarios.


Rights you give up:

• Syndication means selling one article (or a series of articles) to multiple sources at the same time. Typically publications will not want you to sell the same piece to a competing market.
• Because you are selling to multiple markets, the price garnered per publication is less than with first or sole rights.

Rights you keep:

• Authorship (byline)
• Rights to resell or reprint in another format.
• Right to limit or prohibit editing or revising of your piece.

Why a writer would choose syndication:

For many writers, getting paid multiple times for the same article is an appealing concept. Having an article printed in numerous publications means a greater number of readers. Increased readership is another appealing concept. Finally, syndicated writers often have their articles printed regularly in the same publications. This eliminates time spent querying or looking for other writing jobs.


Rights you give up:

• Public authorship – when you ghostwrite a piece, the byline goes to someone else.
• Resale rights – because, for all practical purposes, someone else wrote the piece.

Rights you keep:

• Typically ghostwriters oversee the editing and revision process, so you can be assured of the quality of the finished product.
• Private authorship. Usually, a person hiring a ghostwriter will allow the ghostwriter to use the piece as an example to other potential ghostwriting clients.
• The byline for your piece is typically restricted to one person – the client hiring you.

Why writers choose this option:

Ghostwriting often pays well. The assignments can be extensive and a writer is well compensated for his or her time. The writing maintains its integrity and the ghostwriter knows how and where it will be published.

Private Label Rights (PLR)

Rights you give up:

• Rights to authorship and a byline.
• Rights to oversee editing or any changes made to the piece.
• Rights to keep the piece intact as written. With PLR, content can be split, combined with other content, and changed in any number of ways to meet the needs of the person buying the piece.
• Right to determine whom the piece is sold to, where it is published and what format it is published in.
• Right to resell or reuse the piece.
• Right to limit authorship. PLR pieces can be resold to an unlimited number of sources. Each can claim a byline.

Rights you keep:

• None. When you sell a piece PLR, you give up all rights.

Why writers choose this option:

Some writers may not realize what they are doing when they sign on with a PLR company. The company may not use the term PLR. Some writing distributors promise to “optimize” your distribution if you sign away certain (usually all) rights. PLR often promises a paycheck, but usually not a very big one. Businesses purchasing PLR rights from writers may make the practice sound too good to be true. Remember, things that sound too good to be true sometimes are.

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.

Jill Pertler is a self-syndicated columnist and author of The Do-It-Yourselfer’s Guide to Self-Syndication, which gives a practical, hands-on, step-by-step approach to self-syndication. You can get it online (paperback and e-book) at and through or Barnes &

Jill’s Slices of Life columns have been touching peoples’ hearts and tickling their funny bones since 2002. They are currently published in over 75 newspapers in the upper Midwest. You can read them here.

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  1. I'm curious as to how these rights apply to blogs, etc. When we do a guest piece does the piece still belong to us?

    Things sure are different in terms of electronic publishing from what they are in paper.

  2. I can't believe how ignorant I was about rights when I signed a book contract. Now that I have a blog, and am thinking about writing articles, I see that I need to do a lot more homework. Thanks for this excellent series, Jill.

  3. Maryann, I'm pretty sure you can't lose your whole copyright without actually assigning it in writing to another party. So the right(s) you're giving up are first rights and/or first electronic rights, and/or exclusive rights, i.e., no one else will ever be able to buy the right to publish that article without it appearing anywhere else.

    Blood-Red Pencil

  4. I'm not sure if I could do ghostwriting, since I do like to take credit for what I write, even if it is under my pen name. Of course, maybe with the right amount of money, I'd change my mind.

    Morgan Mandel

  5. Thanks for the answer, Elle. Makes sense. It is just like when I started as a journalist and most newspapers and magazines were buying first rights, and the rights reverted back to me within a few months of publication.


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