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Know Your Rights
by Beth Ann Erickson
We traveled all the way to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to see him. As we stood outside the 2,000-seat Riverside Theater, my heart pounded, knowing I would soon hear him sing; hear him strum his guitar; hear this man whose lyrics absolutely makes my knees weak. As my husband and I filed into the theater, I grasped my purse in anticipation of hearing him sing my favorite song. (By the way, my beautiful Liz Claiborne clutch bag still has the fingernail marks to prove my story correct.) After he came on stage, he began to sing. I waited and waited to hear my favorites. Finally, another audience member called out the name of one of the songs. My favorite singer in the world paused and said the words I'll never forget. He said, "I can't sing that. I don't own it." How could he not own it? He wrote it. He recorded it. I listen to on a regular basis. How could he not be able to sing it today? Easy. He signed all his rights away. There are a lot of rights in the publishing community. Here are some nutshell definitions of some of them: First serial rights - You've given the publication (or web site) the rights to be the first to publish your article. One time rights - The publication may run your article once, whether they're the first to publish it or if you're selling a reprint. Second serial rights - You've given the publication the right to be the second publication to publish your article. Electronic rights - The right to publish your writing electronically. All Rights - This is the bad one. You sell all the rights and walk away from the piece forever. Unless you buy the rights back. I'm sure that when this particular singer signed his contracts, he had a capable agent helping him. That goes to show that no matter what your agent may say, it's important (read VERY important) that you personally read every contract you sign. If you don't understand something, take it to someone who does. And it wouldn't hurt to purchase a good writing reference book that explains the various rights in more detail. There's nothing worse than hearing about an author who sells their work outright for a pittance, then is responsible for the bulk of the promotion for a book they don't even own. In other words, if you sell all your rights, make sure you get a BIG advance. Today, my favorite singer has re-purchased his songs (for a lot more than he sold them for) and is able to sing them again. I hope you don't find yourself in his situation....