When you write, hold on tight to your copyrights

I learned a valuable lesson yesterday.

Always, always, always ask for a copy of the copyright agreement before you write for somebody’s blog. It’s better to say ‘no’ upfront than it is to operate under misunderstandings.

I also learned that if I ever run my own blog network, I will be sure to stay on top of distributing copyright agreement documents to everyone. Probably by posting it on one of the pages of the network in the interests of transparency, but at the very least by having a Google Docs or Dropbox with organized documents, which each blogger will have access to.

Such agreements should also include sections on the use of photos, video, and other documents.

It’s not that everything I write is spun gold and silver, studded with diamonds. To be honest, some of my stuff is crappy. But it is still my writings, and I prefer to hold onto my rights. My awareness of copyright issues, as pitiful as it may be compared to that of a lawyer, is a consequence of having taken a copyright class in grad school.

If you forget to give a blogger the copyright document upfront, but give it to them later, then all the posts prior to that document are not subject to that document, unless both blogger and the distributor agrees to make it retroactive. Which, in this case, I did not. I was proud of some of my writings, and wanted to retain those rights for current and future uses, although I was fine with this other blog network being another distributor of my work. Like posting them in full on my website.

When you give someone copyright rights to your work, it’s not temporary. It’s permanent, and it is a legally binding issue.

Unless the agreement specifies a temporary transfer of rights. You know, “You have the exclusive right to use and distribute my work for five years, after which the distribution rights return back to me, and I may use and distribute it myself again.” I’m more comfortable with that than with a complete transfer of rights.

I’m also more comfortable with signing over non-exclusive distribution rights that do not have a term limit. “Here, you can distribute this all you want whenever you want, but I have the right to distribute it all I want, too, and I retain all copyright.” This is how the blog network ChicagoNow operates, for example.

I’m comfortable handing over rights for tangible benefits, such as to an academic journal in exchange for, well, FAME AND MONEY AND MORE FAME, aka notoriety as a scholar in my field. I’m also okay if I get some money in exchange for my writings, whether it is a purchase or through royalties.

I’m comfortable if I give up (some) copyrights to a site that also gives up (some) copyrights. Creative Commons for the win!

But mandatory blogging for someone’s up and coming resource website for free as a part of a volunteer position (of which there was no contract), giving up all copyrights with no tangible benefits? I’m sorry, but no. I am not comfortable with that, because I can foresee legal copyright problems down the road because of it.

When you write, hold on tight to your copyrights. Don’t devalue your own writing unnecessarily, and don’t give up all rights to it unless you know you never want to use that work again on another website, in a book, etc.

Obligatory disclaimer that I am totally not a lawyer, and none of this should be construed as legal advice, but rather as a guide to go look up more of those legal advices and rules and wibbly wobbly timey wimey copyright and contract rules yourself.

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