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Home » A Simple Breakdown of the 6 Major Rights and Licenses in Publishing

A Simple Breakdown of the 6 Major Rights and Licenses in Publishing

This article gets you familiar with the concept of rights and licenses in publishing and why they are essential to both the published author and the publishing house.

Between Rights And Licenses

In simple terms, rights are entitlements and can be social, legal, or ethical. Alternatively, rights are what people owe you or what you are allowed to express within certain systems or conventions, be it legal or social.

Rights are different from licenses. Whereas rights are what you have to get something done, licenses are what you would need to get something done. Rights can be granted and expressed through licenses.

A very good illustration to understand this difference is how you don’t have a right to plagiarize other people’s words but can have these words licensed instead.

Therefore, a license permits you to use something you don’t have the right to. If rights are fundamental, licenses are given.

Which Term is More Applicable?

Both rights and licenses are used in the writing world and when signing a publishing contract. The terms can be used separately or interchangeably. Both can be used jointly as in the case of “licensing rights“.

Whenever rights are used, it is to denote the individual authorial decision that needs to be made. It may also be used to shift concentration to the exclusive rights of the submitted work before a contract is signed. Here is an example:

“By accepting your poems (or short stories), you have the right to publish them in our upcoming anthology and share in the royalties therefrom according to the percentage of the anthology sales.”

Licenses, on the other hand, are often used to address the permission, whether stated or unstated, that your pieces (or you as an author) have granted the publishing journals, presses, or magazines. The concentration is often shifted to the publishing houses. In this case, you might read something like this:

“Accepting your poems (or short stories) means you have granted us the rights to publish them on our website for some periods after which the rights revert to you and you may decide to publish them elsewhere”.

From the illustrations above, you can see that while rights are endogenous, licenses are exogenous. However, both terms are largely used interchangeably and to mean the same thing in the publishing industry. Still, you need to be mindful of how the terms are used.

Understanding the Different Rights and Licenses

First, you need to understand that publishing rights come from creation and originality. When you write something, as a writer or a poet, whatever you have written confers you to the fundamental right which is known as copyright. It’s copyright because you own the copy.

But copies can be sold or lent out. When you sell your copy to a publishing house, for example, you may no longer have the right to claim the use and ownership of it. This means you may lose your copyright to that publishing house.

When you lend it out, it’s a different case and is often more temporary than selling it out. Selling and lending out your copies leads to these 7 major types of rights and licenses every writer must know and understand how they work.

  1. First North American Serial Rights (FNASR): Although you can sell your copies, most publications do not buy them, instead, they license them. By licensing, they’ve been permitted to publish your copies first until certain periods, before other publications could have them. This is known as the First North American Serial Rights. FNASR grants publications the right to publish your copies first before that right reverts to you. Usually, such a right reverts to you after a few months, say four months or six months, depending on the publication. But once this right reverts to you, FNASR cannot be licensed again. The first place your copies are published will always remain the first place. Other publications can accept reprints rights or anthology rights, but not FNASR. This is the major reason nearly all publications request submissions to be previously unpublished. It is to avoid the complications of FNASR.
  2. First Electronic Rights (FER): First Electronic Rights means you are granting publications the right to have your copies on their websites first. It works the same way as First North American Serial Rights (FNASR). The only difference is that while FNASR works for print and electronic publications, FER works only for electronic publications. Not to confuse both rights, FER does not necessarily mean FNASR. In fact, understanding both rights can have you maximize the publication of your copies. For instance, if a publishing house publishes your copy in print through FNASR, you can submit that same copy to other publishing houses through FER. Assessing both rights suggests that having your copies published in print first, does not equate to having your copies published on websites first. Unless your FNASR grants the publication of your copies on websites first and not prints, you can always trigger your FER and maximize publication.
  3. One-Time Rights (OTR): One-Time Rights are print-based rights. They do not apply to websites (electronic) because all electronic publications are one-time. But print copies can be done more than once. When you grant a press or journal or magazine one-time rights, it means you are granting them the permission to print your copy once (and only once). It doesn’t matter whether this copy has once been published elsewhere or not. This is where OTR is different from first rights such as FNASR and FER.
  4. Reprint Rights: This is also known as second-time rights. Reprint rights follow first rights. These rights mean you are granting publishing houses the right to publish your copy a second time. The rights are triggered after the first rights have elapsed within the stipulated periods. Reprint rights can be exclusive or non-exclusive. If you grant a journal exclusive reprint rights, you are saying only the journal can reprint your copy a second time. But if this is non-exclusive, it means your copy can be reprinted by as many journals as you deem fit. Other forms of reprint rights are anthology rights and excerpt rights.
  5. All rights: Selling all rights means selling rights. It doesn’t need to be sugar-coated. It implies that you have sold all the rights you have on your copies. These rights may be sold through work-for-hire, just as in the case of freelancers, or through commissioned projects. By selling all rights, you have transferred every bit of use and ownership of your copies to the publishing house. You are no longer in possession of the copies. Most all rights are usually paid so authors can feel compensated for their works.
  6. Exclusive & Non-exclusive Rights: Some of the rights listed above can be exclusive or nonexclusive. If exclusive, it means whatever magazine or journal you submit your copy to, has the right to keep that copy on their website or in print for some time before you can publish the copy elsewhere. Non-exclusive rights mean the opposite. They mean you can publish your copy with magazine A and still publish it with magazine B without having to wait for A to give you a go-ahead for B. Exclusive and non-exclusive rights are used with first-time rights such as FNASR and FER.


Knowing your rights as a writer and author will save you unnecessary publishing drama and allows you to maximize the publication of your copies. Not knowing them means you are prone to manipulation and underrepresentation.

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