Are All-Media-Worldwide Rights Becoming the Norm?

Thursday, June 26, 2008
Rosie is concerned!

As a publisher, I can understand the benefit of adding the clause of "all-media worldwide rights" to a work-for-hire contract, but as a freelancer myself, and one who supports freelance writers, I just can't agree with it.

In a nutshell: let's say you were accepted to write an article for so-and-so's print magazine and signed a work-for-hire contract with the term "all-media worldwide rights" in it. That means the publisher can republish your work in any format they choose--online, video, print, television, radio, etc.--without paying you anything further. How is this possible? It is, and it's becoming standard practice in the U.S., as mentioned in a recent Folio Magazine article.

What I don't completely understand is why. Even if the readers are exactly the same--which they couldn't possibly be--there shouldn't be any reason for non-payment. If you think about it, the two avenues should be set up to monetize different income streams. Print has its advertising, and so does web--there should be a budget for both. There's definitely a separation between the two, or there should be. Many have the ability to pay freelancers at least a percentage, or a reprint rate, so why is this practice becoming the norm? My only guess is that the majority of freelancers are rolling over and taking it. And so are editors.

At one time, magazine editors were the voice for their writers, but not so anymore as management gets a tighter grasp and a new generation of editors--who don't know any different--step in. But, it's not all doom-and-gloom! There are common-sense solutions you can use to protect yourself. ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors) offers this piece of advice:

"We have a suggestion. Get the contract before you start working, try negotiating, and if they refuse to offer an alternate document or make reasonable changes, go elsewhere. The market ultimately speaks, and even though publishers and editors like to pretend that writers are a dime a dozen, they know it's not true. It's too hard to find the talent and dedication to get a good story. Try pitching different types of stories to other markets, or take your ideas to their competitors. When the writers they want don't want them, the tune will eventually change. It won't be the first time, and it won't be the last."

ASJA is a great organization with sound solutions. Too bad they stopped publishing their "Contracts Watch" newsletter in 2007--it was such a great resource to find out the latest on publisher's contracts, as well as an advocate for writers in the trenches. But you can still view their online archives and read quotes from freelance writers and ASJA's answers here:

So, what do we do about "all-media worldwide rights" becoming the norm? I don't have the solutions, but do recall the recent writer's strike by the Writers Guild of America and their victory, albeit somewhat slim, on being awarded residuals from DVD and "new media" compensation. That aside, one thing you can do is to look out for certain clauses in any contract you sign: (the clauses below were published in the print version of Folio Magazine's article--a sample from CXO Media's freelance contract)
  • Payment: $______ for all-media world rights in perpetuity upon acceptance of publication.
  • CXO will own all-media world rights for the Work including perpetual and irrevocable license to print, reprint and distribute the work in any fashion or medium.
  • You specifically waive any and all "artist's rights" you may have pursuant to any state or federal statutes regarding the Work purchased by CXO.
And, if you check out the previously mentioned Folio Magazine article, read the comment submitted by a publisher. Basically, since the publisher purchased all rights for both print and digital, it allowed the publisher to resell the article to a service, who then resold it elsewhere, and gave them a percentage of the profit from the sales...without paying the writer any profit. She admits it wasn't fair to the authors, but only after she realized that the new sellers resold it until the stories were everywhere and it ultimately undermined the value of the stories.

I know I'm going to get flack for this post from my peers, but c'est la vie. I simply don't think it's fair to treat freelancers this way.

What do you think? And what should freelancers do?


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Annette said...

Sounds exactly like what Simon & Schuster tried to do with book rights in 2007.

S&S changed their standard contract language in an attempt to retain exclusive control of books even after they've gone out of print. In the past, S&S, like all other major publishers, followed the practice where rights to a work revert back to the author if the book falls out of print or if sales are low.

Is there ANY publishing/entertainment/production arm that is NOT trying to screw the writers?

Anonymous said...

A weekly women's magazine in the UK is currently running a short story competition. The rules (in v. small print) state "An assignment of copyright in the entries will be a condition of entering...(we) reserve the right to publish any entry in (the magazine) or in connection with the competition without payment of any fee."
So basically if you enter and don't win you have given away your story for free and can't use it anywhere else, ever.

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