Publishing Rights: “Selling” or “Licensing”

Understanding your rights as an author is a vital part of your career.

Odin Halvorson
2 min readApr 16, 2022
Understanding your rights as an author is a vital part of your career. (Source)

If you’ve ever wondered what sort of thing to expect from a contract when you go looking to have your work published, this is the place to begin. Too frequently, I encounter writers saying things like “I sold a story,” without taking the time to help others understand what that actually means. Language is finicky in everyday use, but when it comes to matters of contract law, words matter.

When you create a piece of work, you automatically own the rights to that piece of work. You don’t need to file it with the Library of Congress, email it to yourself (considered pointless anyway), or officially register it in any way: you own it. Of course, if you do create a paper trail for your work, that makes it harder for someone to rip it off if they were to try, but ultimately cases like that don’t usually go very far anyway.

This is where the concept of “selling and licensing” comes into play.

Those rights that you have, merely from creating a piece of work, are yours to do with as you wish, forever. The only way those rights transfer is if you make a legally-binding attempt to permanently transfer those rights away from your control. That’s not something that can be done verbally or…

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Odin Halvorson

A futurist/socialist/fantasist writer, editor, and scholar. MFA/MLIS. Free access to my articles at OdinHalvorson.substack.com | More over at OdinHalvorson.com.