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What Happens to Your Articles When a Magazine Closes Down?

You’ve been writing for this publication for what seems like ages. You’re all comfortable and cozy in the relationship. You have a great rapport with the editor who gives you plum assignments.

Soul satisfying image, isn’t it.  Wait for it…Then WHAM! Everything you thought you knew and counted on turns to a muddy shade of gray when a message lands in your inbox.  Your brilliant editor has been let go, along with the entire staff. And, the magazine, well, it won’t exist after next week. Face it! This gig is toast. In order to keep your career moving forward, you need to do the hustle and find another publication with room for your talents.

Seven years ago, I had a very similar incident happen to me. I signed a work-for-hire contract and began writing for a consumer magazine focused on healthy remodels, energy efficiency and distinctive design. Three editors came and went and I continued to write for the magazine. Then, last year, just as I formulated an email in my head that asked for a pay increase plus a promotion to contributing article writer, the editor sent me an email that stated the publisher had decided to close the publication.

But here’s the question: What happens to the articles you wrote once the magazine you’ve written for is no more? You have rights, but what are they exactly?

Kathy Biehl, attorney in private sole practice and a freelance writer in Oak Ridge, New Jersey, says it all depends on what you sold to the publisher originally. Did you sign a contract for First North American Serial Rights (FNASR) or work-for-hire contract? Find your contract and read all the pages. You did save those contracts, didn’t you? “If you sold your rights it doesn’t matter that the magazine no longer exists,” says Biehl. “Whoever now owns the magazine or is the successor to the magazine owns the rights.”

Biehl explains, “Your job now is to figure out who owns the rights that the magazine bought from you. You could try tracking down the owner to see if you can get your rights back.”  But it could be a very convoluted journey and a time consuming one, too. One you may decide isn’t worth your time and attention.

“If you’ve only sold FNASR to the now defunct magazine, the rights have already reverted to you,” says Biehl. “No problem.”

Here are five tips to keep you in touch with your rights:
1) If you’ve sold your right, think about reslanting the article or rewrite the article.

2) If you sold all your rights to your article, but want to try finding the new owner, go to WHOIS where you can search for domain registration information or who owns the website.

3) Published more than two articles a year? It’s worth springing for membership in the Author’s Guild. As a member you can submit a contract and the staff will review it as part of your membership fee. The Authors Guild Bulletin covers the latest in publishing, copyright, tax, legal and legislative news.

4) Other contract watch dogs include the National Writer’s Union. NWU has contract advisers and grievance officers to help writers understand what they are signing. American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) has Contracts Watch, a newsletter to keep writers up-to-date on contract.

5) Align yourself with other writers. There is strength in numbers. What you don’t know, your writer friends will know. And, they share.

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