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Thread: Old magazine articles of mine are being sold on the internet without my permission

  1. #1
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
    Join Date
    Nov 2011

    Old magazine articles of mine are being sold on the internet without my permission

    Hi. New member here. I've discovered that some articles I wrote 11 years ago are on the internet and some websites are selling access to the articles for $5 or so.

    My name is on the articles, but the copyright is listed as belonging to the publisher and/or various other organizations like Gale Group and Gale Cengage Learning.

    One of the articles is also on Amazon for $5.95.

    Apparently the magazines sold the rights to these groups. I was not aware when I sold the articles that I was giving up my copyright forever and don't recall signing anything to that effect. I thought I was selling them 1st North American serial rights only.

    I sent emails a week ago to the magazines asking for clarification about who owns my copyright and why they are continuing to make money from my writing without compensating me. They haven't replied.

    I rather doubt that many people have paid for access to the articles but really don't know. But I still don't know whether i own the rights to my own articles or not.

    Is it possible that I gave the magazines ownership of the copyrights to my articles forever without even signing a contract? Is this the norm in the magazine world?

    One of the articles was reprinted in a book and I did receive an honorarium for that. I remember the author contacted me personally. I also sold second serial rights to a few publications after the original magazines ran the pieces. That's why I suspect that I, not the magazines, own the copyrights.

    But do I? And what would you do about this situation?

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  2. #2
    A Gentleman of a refined age... thothguard51's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Out side the beltway...
    Lots of unknowns here to give an honest opinion...

    Basically, it comes down to what were the terms of the contract as written ... not what you think was written.

    This kind of stuff has been going on for a while now, its not new...
    Knowledge is learned while wisdom is earned.

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  3. #3
    practical experience, FTW
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    You have to sign away rights, but many, many magazines and newspapers simply buy "all rights", and when this is the case, there's no mention of selling copyright, or much of anything else. They expect the writer to know that "all rights" means everything, including copyright. Is there some chance you agreed to this?

  4. #4
    Moderator AW Moderator Maryn's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    I did not shoot the deputy
    Quote Originally Posted by gumby View Post
    Is it possible that I gave the magazines ownership of the copyrights to my articles forever without even signing a contract?
    I'm not a lawyer, but I'm pretty sure that if you did not sign a contract of any kind, then you cannot assign all your rights to the magazine to do what it will with your work.

    Of course, eleven years is a long time and memory loses details which seem insignificant at the time. I assume if you signed anything, you kept a copy and haven't looked at it since. It's time to search high and low for that maybe-contract. You should also demand that the magazine which sold your rights produce their copy.

    Beyond that, it might be time for take-down notices or a lawyer.

    Maryn, sorry this circumstance is how you found us
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  5. #5
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
    Join Date
    Nov 2011
    Thanks for the replies. If I signed a contract, I lost it a long time ago. I don't think I signed a contract. But I noticed that a lot of magazines, today, have legalese on their websites saying that any submissions become their property forever, blah blah. I don't know if that was also the case 11 years ago.

    I'm wondering why they don't even respond to my emails. Anyway, if they own the rights, then maybe I owe THEM money because I sold second serial rights to other mags, ha ha ha.

    I sure ain't gonna get lawyers involved! Anyway, starting to write again after a long layoff, I think magazines are dying and a ripoff PITA anyway. Looking into writing eBooks, but everyone and his neighbor is doing that, right?

  6. #6
    Board Visitor
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Quote Originally Posted by gumby View Post
    Is it possible that I gave the magazines ownership of the copyrights to my articles forever without even signing a contract?
    No - in the USA, UK & Australia (along with many other countries) all assignments of ownership or transfer of exclusive rights must be in writing and signed.

    If you are in the USA, read this:

    A transfer of copyright ownership, other than by operation of law, is not valid unless an instrument of conveyance, or a note or memorandum of the transfer, is in writing and signed by the owner of the rights conveyed or such owner’s duly authorized agent.
    (The 'other than by operation of law' bit is about being transferred in a will, and other fairly obscure examples).

    That's the good news. Unless you've signed something you cannot have transferred ownership to them - or even granted them exclusive rights.

    The bad news, however, is that they don't have to claim exclusive rights. They can claim that you granted them a perpetual NON-EXCLUSIVE license as part of the original payment. That means that they can continue to sell your article as often as they want .. but they can't stop you (or technically anyone else) from selling it as well.

    Obviously this isn't legal advice - this is just a my opinion as of how I (as a layman) understands this.


    You asked what you should do next. The first question you should ask yourself is this: What would you like to happen in an ideal world ?

    Would you like them to remove your article from their collection? Would you like for them to have your article in their collection - but pay you a certain amount per sale?

    Anyway - good luck,


  7. #7
    scribbling in the deep south TB4me2000's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2007
    the Holy City
    Some advice from an editor...if you want to get to the bottom of this, stop emailing and start calling. It's incredibly easy to ignore an email. Polite, no. Convenient, yes.
    freelance writer, editor and content curator




  8. #8
    Fear no darkness. Ulee_Lhea's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Shadow of the Rockies
    If it were me, I'd send them an invoice for everything they've sold without (apparently) owning the rights. Make sure the invoice contains plenty of language about late fees, collection fees, lawyer's fees, etc. Include a note explaining why you're entitled to payment and make it clear that you expect to be compensated for your work.

    While you may not get paid, it may provoke a response so you can find out if they have a reason for thinking they own the rights.



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