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First Rights of Publication

Don't Inadvertantly Give Away Your First Rights

If you post or plan to post your writing on the Internet, it is extremely important that you understand the concept of First Right of Publication and how they work. Not understanding these rights may cause you to inadvertently give them away, preventing you from getting your work published. Even if you have no plans to sell your writing to a publisher, it is a good idea to understand how First Rights work.

What Are They and Why Are First Rights Are Important?

Look at many publishing contracts or submission guidelines and you will see that the publisher requests that any material they accept come with its First Rights. This is the same as saying that the work must not have been previously published. Both terms mean that the writing has never been published before and that as a result, the publisher is buying the exclusive “first use” of the material you have created. To put it another way, the publisher wants to make sure that they are purchasing work that has not already been seen by the public. 

Giving Up & Protecting First Rights

What constitutes “being seen by the public” is the gray area of First Rights. But over the last couple of years, a consensus seems to have emerged.

Most publishers feel that if you “publish” or post your writing publicly on the Internet without any password protection, you have given up your First Rights.

Publishers do not consider something public if it has been posted in a password protected environment where readers must register and login before they can access the writing. In this case, most publishers feel that the work still retains its First Rights.


The examples below may help to further explain this:

Actions that would exercise your First Rights:

  • Posting your writing on a website or Blog that does not require its readers to register for membership.
  • Posting your writing on a non-password protected message-board.
  • Selling your writing to a publisher and allowing them to post it publicly.

Actions that would not exercise your first rights:

  • Keeping your writing on your own personal computer
  • Posting your writing in a private, password protected community.
  • Posting your writing in a password protected online-writing workshop or community.

While most publishers will not accept short stories or poems that have been previously published, publishers are a bit more lenient towards novels. If you have questions about a certain publisher’s policy regarding First Rights and Internet publishing, your best bet is to contact them directly.

There is nothing inherently wrong with publishing something on the Web and giving up your First Rights. Many writers choose to do it. But before you do, it’s important to understand all of the ramifications. 


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