Thursday, February 15, 2007

Archival or Arch-Rival?

With more and more magazines publishing on the Internet, writer’s rights are becoming more and more of an issue. One unique element of the webzine can work both for and against the writer is archiving.

Simply put, archiving is the webzine's equivalent of back issues. Many (but not all) webzines keep older issues, or the content from those issues, on their sites and available to readers who want to go back and catch up on what they have missed. Webzines do not have the right to use this archived material for any other purpose, at any other time, in any other medium, without contracting you again first.

All archiving rights and permissions must be fully defined in your contracts with the individual webzine. With that in mind, there are a few major concerns that you should be aware of when dealing with archiving:

  1. Never give a webzine the right to archive your work indefinitely. Make sure that your contract gives a set time period -- say, a few months to a year -- then cuts it off. If a webzine insists on permanent archiving, I would recommend that you say “no thanks.” Any magazine or publisher has the right to sell backstock, but no one has the right to sell your work forever without offering you additional payments. If it were a print magazine or book, when the initial print run sold out and went out of print, they could not print more without paying you more. Just because an electronic webzine can not technically go out of print, there’s no excuse for them to sell it forever without further compensation.
  2. Never give a webzine exclusivity to the piece during the time it is archived. After the original posting period (a month, two months, whatever -- until the next issue is supposed to be up), you should be free to submit and sell and publish it elsewhere. Some contracts ask for this long-term exclusivity; whether you accept it or not is up to you. Remember that you have sold the webzine specific rights, usually Internet-specific publication rights, and all other reprint rights belong to you.
  3. Note the phrase “until the next issue is supposed to be up” in the previous item. Webzines are notoriously late with their new issues. If you are waiting for that next issue to appear before rights revert to you and you start sending your work out again, you could be waiting a very long time. (Especially if, as often happens, the issue you are in suddenly becomes the last issue, and it will remains posted in cyberspace forever, frozen in time for all to see.)
  4. Many webzines request the right to archive a work until you say you would like to have it taken down. This can be a good option -- it gives the webzine content, it shows a certain amount of respect for the author, it allows readers to continue to find your work, and it gives you the chance to keep sending it out to try to sell it again, and only take it down if you want to sign another contract that would give another publisher temporary exclusivity. If a webzine editor offers this option, make sure it is stated in your contract, and that it offers a time frame. “We will remove your work within two weeks of notification of your request,” for example. (A short period of time like this is acceptable -- people do take vacations, so you can’t expect them to take your work down on an hour’s notice.)
  5. Finally, remember that follow-up is vital. If a webzine says it will take something down at a certain time, make sure that they do. This is your work, your property, and you are allowed to harass people if they are not following the terms of their contract. Sometimes, it might look like the work is down, but if you look hard enough, you can find it on a lone section of their server that might not even be linked anywhere else. This happened to me recently with SF Goth’s Errata. They published my story “Happy Birthday,” and did not archive it, but a search on Yahoo found a lone page, not even linked to the rest of their site, that still had the story posted. If I could find it, so could someone else, who would now be reading the story without my getting paid.

More serious were my recent dealings with Gathering Darkness. A simple Internet search revealed that they had a story of mine on their site in their archive, but it had been posted there without my permission, without notification, and without compensation. Talking to other writers whose work appeared on that site, I found at least five other authors who had no idea that their work had been archived there. I demanded the immediate removal of my copyrighted property -- as did several other authors -- and it was taken down. Before that happened, I had to give editor Dan Good a short lesson in copyright law. Since then, I have noticed several postings on the Net from Good, suddenly seeking to contact every author he had published in the past, to clear their archive rights with him.

So the question remains: Should you archive? I think it’s up to you. Just make sure that the terms are acceptable, and that they benefit the creator as much as the publisher. Remember, your writing is your property, it’s up to you how it gets used.

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