Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What are first serial rights?

Dear Rich: If I published an original poem on a personal website, similar to a blog, with no associated advertising, can I still offer first serial rights to a publisher? We think so ... We can't be sure because we're relying on trade custom  not a specific case or law. It used to be that first serial rights (FSRs) referred to the first rights to publish excerpts from a book in serialized form in a periodical, usually before the book's publication date. Second serial rights, according to Kirsch's Handbook of Publishing Law, refers to publication in a periodical after the book has been published. Nowadays, the term is sometimes (perhaps mistakenly) used to refer to the general first right to print something in a periodical (whether magazine or newspaper). Posting material on the web is considered a separate set of rights known as "electronic rights." Those two worlds are obviously mashing together with magazine applications on mobile devices. If your agreement refers to electronic and FSR separately, you're definitely okay. If it doesn't, you can consider discussing the issue with the publisher, specially asking what the publisher believes it is acquiring. Based on trade usage and the historic basis of the term, you're porbably okay to go ahead with the arrangement.