Category Archives: Blog

JoAnn Johnson

Key Media Law Terms

As a writer, here are a few key terms you should be aware of…


All works created after 1977 are protected for the length of the author’s life and another 50 years thereafter.  After that, it falls into the public domain and anyone can use it without permission.

Technically, you do not need to place a copyright to your work.  It is protected the moment it leaps from your brain to the page.  However…

  • adding a copyright notice allows you to defeat claims of “innocent infringement”
  • you must register your work with the copyright office before you can file any type of  litigation against someone who steals your work.


  1. Request and complete the proper form…

FORM TX for books, manuscripts, online work, poetry
FORM PA for scripts and dramatic work

2. Place your completed form, payment of the current “register of copyright” fee and non-returnable copy or copies of the material to be registered.

The standard filing fee for electronic registration is $55 for basic claims. However, the filing fee is $35 if you register one work, not made for hire, and you are the only author and claimant. To access electronic registration, go to the Copyright Office’s website at

3. Mail to the Library of Congress Copyright Office at

U.S. Copyright Office 101 Independence Ave. S.E. Washington, D.C. 20559-6000


Fair use is the principle of quoting, briefly, someone else’s work.

The United States judicial system has never clearly defined what is and is not limitations or tolerable when it comes to fair use.

In most cases, once you ask the publisher of the original work for permission, you can quote most works, but it is always a good idea to note the original source.


Libel is publishing a false statement that is damaging to another living person’s reputation.

The statement can be completely unintentional, but still be ruled as libel in a court of law.

It is up to the plaintiff (alleged victim of libel) to prove falsehood; however, it is up to the writer to prove you made every effort to be accurate.

Grounds for libel include:

  • misspelling a criminals’ name, implicating an innocent person
  • falsely state someone is dead, when they are actually alive
  • errors in sports stories
  • accidental bad editing
Freelance writers must always double-check their work, interviews, quotes and facts.
Information was gathered from the Writer’s Market Companion, 2nd Edition.


JoAnn Johnson

Protecting Your Work

Here is an overview of the options you have when offering your work to a publisher:

FIRST SERIAL RIGHTS – rights the writer offers to a publisher to publish the written work for the first time in any periodical or online.  Sometimes, “North America” is added to these rights to specify a geographical limitation to the license.

ONE-TIME RIGHTS – nonexclusive rights purchased by a periodical to publish the work once…the author can sell the work to another publication at the same time.

SECOND SERIAL RIGHTS – nonexclusive rights given to a newspaper, magazine or digital publication, to publish a manuscript after it has already appeared in another publication.

ALL RIGHTS – an author is selling every right they have to the work.  If you license all rights to your work, you forfeit the right to ever use the work again.

ELECTRONIC RIGHTS – rights that cover a broad range of electronic media, from online magazines to CD-ROM anthologies.  A contract should specifically indicate when electronic rights are included; otherwise, the presumption is that unspecified rights remain with the writer.

SUBSIDIARY RIGHTS – rights, other than book publication rights, that should be covered in a book contract.  These could include, movie, television, audiotape, etc.  A contract should specify who controls the rights (author or publisher) and what percentage of sales from licensing of these rights goes to the author.

DRAMATIC, TELEVISION, MOTION PICTURE RIGHTS – these are rights applying to stage, tv or movies.  Often a one-year option to buy such rights is offered (generally for 10% of the total price).  The party interested in the rights tries to sell the written work to other people.  Some properties are optioned numerous times, but most fail to become full productions. In those cases, the writer can sell the rights again and again.

Information gathered from Writer’s Market Companion, 2nd Edition.


10 Things to Ask Before You Send Your Query

Before sending a query to a publication, brand or website – ask yourself the following:

  1. Have I addressed the query to the right person and did I spell his/her name correctly?
  2. Did I proofread my query carefully and correct any errors?
  3. Is my idea to the point?
  4. Have I outlined the article/story and given a clear idea of where the story will go?
  5. Have I included any necessary sources or interview information?
  6. Did I tell the editor which department or section of their publication my article best fits?
  7. Have I included pertinent clips which demonstrate my writing ability?
  8. Did I explain why I’m the right writer for this story?
  9. Does my query include several ways to contact me?
  10. Have I recorded the query’s topic, date,  target publication and contact person in a spreadsheet or log, for future reference?