What Can You Do if a Publisher Prints Your Work Without Permission?

Q: I submitted a piece on spec to a community newspaper and received no response from the editor. With the next publication, however, the manuscript was published in full without permission and without payment. What can I do?—John M.

A: Sounds like the paper might have confused “on spec” with “for free.” To get your rightfully deserved money, send an invoice to the editor to whom you sent the piece. You may have to follow up several times—by e-mail, phone or singing telegram, if necessary— to get a response. If you’re still getting the cold shoulder from the newspaper’s editor, turn to any writing organization you belong to. And if you don’t belong to one, join one. The National Writers Union (nwu.org), for example, has a grievance division that helps get recalcitrant publishers to pay up.

Your other option is to contact a lawyer and threaten litigation. But that will likely cost you more money than the article will bring in. If you never receive your money, report the paper to the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org) and Writer Beware (sfwa.org/beware). It may not help you, but it will help others from making the same mistake that company.

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One thought on “What Can You Do if a Publisher Prints Your Work Without Permission?

  1. D. Taylor

    Hi – many community newspapers receive articles on a regular basis that are published without any form of payment to the authors. These papers often welcome the assistance in covering events that the stretched local staff has no chance of reviewing. In our area, articles covering topics from school events to community sports to human interest stories are frequently sent to the local newspaper and subsequently published. I have frequently worked with our local editor to make sure that items that I think should be covered appear in the paper; I have never received payment for these articles. I look at this as a type of community service, as well as an opportunity to hone my writing skills. John M. might wish to double check the policy of the paper to which he submitted his article before demanding payment or taking legal action.


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