November 13th, 2015

Understanding Copyrights for Anthologies

Susan Spann

Happy Thanksgiving! (A little early…but turkey and good cheer are always in season.)

Last month, my #PubLaw guest post here at Writers in the Storm looked at grants of rights in anthology contracts. Today, we continue the autumn series on writing for anthologies with a look at how copyright functions in the anthology setting.

Anthology writing differs from other forms of publication, and though the contracts look similar, authors must be aware of some critical differences between anthology contracts and standard traditional contracts for book or novella-length works for a single author.

Anthology contracts should contain at least two clear statements of copyright:

  1. A declaration that copyright in the author’s work remains the sole property of the contributing author; and

A declaration that the copyright in the anthology “as a collective work” belongs to the anthology publisher.


Let’s look at them in more detail:

  1. The Author’s Retention of Copyright.

The anthology contract should contain the following statement (or its equivalent): “Author is the sole copyright owner of the Work, and retains all rights to the Work except for those expressly granted to [Anthology Publisher] in this Agreement.”

(Note: The “Work” should be defined as the author’s own contribution, not the anthology as a whole.)

This ensures that the author continues to be the sole owner of his or her story, even after its publication in the anthology. The contract should also mention any limitations on the author’s right to publish the story elsewhere (the topic of next month’s post).

  1. Anthology Copyright in the Publisher.

The anthology contract will probably also contain a statement similar to:

“To the extent a separate copyright attaches to the Anthology as a collective work, [Anthology Publisher] is the copyright owner of any such copyright on the Anthology as a collective work.”

The reason for this second clause is to ensure that no one else can infringe the publisher’s copyright by reproducing or publishing “pirated” (i.e., infringing) copies of the anthology without permission. A statement of the publisher’s ownership in the collective work gives the publisher the sole right to produce that collective work. The copyright in the work as a collective work is not the same thing as the copyright on the individual stories, however, and you should never give the anthology publisher ownership of the copyright in your work or contribution.

To repeat: The publisher doesn’t need to own the copyright in your work in order to publish the work as part of an anthology or other collection.

You may ask the publisher to add this language, too:

“provided that no collective work copyright will limit or prevent Author’s rights to exploit, publish, and profit from the Work separately from or in addition to the Anthology except to the limited extent provided in this Agreement.”

That language isn’t absolutely required, but it’s something you could request if the contract seems ambiguous about copyrights, or if you don’t know the publisher well.

A Word About Copyright Registration

Publishers often want to register copyright on an anthology as a collective work. That’s OK, as long as the registration is clear that you, the author, own the copyright in your contribution. Make sure the contract is clear about the manner in which copyright may (and may not) be registered, and states that:

(a)      The publisher will include an appropriate notice on the verso page (commonly known as the “copyright page”) of the anthology, properly identifying the contributors as the owners of the copyrighted material contained in the work; and

(b)      If the publisher registers copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, that registration will cover the collective work only, and will acknowledge the author(s) as the copyright owner(s) of the contributed works.


A little attention to detail can help protect your copyrights and ensure a more successful anthology experience.


Have you published in anthologies? How did you handle your copyrights?


SusanSpann_WITSSusan Spann writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. The fourth Shinobi Mystery will release from Seventh Street Books in July 2016. Susan is the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2015 Writer of the Year, and also a transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. When not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. Find her online at, on Twitter (@SusanSpann), and on Facebook (SusanSpannAuthor).


16 comments to Understanding Copyrights for Anthologies

  • Susan, I’m so glad you’re doing this series. I think anthologies is where a lot of the author abuse happens. It can be a great opportunity to showcase your work (especially if there’s a major author in your genre included), but be sure to read the fine print!

    • Thanks Laura! (I’m a little late with comments this week…it’s been a rough one). I’m in absolute agreement with you about the abuse, too–but fortunately, people can avoid the pitfalls by knowing what to look for.

  • Great info for any future anthologies for me. I have done several and never thought about the fine print in copyrights. Thanks !

  • Linda Lee

    Thanks for sharing this important information! Will do the same. 🙂

  • I am in the process of organising a copyright for my poetry anthology which I self published and all the poems are mine. As its all my work and I have self published I don’t think I would need to do this, or would I? I have gone through Createspace.

    • If all the work is your own, you still need to be aware of the terms of use that the publisher or website gives you–that’s your contract. The Createspace terms of use are the contract in your situation.

  • Awesome info and perfect timing. Getting ready to publish an anthology in early December. I’ll add the appropriate statements in the copyright page. 🙂

  • Thank you for this article. A short story of mine was published in a local anthology in 2013. I’m not sure if I can find the contract. I was a brand new writer and there was no money paid to me. Now I’d like to submit my story elsewhere. Can I do that?

    • The answer is: “it depends on the terms of the contract.” If you can’t find the contract, you should contact the group or organization that published the anthology and ask for a copy, so you can check the terms and confirm that you can now submit elsewhere.

  • Susan what an amazing amount of information. Thank you for sharing it. I thank you for it.

  • Victoria Marie Lees

    Always important to read everything you sign. I’m in an anthology, Easy to Love But Hard to Raise. On the publication page it is stated: Copyrights to individual works belong to authors.
    Thank you for this series of posts!

    • I’m glad your anthology is addressing your copyright properly. It’s always nice to hear about the successful ones (particularly because the ones that come to my office after the fact are usually the ones that have problems, for obvious reasons). Thank you for sharing your experience.

  • Great info here. Thanks for this!