Your work is automatically copyrighted once you set it on paper. When you sell that work, you are actually selling the right to publish it. There are different rights that you can sell, differentiated by things such as geographic area and type of publication. Think of all your rights together as a package, with each of the separate rights listed below as a piece of the overall package.
First North American Serial Rights (FNASR)
The most common right that this audience will deal with, FNASR rights, sells this: the right to be the first to print something in North America. Obviously, you can only sell the “first time” one time. After you’ve sold FNASR, you’re somewhat limited as to what pieces of your package you have left to sell.
First Print Rights
This designation is broader than FNASR, as it doesn’t provide a geographical limit. This publisher or magazine is buying the right to be the first to publish your work in print. It’s a rather broad right, isn’t it?
First Electronic Rights
Somewhat self-explanatory, this is the purchase of electronic rights, and first publication. Keep in mind electronic rights can mean web, CD-ROM, ebooks, etc. You may ask that your contract spells out what "electronic" refers to.
First Serial Rights
This publication is looking for the right to print your work first. Notice that this is not limited geographically, which might make you pause a moment. It is similar to first print rights unless another medium is specified. Again, first rights are first rights, and you’ll never be able to sell the “first” again.
First English-language Rights
Your client or editor is requesting to purchase the right to be the first to publish your work in English. Notice that there are no designations as far as what media they are printing in, or a geographical designation. Keep in mind that “English” applies to Australia, UK, etc.
Exclusive RightsThe publication asking for exclusive rights is looking for a more general set of rights. They are asking to be able to print your work exclusively for a set amount of time.
Once you’ve sold your first rights, it’s time to look for an outlet for second rights. For example, there are indeed some magazines who are happy to publish an article that was previously printed. This is often called a reprint.
As above, the outlet wants to reuse your article, even though it’s already been published once. Watch out for the phrase “exclusive reprint rights,” though, as that would be the last time you sold that piece. It means that the publication is asking for the exclusive right to reprint the piece—no one else can reprint it after that.
Somewhat obvious, the publisher is asking for the right to publish just a piece of your writing, an excerpt.
This is a designation that stipulates that the magazine or outlet can use your work only one time. Often, you can sell the same work with one-time rights simultaneously, to different publications, which is why another name for this part of the package is …
You can sell the same article to several outlets at once, simultaneously. A good example of this is a recurring newspaper column.
One-time Electronic Rights
This is the purchase of your piece in order to use it one time in an electronic medium.
English Language Periodical Rights.
A purchase in which the outlet is only asking for rights to publish in a certain kind of medium (a periodical), and only in English, which leaves you all kinds of other rights to sell (books, internet, other languages).
World Periodical Rights
This publisher buys the right to print your work in a periodical worldwide. Notice that a language isn't designated here.
Anthologies are a great place to try to sell reprints. They often purchase this bundle of rights specifically for the anthology.
Selling this right means that your article may be available in a back issue of a webzine or other online publication. These have also been called perpetual rights, or rights in perpetuity, unless an end date is specified.
Web Rights/Internet rights
This is the purchase of rights to publish on the World Wide Web.
You sell all rights. Every. Single. One. Save this one for your big break with a large magazine—you’ll never have ownership to your work again.
This is a situation in which you are producing a specific project/article/piece for an outlet that is acting like an employer. They are, essentially, paying you for the work, not for your piece. Once the piece is handed over to them, you no longer have any say in it. You’re not likely to get a byline, and you have no rights to the piece. This is more common for copy work than magazine articles, though not unheard of.
These are rights that you can sell to other countries. Generally, they are very specific such as “First British Print Rights” or “First Australian Electronic Rights.”
Electronic Distribution Rights
This is a unique right- it gives the publication the right to distribute your work to other outlets (electronically).Hmmm, shouldn’t that be your job? And shouldn't you get another paycheck for each place your work is sold? Think about these things before you sell.
All Electronic Rights
This basically gives your client or editor complete control over the electronic portion of your work.
Did I miss one? Need more info? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. This list is garnered from multiple sources, including the Chicago Manual of Style and the online Encyclopedia Britanica.