As long as you have signed nothing, you retain copyright in your material. If, however, you receive a communication from a publisher requiring all rights, and you want to retain your rights as the NUJ advises, you must write back and refuse. Silence may legally be regarded as agreement. The Freelance Office can provide NUJ members with standard letters to help with drafting a response to these copyright grabs.
Some publishers issue "weasel" contracts that acknowledge you own your copyright, but go on to demand an all-encompassing range of licensed rights, for little or no extra payment. This is like them saying "We were asking for the freehold to your house for the price of a month's rent, but now we just want a 999-year lease - for the price of a month's rent."
Respond to such contracts, in writing. State that you do not wish to sign this contract and ask which rights the publisher actually wants and needs, immediately. Discuss how much will be paid for anything more than first use in the publication that commissioned you (that is, if it's in the UK, First British Serial Rights). Leave open the opportunity to renegotiate should further licences be required.
We would welcome reports of successful challenges to rights-grabs to help us expand this section.
The National Union of Journalists must not, can not and would not wish to dictate rates or terms of engagement to members or to editors. The information presented here is for guidance and as an aid to equitable negotiation only.
Suggestions apply to contracts governed by UK law only. In any event, nothing here should be construed as legal advice.