Understanding Who Owns Your Art

Taylor Swift’s experience sheds light on an important question: Who owns your art? The answer isn't always clear and impacts your work.

Understanding Who Owns Your Art
Photo by Raphael Lovaski / Unsplash

Scooter Braun recently purchased Taylor Swift’s entire catalog of master recordings, a man Swift accuses of incessant bullying. In her Tumblr post¹, Swift explains her original record deal provided the label with perpetual control over her recordings. Essentially, the label could do with them as they wished without Swift’s permission. According to Swift, this is a common clause in a record label contract.

For writers (and creatives of all kinds), Taylor Swift’s experience sheds light on an important question: Who owns your art? Is it you? The answer is, as we learned from Swift, it depends.

It’s important to look at every publication you wish to submit to and understand their licensing rules. Depending on the site you’re pitching, you might have to dig a bit to find this information. Most publications accepting submissions do not provide clear examples of their content licensing.

Below you’ll find a few major sites and details of their content licensing policy:

The Writing Cooperative

Here at The Writing Cooperative, we do not own anything you submit to us. Your words are yours, and you can do with them as you wish. If we publish your story, we ask that it remain within The Writing Cooperative; however, you hold the ability to do with your content as you please.


By default, each story on Medium is published under an “All Rights Reserved” license, meaning you own your work and have the right to do anything you want with it. You can choose to publish with “Some Rights” or “No Rights” by changing the Content License option in the story editor. If you go with the default and maintain All Rights, you’re free to sell the story to another site, publish it in a book, option it for a movie, etc. They’re your words, and you own the ability to use them as you wish.

Other Publications

While some publications provide more details regarding open submissions than others, most do not provide any details about their content licensing policies. This includes The Atlantic, HuffPost, BuzzFeed Reader, and Bustle. I submitted a request to clarify their policy to each publication but did not hear back before publishing.

Without details, writers pitching these sites need to understand the publication’s content licensing policy before agreeing to any publication deal.

One publication, McSweeney’s, provided a very clear rights usage policy: “You retain rights to your work after publication.” While the McSweeney’s version will remain on their site in perpetuity, you own the content, and, after being published originally with McSweeney’s, you can publish anywhere else you desire.

Who Owns Your Art?

As we learned from Taylor Swift, owning your own content is important but not always possible. Before submitting any work for publication, we need to fully understand the terms and licenses we are granting a publisher. As creatives, we are the ultimate guardians of our work. Let’s be vigilant and ensure our work doesn’t fall into unintended hands without our permission.

  1. I didn’t know Tumblr was still a thing either. ↩︎