Q. I have a few short stories that were published in ezines seven or eight years ago, but the ezines no longer exist. They ceased publishing five years ago. The stories no longer show up anywhere on the internet. So, I have two questions: (1) If I want to resell these stories to print publications today, do I offer First Rights or Reprint Rights? (2) Could I submit these short stories to a contest that requires that entries have never been published? There's no proof on the Internet that they were ever published.
A. (1) This situation always presents a dilemma. It depends on what rights the ezines acquired. Even if the ezines did not pay, they may have reserved all rights, which means you could not resell them without permission. It is more likely they asked only for First Electronic Rights, in which case the rights reverted to you as soon as the stories appeared. If no rights were indicated, then you likely gave them nonexclusive electronic rights. That means you can resell them if you want, but they could have reprinted them if they wanted. If there is any confusion about what rights you gave the ezines, it's important to realize that although the ezines no longer exist, someone still technically owns the rights (depending on what rights they acquired). If you signed a contract with the ezines, be sure to check it to see what the terms were.
Since print rights are in a different category than electronic rights, you would offer First Serial Rights to a periodical, but you really need to let the editor know in your cover letter or e-mail that they did appear on the Internet five years ago. That would not be a problem for most print publications, but there are a few that will not publish anything that has appeared on the Internet previously. It's always best to be upfront in such situations. You don't want them to discover it later.
(2) As far as submitting these articles to contests, if they indicate the material has to be unpublished, it would be best not to send these articles. If it's possible, you could contact them and ask if it would be acceptable. If you go ahead and submit them, again, be sure to let them know the situation and see what their response is.