January 1995

Fierce contracts come thick and fast

COMPUTER publisher Ziff-Davis is trying to get freelances to sign a contract which is probably one of the worst yet.

It's bad enough that it claims 'all rights worldwide, in all forms and media, whether now or hereafter known'; asserts that 'You unconditionally and irrevocably waive... all moral rights in the contribution'; and sets a kill fee of 25%.

The stinger is clause 11: 'you shall not, directly or indirectly, perform any service for... or permit the publication of any material written by you in any publications which are directly competitive with any [Ziff] Publication.' In English: 'we own your soul'?

The whole document has the flavour of American attorneys in a panic, so the UK editors may not be to blame. One claimed that in the above 'All we're trying to do is ensure that the same freelance doesn't review the same product in the same month.' But that's not what it says. A lawyer tells the Freelance: 'on the face of it, a clause like that must be unenforceable as restraint of trade'. Some contributors have simply carried on submitting work without signing.

Meanwhile at VNU requests for rises in freelance rates have been stalled with the line 'we're coming out with contracts...'

These were being mailed recorded delivery as the Freelance was on the stone. They include transfer of all rights to the company, a waiver of moral rights, and agreement that all submissions must be electronic. On the positive side, VNU promises to pay 12% interest on late fees, and to 'use its best endeavours to procure that the Journalist is insured' against claims resulting from articles.

Some VNU freelances are asking whether the company's use of recorded delivery means that the contracts apply whether or not they're counter-signed. In law this is not so.

'At least VNU is aware of the issue,' a freelance commented, 'unlike EMAP, which has simply sold articles to Ziff's online publications on Compuserve when they owned only first UK serial rights.'

Small comfort... any member who is offered one of these contracts should contact Jake Ecclestone at Acorn House before doing anything.

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