April 1995

Creators' Copyright Coalition: unity is strength

ORGANISATIONS representing writers, photographers, designers and illustrators have put aside past differences and formed a coalition, to resist publishers who try to bully freelances into signing away copyright.

The Creators' Copyright Coalition was the name agreed on at a meeting, called by the NUJ, on March 20. The NUJ's Deputy General Secretary, Jacob Ecclestone, described it as 'an historic meeting, the first step in what may be a long and costly struggle'. It was agreed:

  • To concentrate resistance on the Telegraph and IPC (though Reed Business Publishing is likely to be another early target)
  • To issue legally drafted replies for all members to use
  • To publicise the coalition in the trade press and among MPs
  • To organise a meeting, probably in late May, at the House of Commons to help MPs to understand what is going on
  • To draw up model contracts for electronic rights which allow publishers to exploit digital technology

The 13 organisations represented at the meeting were: Writers' Guild, Society of Authors, Authors' Licensing & Collecting Society, BECTU, GPMU, Design & Artists Copyright Society, Chartered Society of Designers, Association of Photographers, Outdoor Writers' Guild, Institute of Journalists, Association of Authors' Agents, National Association of Press Agencies and the Association of Illustrators.

Some of these have not met formally for 25 years.

Ruth Gladwin, from the NUJ's lawyers (Stephens Innocent) said all members should be careful, when dealing with publishers, to put down in writing what rights have been licensed.

Copyright cannot be assigned except in writing -; which is why publishers are desperate to get your signature. But a licence to publish can be given, or even implied, by phone.

Ms Gladwin emphasised that freelances should not ignore the letter from Jeremy Deedes, the editorial director at the Daily Telegraph. It was important, she said, to try to get publishers to specify precisely what they mean by ';electronic rights';.

Phil Sutcliffe, chair of the NUJ's Freelance Industrial Council, explained that the demand for all rights had an important effect in the area of ';moral rights';.

Although under British law journalists have no moral rights in the material they supply to newspapers and magazines, converting that material into digital form revives the moral rights. That is why it is legally imperative for publishers to get all rights in whatever form the copy or photographs are used.

Afterwards, Jacob Ecclestone said: 'It was a remarkable meeting: so many organisations, so positive, determined and keen to work together. We've begun to put together a coalition which, with members' solidarity, will force the publishers to deal fairly with freelances. That's not asking much. What was very clear, both from the superb attendance and the attitude of speakers, was that a broad range of organisations representing writers, photographers and designers are saying to their members: "Don't be bullied; don't sign".'

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