April 1995

Electrified Telegraph re-thinks rapidly

"I HAD A VISION of monks being told that their work was going to be `printed' - `Yes, you've been making your living from illuminating, but don't worry your head about it'." That was the reaction of noted Telegraph contributor Claire Rayner to receiving a letter from managing editor J W Deedes.

This, dated March 2, informed her and all other contributors that "in future, from 2 March 1995... the commissions that we give you - and any unsolicited pieces that you may submit and which we may accept for publication - will be on the basis that copyright in the piece will be vested in us without further payment..." If they're going to publish electronically, Clare went on, "I want to have a tiny little share in it - nothing excessive, just my share."

That was the least of the reactions the Telegraph got. Mr Deedes's phone was, we hear, heated by complaints from deeply-respected authors.

Perhaps the most powerful reaction, though, came from the photographic agencies who said that they simply couldn't supply any more pix on those terms. Within just four days, the Telegraph let it be known that the letters would be revised. The alternative, after all, seemed to be a reversion to the 1947 Austerity design for the paper.

Word from the Tower of Doom is that editors denied all knowledge of the letter, blaming it on "the suits upstairs". There is utterly implausible gossip in legal circles that their eminent solicitors, Mishcon de Reya, had the same reaction.

Advice to contributors is, of course, not to sign. The NUJ had on April 4 not yet seen the revised letter: if you receive one, fax in a copy.

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