Nov 1996

You have your cake, they eat it

"THE FREELANCE shall remain the copyright owner of the Material for the full term of copyright."

Pinch yourself. This is a letter from Times Newspapers to a new contributor. But relax -- or rather, resume normal tense, defensive freelance posture.

"The Times shall be entitled," the letter goes on, "to first use of the Material in all the newspaper's different forms e.g. newsprint, microfiche, electronic, database, on-line, computer network, derivative or any other versions and thereafter the Times shall be permitted to use, publish or deal with the Material in any form or manner for this period.

"The Times shall have the exclusive right to syndicate and sell subsidiary rights in it worldwide and in all forms on behalf of the freelance subject to The Times paying the fair and reasonable remuneration of 50% of net identifiable revenue from any such sales or syndication to the freelance."

Wellll... their lawyers have been earning their keep.

If the letters the Times and other newspapers were sending out last year were equivalent to demanding freehold in your property for the price of a month's rent, then this demands only a 99-year lease, for the same low price. Your work is worth more than that. Demand it.

And does that word "attributable" ring an alarm? It should. As Dan Carlinsky writes in the American Society of Journalists and Authors Contracts Watch electronic alert: "batches of articles... are [often] offered to syndicate clients on a subscription basis. No records are kept about which articles are used; subscribers pay a lump sum. No money earned is 'attributable' to your article. The syndicate gets paid, the publisher gets paid. Guess who doesn't?"

And as for that nasty little word "net", so beloved of movie accountants... is it libellous to compare someone to a movie accountant?

The new Times letter is still much less objectionable than some rights-grab letters. No sneaky attempts to make freelance writers and photographers foot the bills for overworked subs' legal errors. No demand to hand over moral rights -- just a reasonable "The freelance will not object to any reasonable or necessary changes".

But the economic effect is the same. Still, unlimited use in all media is worth a significant rate hike, if not a share of this "internal syndication". If you're writing for the Times, go for first-use-on-paper rights only or more money.

The Freelance only spotted this letter just before publication. We'll be running it past the most creative lawyers we can find. We'd much appreciate your reports of experiences negotiating over rights: your anonymity will be respected if requested.

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