[NUJ.LFB home] NUJ DIGITAL MEDIA WORKING GROUP


=========================================================
THIS IS STILL A DRAFT PAPER - presented here for the rec-
ord. The authors got on with working on specific policies
and campaigns rather than getting this formally adopted.
=========================================================
History:

Original: Mike Holderness, Brian Trench
          October 1994
First Revisions: Gary Herman, Brian Trench
          November 1994
Second Revisions: Gary Herman
          November 1995


DIGITAL MEDIA ISSUES
====================

1. Context
----------
The current and projected technologies which together 
provide the basis for the so-called information 
superhighway represent both opportunities and threats 
for journalists. By precisely the same means that 
journalists can locate and share information more 
easily, publishers can resell the work of journalists 
over and over again.

When the focus of computerisation in the media industry 
was on production techniques in the 1970s and 1980s, 
journalists reacted in defensive manner -- seeking to 
protect themselves against the damage to working 
conditions and hazards to their health. By and large, 
they did not engage in the debate about types of 
production systems, much less propose alternatives to 
the production line systems chosen by their employers. 
Some of the implications of the publishers' choices for 
the nature and quality of journalists' work are only 
now beginning to be appreciated.

Now the application of information and communications 
technologies in the media industry is focused on 
distribution techniques. The development of higher- 
capacity electronic communications networks and more 
powerful desktop computers have opened up 
possibilities for delivering a range of information and 
entertainment services direct to consumers' computers. 

The major media corporations have seen the 
possibilities for adding value to their journalists' 
work, recycling and repackaging it in many different 
ways. Journalists and their trade unions need also to 
be alert to these possibilities, informed about the 
technologies at issue, and armed to argue a democratic 
strategy for their application.

Such a strategy has two main planks: it would seek to 
maximise access to the means of information and 
communication; it would seek to protect the rights of 
those whose efforts provide the raw material for the new  
services, whether these efforts fall under the current 
definitions of "creative" and "intellectual", or not. 

At a time when the European Union is moving towards
adopting a strategy for market-led development of the 
new information infrastructure (following the publication 
of the Bangemann Report on "Europe and the 
Information Society"), journalists and their trade unions
need to consider what kind of regulation is necessary 
to prevent the reinforcement, by new means, of the gap 
between the information-rich and the information-poor.

We note that in its recent action plan, "Launching 
the Information Society", the European Commission 
responding to the Bangemann Report explicitly
acknowledges that its "own definition of priority 
issues ... begins with employment and the working 
environment", while simultaneously noting that 
"possible responses to social and cultural challenges... 
make up much less than one third of the Commission's 
action plan". As with Al Gore's National (and Global) 
Information Infrastructure proposals, the emphasis is on 
supporting private sector involvement in introducing the 
technology, not developing a strategy towards its effects. 
But the issues are by no means settled. It is still possible 
to intervene successfully in the decision-making 
processes and affect final policy and action outcomes. 

2 The Technologies
------------------
New means for reselling journalists' work:

*   CD-ROM publishing, including image databases  
*   Online text databases (Profile as a UK example) 
*   Publishing on computer networks 
*   Electronic syndication -- all major UK daily 
     papers now have news and  features "services" 
*   Blue-sky possibilities -- e.g. the Massachusetts 
     Institute of Technology Media Lab games with 
     personalised newspapers; the San Jose Mercury is 
     doing a primitive version of this. As envisaged 
     by its advocates, the electronic newspaper is 
     "formatted" by market research rather than by 
     journalists' judgement.

The inherent characteristics of digital reproduction:

*   It is relatively simple and cost-effective to  
     manipulate text, images (still and moving), and 
     soundtrack
*   It is possible to produce an indefinite number of
     copies of a work with no degradataion of quality
     at an infinitesimal (effectively zero) marginal cost
  
But also "enabling" technologies: 

*   Computer conferences -- means to collect and share 
     information 
*   Electronic mail -- means to work collaboratively 
*   Electronic newsletters -- low-cost entry into 
     publishing for journalists in specialist areas
*   The use of e-mail may create entirely new contact 
     opportunities for journalists


3 The Issues
------------
At present most information conveyed by these new 
media is reproduced from print publications: publishers 
are managing to re-sell the same information in 
several forms (cf. CDs, DAT in the music biz). 
Publishers are avoiding paying subsidiary, syndication 
and repro rights for this. This is the major reason 
for publishers (IPC, the Guardian) pressing for all- 
rights contracts. 

In the future, it is likely that more members will be 
commissioned to produce material specifically for 
electronic publication. What forms of contract should 
we advise members on? 

In the context of electronic publications, it is possible 
that the possession of particular technical skills 
will become paramount. Already we are seeing that the
ability to use particular software packages is becoming
an important component of many journalists' work. 
Ethically aware training is unlikely to be provided by 
employers, even if they do offer some form of skills 
development (see section 6 below). Training also 
represents an opportunity for recruitment by journalists' 
unions, and an issue on which the union can engage 
with employers on a number of levels.

New technologies often also mean increasing the 
workload and/or expenses of journalists. This is 
particularly relevant to freelances who may now 
have to buy expensive hardware and software, use 
diskettes as well as paper for submitting
copy, subscribe to online services, and face 
alarming increases in their phone bills as a 
result of filing images and text electronically.  

These may affect staff, too, and there are other, 
less obvious, effects of new technologies. 
For example, an email address at the end of an 
article or news item is a direct come-on in a way 
which the inclusion of the publication's phone or 
fax number is not. It is also easier for readers to 
send messages to email addresses than to seek to 
engage journalists in conversation. This may mean 
that journalists have increased amounts of mail to 
deal with as a result of the publication of their 
email addresses.

All the technologies make plagiarism more likely. 
Here we share concerns with the publishers. Are 
modifications of copyright law, even to the Berne 
Convention, necessary or advisable? How relevant are 
such formal declarations in the marketplace? The 
pressures on journalists to get ahead may be such that 
they are tempted, particularly because it is now also 
easier, to cheat in order to impress. Editors may be so 
focused on getting one up on their rivals that they 
care little, and less, about the methods used to get a 
story.

Journalism trainers can contribute to making 
prospective journalists more aware of the need to 
respect author's rights. But such ethical awareness 
needs to be very strong to resist all the 
countervailing pressures of the "real world". 

The technologies also make it more likely that 
newspaper publishers and broadcasting organisations 
will sell their journalists' material in other markets 
and time zones even as their own readers/listeners/
viewers are receiving it. The opportunities for direct 
contributions by staff  and, particularly, freelance 
journalists are reduced in those publications or 
broadcasters taking the syndicated material online.

The law in this area is a minefield, and few if any people
have sufficient expertise to be able to advise us. It may
be worth considering formal arrangements to monitor
developments. This could be done under the aegis of
the IFJ, or by the NUJ. We believe there is a strong 
argument for appointing a full-time researcher to the
NUJ.

Developments in this area we should keep a close eye on:

*   The National Writers' Union case against Mead 
     Data Central et al in New York 
*   We hear that Australian law does not recognise 
     "all rights" assignments and that the 
     contributions of Australian journalists have for 
     this reason been omitted from the new CD-ROM 
     edition of a weekly science magazine. 
*   The CITED demonstration system (see below) 
*   The eventual outcome of GATT Uruguay Round
     discussions on intellectual property rights.
*   The European Union discussions on the copyright
     protection of databases.

But also ...

*   Possibilities for journalists to share information 
     and experiences across national, sectoral, 
     commercial, etc boundaries are greatly increased. 
*   Possibilities for freelances to sell their 
     material, in modified form -- of course -- to 
     diverse outlets are also increased. 
*   Possibilities for journalists to assemble 
     information quickly from a wide range of sources 
     could make for a better informed, more research-
     based journalism, also presents opportunities for 
     freelances to improve employability by developing 
     specialism(s) based, at least in part, on use of 
     electronic information resources.

4 Ownership and control
-----------------------
Network publishing in particular raises some serious 
questions about the ownership and control of 
information. 

As information providers, our members may at first 
sight find attractive developments such as the CITED 
pilot project -- a mechanism for readers to be charged 
for access to individual articles, and in principle 
for a proportion of the charge to be passed back to 
the author/photographer.

As researchers, our word-producing members may find 
this prohibitively expensive. Imagine a situation where 
they're paying by the word for background, and 
publishers are unwilling either properly to fund 
research (for staff) or to reimburse research expenses 
(for the increasing proportion of freelances and home-
office people).

As citizens, we should be very concerned by a world in 
which high-quality information is metered. Consider 
that Murdoch has been wandering round with an open 
chequebook trying to buy up anything which may put 
information on the "infobahn". Consider that Murdoch is 
meeting with Bill Gates of Microsoft, Barry Dillon of 
the (US) QVC cable service and Hollywood figures. 
Consider the possibility for manipulation of a world in 
which (exaggerating for the sake of brevity) the poor 
get Sky News and an expanded Rothermere teletext 
service, while the rich pay through the nose for 
differently-slanted information. In fact, this is only a
natural extension of a situation that already exists in
much of the world.

We do not believe anyone knows the right answer to this 
dilemma. We have an opportunity to get involved in the 
debate about the nature and economics of 21st century 
media. We should not let this opportunity slip by.

We must, soon, make a tactical choice on our attitude 
to the questions on rights in (2), informed by our 
response to the big-picture issues in (3). Do we: 
   
(a) dream up ways of pressing for subsidiary rights 
     payments to be reinstated; 
(b) ditto, proper once-off compensation for selling all  
     rights; 
(c) roll over and die; 
(d) come up with another approach?

Whatever the approach we decide to take (and we 
believe it will probably require some creative thinking),
we believe that it is important for us as journalists
and for society at large that there should be universal
access to information, and provision for this to be
free ("at the point of delivery") through some form 
of public digital library service. 

This is not the same as universal access to 
information superhighways (although we may wish to 
consider that), nor does it mean foregoing intellectual
property rights. We must distinguish between the
right to receive information and the right to reproduce
it. We believe that the first is an inalienable human
right, while the second is transferrable and governed
by law and the market.

The principle at stake here is that authors should
be entitled to benefit from any transaction involving
their work. This principle binds together copyright
and public lending right in printed media. It will need
to be reconsidered in the light of new, electronic forms,
particularly since reproduction can now be 
'virtualised' - that is, it can take place entirely 
electronically and may involve no permanent or long-lived 
physical object at all.

Three questions need to be answered:

*  How do we define an author and authorship?
*  Who pays for reproducing an author's work?
*  On what basis are payments made? 

5 Moral rights issues 
---------------------
We believe that moral rights are central to many of the
emerging issues and should propose the idea that 
they are:

Automatic (you don't have to register)
Enforceable (mechanisms must be established)
Inalienable (they cannot be transferred or denied)
Obvious (they must be clearly defined)
Universal (they apply equally to all people in all countries).

Photographer members are naturally concerned about 
digital  manipulation. We think we should get down, 
very very soon, to drafting codes of practice. These 
might include:   

*   Minimum prominence for a "health warning" on 
     manipulated images (Most TV stations already label 
     "file (or library) footage" lest viewers think it's 
     contemporary);     
*   Where pictures are manipulated, a case could be 
     made that the moral rights provisions of the (C) 
     Act compel consultation with the photographer -- 
     electronic return of "proof copies" of 
     manipulated images is cheap and instant.

We should consider the possibility of this effort 
feeding into a joint lobby for an EC "honesty law". 
Here we can pick up very considerable public support 
and (re-) build a reputation as guardians of ethical 
journalism.

This would be really no more than an extension of the
integrity provision of the existing UK copyright law, 
where authors have the moral right to ensure the 
preservation of the integrity of their work. Under
these provisions, a work cannot be significantly altered
or revised without the original author's permission. At 
present, however, it does not apply to all works (for
example, periodical journalism is excluded), nor is
"integrity" very clearly defined.

Advertisers are now taking notice of "blue-sky" 
projects like the MIT Media Lab's. The distinction 
between interactive computer games, film, advertising, 
and personalised newspapers are meaningless in these 
people's eyes. Consider:  
   
*    Product placement in films is routine, effective 
      for advertisers and accepted;      
*    Rumoured product-placement in Nintendo games;      
*    Efforts to develop personalised advertising -- the 
      TV that sells you what your buying profile 
      indicates you're likely to want;       
*    Sponsorship of news "shows" is commonplace in the 
      US and a fight will be required to stop it 
      happening in the UK.
*    The ability to insert two dimensional images into
      motion video - initially for the purposes of
      customising billboards during sports broadcasts. 

It is not paranoid to suggest that "digital 
manipulation of text" will become an issue. That 
personalised newspaper which  promises to provide just 
the news you're interested in will produce 
advertorials... and there will be pressure to blur the  
distinction between editorial and advertorial.

However, we can see no reason why 'consumers' should 
not be allowed to select and build their own publications 
by means, for example, of registering preferences with
a software robot. Nor do we see any practical way in 
which this can be prevented. And if consumers can do it, 
so can commercial organizations. The possibility of 
producing "custom publications" means that third 
parties could always sell the publications on. 

In any case, interactive online multimedia publications 
will increasingly be customised in this way. The 
technological foundation of multimedia demands
new approaches to the protection of moral rights.

There is an analogy with home-taping and another
with online databases. The proposal in the EU 
draft directive on database protection for a sui 
generis form of copyright to apply only to 
databases might provide a model for protection 
of custom publications. The home-taping precedent 
provides three other possible solutions: 

(a) prohibit all copying/online selection of items;
(b) allow limited copying/online selection of items for
     non-commercial uses;
(c) allow all copying/online selection of items under
     agreed terms.

It's worth noting that while home-taping could
never be prevented by technological means 
(the mythical spoiler signal), the same probably
does not apply to the reproduction of material 
in digital form.

Certainly, we ought to develop a code of practice to 
cover custom publication and the whole issue of 
integrity. Thinking about it, it might become known 
as a "reality law" or "anti-virtual law" rather than 
"honesty"! 

In practice, we may wish to support the notion that 
original works are somehow encoded so that they 
cannot be manipulated, cropped, or cut without
permission. We must also consider how to enforce 
collection of payment for items that are manipulated 
with permission. Option (c) above suggests three 
possibilities:

(a) a pool scheme 
(b) a licence scheme 
(c) a levy scheme.


6 Training 
----------
The training issues arising from these developments 
need to be handled at two levels:

1. The union should ensure that recognised pre-entry 
courses include specific elements on the applications 
of ICTs in the media industry, ensuring that those 
entering the trade are attuned to the future 
possibilities, equipped to handle current technologies, 
and alert to the ethical and legal issues they 
present. 

2. The union should encourage the provision by 
recognised institutions -- and, where appropriate 
provide itself, harnessing expertise inside and outside 
the union -- of courses in the newer technologies for 
those already established in journalism -- for writers 
in electronic mail, online databases, CD ROM reference 
works, electronic archiving, etc; for photographers in 
digital editing, electronic filing; for subs in photo 
editing.

Employers cannot be relied on to provide the kind of 
ethically aware training which is required.

Photographers and agencies are in crisis _now_ as 
papers try to cut electronic filing fees. Publishers 
are trying to push the capital investment and 
"revenue" expenditure onto our members. How do we 
react to this? 

7 Practical responses
---------------------
Many of these issues are not of immediate concern,
but the union must provide leadership, because the
changes that are happening will be more significant
by far than the introduction of direct entry. To
this end, the union must support promotional
and research activities around these issues now.

Publishers are extracting already much more value 
from journalists' work. Even allowing for the political 
difficulties in prosecuting claims for house agreements 
in Britain, a new type of productivity bargaining is 
required which extracts a price from publishers for 
these resale possibilities. This is already union 
policy (ADM 1991) but never(?) implemented -- is it 
unworkable?

Recognising that information providers to online 
databases do not or cannot systematically strip out all 
material provided by freelances on (assumed or stated) 
one-use-only basis, journalists' unions should seek 
preferential rates for freelances (or maybe for all 
members) for usage of such services. This is already 
union policy (ADM 1991).

Advice should be available for freelances on: What to 
put on invoices and delivery notes asserting rights;
pix stickers / copy marking / coded electronic "stamp" 
on scans; What to do if publisher asks for rights (fees 
guide?).

The union should make a thorough and determined effort to 
apply information and communications technologies 
effectively to its own work, seeking to develop the 
existing union network beyond its freelance / techie 
niche to become the preferred means by which Head 
Office communicates with branches and chapels and these 
with each other. 

This would be an important signal to the membership as 
a whole that the union is not merely reacting 
defensively to the technologies and that it recognises 
their potential to be applied in the democratic 
interest.

Mike Holderness
Brian Trench 
Gary Herman

Click here for demonstration of digital manipulation of photographic images.

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