There are an increasing number of outlets for journalistic work whose first publication will be online (or in other digital media). Rates and terms vary, however, often depending on whether the client originated in book or magazine or newspaper publishing, broadcasting, public relations, or as a new media start-up.
The instant worldwide availability of the web means that traditional "territorial" licences - such as "First British Serial" rights - make no sense. The practical equivalent for original material commissioned for the we would be "First World-wide web rights". It remains the case, however, that republication of a web article in a newspaper or magazine is a new edition requiring a new licence - "Second British Serial" rights for example - and a new fee, just as republication of a newspaper or magazine article on the web is a separate use.
First publication online
Rates for first publication on the internet should be at least as much as the comparable traditional media plus 50 per cent to cover instant global availability. (See the separate section for Public Relations.)
The work may also be more complex than straight copy, with a hierarchy of information and links to be researched, written and marked up. For all work in the digital media relevant specialist areas of knowledge, such as science or medicine, attract premium charges.
The initial fee should be for a licence restricting usage to specific digital media. Clients may need to be introduced gently to the idea that re-use on a different website, even one of theirs, requires a new licence and a new fee. If the agreement includes exclusivity, this should be for a set, short period, and should attract a premium - especially if the article will remain online after that, depressing the market for secondary sales. If the client wants to put the article into a charged-for archive, the freelance should negotiate for a share of revenue or a hefty additional fee as a buy-out - at least as much again as the original fee.
Licensing re-use online
Publishers regularly demand all rights from freelance journalists, often because they want to be free to use the material on their websites as well as selling it - often for high prices - through databases. The Lexis AlaCarte database, for example, charges each reader US$3 and upward for each newspaper article. This is equivalent to syndication - to individuals.
One US database paid freelances 30 per cent of each $2.99 download, but such agreements are still rare, no "standard practice" has been established, and the NUJ recommends aiming for 50 per cent. Some sites pay small advances against revenue from these sources, in the manner of book or record contracts.
Clients are often reluctant to pay freelances for this extra usage, saying there is little money to be made from digital re-use. It is not the freelance's fault, however, if they have signed a dodgy deal with a database provider. And the web is increasingly a source of income as well as a driver for paid circulation. In December 2004, Business Week predicted that web advertising would be a US$9 billion business in the coming year. New Scientist magazine was able to increase its classified advertising rates - the mainstay of an extremely profitable operation - by ten per cent directly because of its extensive web operation. We suspect, however, that a major reason for clients wanting assignment of all rights is to avoid thinking - so it is often the freelance's responsibility to think about exactly what is actually needed. See Notes on negotiating for online use.
Freelances should secure the best possible payment for licensing their work for web use - especially as the web version is, unlike a paper version, instantly available all over the world. On the "syndication" model, go for a percentage of advertisement revenue (which depends on careful records of how often the article is hit or "eye-balled") or for a percentage of fees charged for downloading an article. Some freelances have achieved a premium of as much as the original print fee again. Twenty per cent is not difficult to achieve.
Freelances should ensure that the amount paid for purchase of any specified right is listed separately from the basic fee on any commissioning form or contract where the publisher wants to re-use the material in electronic or digital form.
Keeping track of the work
Journalists frequently discover their work being used on websites without their knowledge or permission. Schemes for "tagging" articles (also known as "fingerprinting" or "watermarking") will possibly allow journalistic work to be identified and tracked on databases or on the internet, making it possible to know when work has been re-used - and to claim any payment due. But these remain under development, and are more advanced for photography than for texts. NUJ members tempted to sign up for a system should seek advice from the Freelance Office. One of the best ways of tracking re-use remains the use of original phrasing, so that you can use a search engine such as Google or AltaVista to find all instances and only instances of your article online. It is not necessary to go as far as the member who endeavoured to get a different newly-coined word into print in every article.
Copyright on the web
Copyright applies to the web just as much as it does anywhere else: under the Berne Convention, each signatory country agrees to provide the same protection to nationals of other countries as it does to its own citizens. NUJ members whose copyright has been infringed overseas should contact the NUJ Freelance Office for advice.
DVD and CD-Rom
For first publication on a DVD or CD-Rom, freelances should charge at least as much as they do for comparable print media. For non-exclusive re-use of previously published material on CD-Rom, freelances should charge an extra 100 per cent of the original fee.
Text © Mike Holderness & previous contributors; Moral rights asserted. The collection (database right) © National Union of Journalists. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org please. You may find the glossary helpful.
The National Union of Journalists must not, can not and would not wish to dictate rates or terms of engagement to members or to editors. The information presented here is for guidance and as an aid to equitable negotiation only.
Suggestions apply to contracts governed by UK law only. In any event, nothing here should be construed as legal advice.