Jul 2000
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New round of rights grabs:

Freelance briefing paper

Dear freelance NUJ member -

Publishers around the world are at it again in a determined effort to steal your livelihood. The message is:

  • Be alert
  • Take it seriously

I am writing to all freelance members to inform you of a new wave of copyright grabs - and to advise on how to resist these corporate bandits. You already know how important it is to retain meaningful copyright of your work. Only by doing this will you be paid should your work be republished in other publications or on the internet.

Please read this paper carefully and, if necessary, use the suggested standard letter.

If you need further advice please contact the NUJ Freelance Office on 020 7278 7916 or, if you are in Ireland, the NUJ Dublin office on 01 805 3258.

Don't forget . . . your union backs you all the way over your copyright.

If you have information or need help on copyright you can email the Freelance Organiser on freelanceoffice@nuj.org.uk or contact NUJ Freelance Industrial Council chair Tim Dawson at tim@timdawsn.demon.co.uk.

Publishers around the world are at it again in a determined effort to steal your livelihood.

The current wave of rights grabs appears to be global. Several major US newspaper publishers have joined the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday, the Evening Standard, Financial Times Business and the Economist, among others, in trying to wrest the rights to their work from contributors. It is likely that other publishers will follow suit.

Some are using a devious new technique to obtain the rights to journalists' and photographers' work. The Mail on Sunday, for example, wrote to contributors informing them that commissions are offered on the following basis:

1. You retain copyright.

2. We will have: the world-wide right to publish your contribution(s) in all the media formats in which we publish (now or in the future), including print and on-line and off-line electronic media, publication on the internet and CD-ROM . . .

Were you to agree to this, you would retain copyright, but would lose all rights to further payment for use of your work by this media group.

The good news is that the NUJ is not aware of a single media organisation that has not been persuaded to climb down from an "all-rights grab" with at least some of its contributors. Certainly the Guardian/Observer, Express, Emap, IPC and Future have allowed some or all contributors to keep the copyrights and some or all of their rights to additional payments for re-use.

The key is negotiation. Some journalists and contributors have come together to resist attempts to take their rights, others have done it by individual negotiation.

If you receive a "rights grab" letter, the NUJ strongly recommends that you reply straight away - lawyers warn that silence can sometimes be taken as consent. See the suggested letter: you can adapt it as necessary.

Which licences you are willing to sell and what additional payments are achievable is largely up to you. The Guardian/Observer recently agreed to pay writers 5 per cent extra for re-use of their work on the Guardian's websites (the NUJ thinks this figure is much too low and must be the subject of further negotiations - in the meantime at least it establishes the principle). In the US, photographers working for Business Week magazine managed to double the rates they received for work on condition that it could be re-used on the web version of the magazine, in foreign editions and for certain other rights the magazine wanted (syndication is not included).

If you do receive a "rights grab" letter, it would be helpful if you could copy it, your reply and any response you receive to the NUJ freelance office (fax 020 7278 1812). The union has successfully backed claims by members whose material has been republished without permission or payment, so if this happens to you please get in touch.

These actions on the part of newspapers and magazines are part of a global struggle between publishers and contributors. The NUJ and the International Federation of Journalists held an international conference in June 2000 to agree a strategy for journalists' unions around the world to combat these grabs. At that conference, British government minister Dr Kim Howells said that he wanted to see "fair play" and indicated that his sympathies were with journalists and photographers who want to keep their copyright.

And in Ireland the NUJ has kept up pressure on the Government and TDs during consideration of a new copyright law. Even when it seemed the freelance element of the legislation was sound, lobbying continued on behalf of staff journalists who stand to lose rights in the material they create.

The NUJ wants legislation to make copyright a human right as proclaimed in Article 27 (2) of the Declaration of Human Rights:

Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

We must take the campaign to the British and Irish governments and to the European Union with the help of the International Federation of Journalists.

If you need further help or advice about rights grabs please contact the Freelance Organiser or legal officer Claire Kirby at Head Office; or Seamus Dooley at NUJ Ireland.


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