Vigorously oppose rights-grabs!

Authors' Rights for all - now

TRADE Minister Kim Howells, speaking at the "Authors' Rights for all" international summit hosted by the NUJ on 12-14 June, offered to act as a "broker" between the union and the BBC over copyright. And the Daily Mail is writing to its freelances: "Dear contributor: You retain copyright."

Obviously, Associated Newspapers has recognised how important authors' rights are to freelances. Apparently, from its lack of response, the BBC has not. But Associated continues, in letters to Mail and Evening Standard contributors, by asserting that it will have rights to use work "in all the media formats which we publish (now or in the future)." And syndication rights. And database and online rights.

"If those old-style letters demanding assignment were like the publishers demanding the freehold of your house for the price of a month's rent," comments Tim Dawson, chair of the NUJ's Freelance Industrial Council, "these new ones are demanding a 999-year lease."

Simple advice

The union's response to what NUJ Copyright consultant Carol Lee calls "the dissembling nature of these letters" is "don't sign". Both the Financial Times and the Economist have also recently demanded, straightforwardly, that contributors assign all rights in their work. Don't do that, obviously.

For more information, see the NUJ's briefing and sample letter of response.

NUJ Copyright consultant Carol Lee
NUJ Copyright consultant Carol Lee: "dissembling nature of these letters"
Photo © 2000 Kevin Cooper

The campaign

One publishing insider describes the current spate of rights-grabs as "the payback for Tasini-v-Times". That was the case in which the President of the US National Writers Union and five colleagues won against the New York Times, database company MEAD and others, for re-using their work without permission or payment.

NWU President Jonathan Tasini
NWU President Jonathan Tasini: "bring to heel some of the most powerful corporations in the world"
Photo © 2000 Kevin Cooper
"Tomorrow we are going to launch a campaign to bring to heel some of the most powerful corporations in the world," Jonathan Tasini told the Summit meeting at the British library. As a New Yorker he's blessed with irony - but he's serious, too.

The Summit drew representatives from unions in 30 countries. It concluded that proper authors' rights in the English-speaking world - for freelances and staff - are essential to them defending their members' rights everywhere. The campaign needs to be taken up as a matter of public interest. "Trust us, we're journalists" may raise a laugh in the UK - but a major reason for that is the manipulation of reporting in the interest of proprietors who own the news outright.

The NUJ's progress towards an agreement with the Guardian had already attracted attention abroad. Managing editor Chris Elliot said the paper was keen to get back on the side of the good guys.

NUJ General Secretary John Foster
NUJ General Secretary John Foster: authors' rights are "an issue for all journalists and beyond that for all creators and ultimately for the whole of society."
Photo © 2000 Kevin Cooper
John Foster appealed to the international delegates to apply pressure on the BBC. Particularly given European debate about public service broadcasting and the licence fee, letters expressing concern at its rights grab would hold Greg Dyke's full attention. DTI Minister Kim Howells spoke encouragingly. "Those who steal intellectual property rights slice away at the vital undergrowth of creativity in this country," he said. Now it's up to us to convince him who the important thieves are - knock-off perfume merchants, or press barons?

The stakes are high. "Intellectual property," says Mark Getty, scion of the oil family and owner of the Getty photo archive, "is the oil of the twenty-first century". Foster concluded the conference: "In the NUJ, authors' rights used to be a freelance issue. Now because of the work of the Freelance Industrial Council we know it's an issue for all journalists and beyond that for all creators and ultimately for the whole of society."

Aug/Sep 2000
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The Evening Standard has backed down completely in its rights grab with one contributor. When the journalist told them he only sells first British serial rights they effectively said, "Oh, OK."
August Ringvold from Norway
August Ringvold from Norway told the Authors' Rights Summit about their struggle with the daily newspaper publishers. His T-shirt carries the slogan "share, don't steal" - in Norwegian, oddly enough. The "§46" refers to section 46 of the Norwegian union's old house agreement with the newspaper publishers, covering Authors' Rights. They balloted on a strike, but achieved a reasonable agreement, with an authors' rights clause, without.
Photo © 2000 Kevin Cooper

Last modified: 25 July 2000
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