Fog on the Mersey

FREELANCES in Liverpool and North Wales have been fighting the Liverpool Daily Post & Echo for two years over copyright. Trinity Mirror, which owns the Liverpool company, has a group-wide policy of grabbing all electronic rights for one (paltry) payment. They also require freelances to waive their moral rights.

The first letter arrived in March 1998 but the push came to shove - in time for Christmas 1999, an invitation to "consider whether to continue our relationship".

The papers' strategy was to divide and rule: no meetings with union representatives, and no joint negotiations. That hasn't stopped networking, and NUJ members (and non-members) joined forces with members of the National Association of Press Agencies to share information and discuss tactics.

But solidarity is hard to keep up when your livelihood is at stake. Some contributors, especially those in North Wales (the Daily Post's main circulation area), were genuinely frightened. Trinity Mirror's other major title in Wales, the Western Mail, had refused to deal with those who wouldn't sign.

London-based freelances may find alternative outlets for their work: in the regions it is not that easy. And the current near-monopoly in regional newspapers is making it harder all the time.

We managed to get management to spell out that this wasn't an "all rights" grab. (They don't need one when they have the right to re-use material as often as they want, for as long as they want.) We succeeded in moving some deadlines.

But gradually they picked people off. Most freelances have now signed. Some have refused and have been bovcotted after decades of working for the company. A few continue to stonewall and, so far, are still filing.

Meanwhile, Trinity Mirror has announced an £150 million investment in "the Internet". None of this is, presumably, intended to go to pay freelances for the stuff the internet is made of: it's not technology, it's words and pictures.

Last modified: 4 December 2000 - © 2000 contributors
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