Lifting rights and uplifting rights
The NUJ/Guardian working group on the vexed problem of "lifting rights" and syndication generally has at last had a potentially constructive meeting.
The company's representatives, managing editor Chris Elliot and rights manager Robert Hahn, took on board the possibility of reviewing the lifting rights arrangement in the perspective of our argument that a they seem to be flogging off valuable material at a job lot cheap price; and b that freelances, almost certainly, and the company, quite possibly, could do much better if the emphasis in their operation was switched from job lot "lifting rights" deals with foreign publishers (who pay the company relatively small annual fees for wholesale access to all the material in the newspaper) to a "spot sales" syndication service (that is, selling individual articles at a premium price).
Elliot and Hahn said that the current lifting rights contracts are a complex patchwork in terms of length and expiry dates, so they could not be expunged at a stroke even if the company wished to do so. However, they did agree that before our next negotiation they would look at setting up a pilot project on spot-sales syndication when the next contract expired, to check the real economics.
Accordingly, in January, London Freelance Branch and Freelance Industrial Council both agreed the following aims and strategies for the next round of discussions:
- That we urge the Guardian to set up a pilot project on spot sales with progress reports and the results being made available to the union; this project should be carried out through a syndication agency. That the joint committee continues, to monitor progress and agree a timetable for changes in the set-up (if accepted).
- That we ask for details of the end dates of all the current lifting rights contracts.
- That we seek an increase in the minimum rate per thousand words as an interim payment in addition to the annually negotiated payment.
- That we initiate joint preliminary discussions on changes to the Freelance Charter (there has been some confusion and conflict between the Charter, a document produced by the Guardian, and the NUJ/Guardian agreement).
- That we initiate further discussions on Dramatic Source Rights (ie the way print journalistic work is sometimes used as the basis for a TV series or even a film) and carry out research with our sister unions on its impact in the USA.
- That we negotiate to secure a guarantee that all freelance bylines be accompanied by the © copyright sign.
The NUJ working party representatives are Carol Lee (copyright consultant), Phil Sutcliffe (chair, LFB) and, currently, national newspapers organiser Jeremy Dear kindly filling in after Bernie Corbett's departure.