Beware the Witch of Work-for-Hire!

The National Writers Union's Journalism Division is fighting for fair contracts at Time Inc., which owns some 100 magazines including major titles such as Time, Sports Illustrated, Skiing and Popular Mechanics.

More than a year ago, Time Inc. introduced a "work-for-hire" contract which deems freelances to be employed for the day and thus under US law takes away their copyright. Journalists refusing to sign this rights-grabbing agreement, including long-standing contributing writers and editors, have been barred from writing for Time Inc. magazines.

This past summer the National Writers Union ran a campaign at AOL-sponsored film festivals - "The Copyright Snatchers". It are now gearing up for another action and needs your help.

On 15 November AOLTW released its second Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in the US and UK, with great fanfare. What most fans don't know is that Time Inc. is the Witch of Work-for-Hire, exploiting freelance writers and artists by forcing them to sign away all rights and ownership to their work.

Below is a sample letter "To the Editor." The NWU needs as many members and allies as possible to write op-eds on this issue and/or send letters to the editors of local papers and/or other publications nationally. No publication is too large or small. Don't forget Time Inc. publications and publications on line.

Feel free to change or add to the letter as you wish. Personal testimonials can be highly effective. If you would like more background, visit the "Journalists" section at Also feel free to contact Dian Killian if you need additional help.

Please let Dian Killian know which publications you're writing to, and me a copy of your letter. Thanks in advance for using the power of the pen on this important issue!

Dear _____,

The National Writers Union completed a study last year (, which found that, in real dollars, the pay for freelance writers had decreased more than fifty percent since the 1960s. The way freelancers traditionally survive against such odds is by syndicating and re-selling their work. But forced to give up their copyright under work-for-hire contracts, such multiple sales by creators is impossible. All additional sales - and the royalties attached - go into the already deep pockets of multi-billion dollar corporations like Time Inc.

Copyright is so important, it's written into the US Constitution. The founders of our country understood there would not be a flowering of culture, arts, and sciences unless creators and inventors could reasonably profit from their work. Last year, in Tasini v. the New York Times, the US Supreme Court ruled in creators' favor when determining that electronic use of a writer's work qualifies as a separate and additional use. But as long as there are media monopolies the size of Time Inc., which owns 100 major publications (and is firing those who refuse to sign work-for-hire), writers have little recourse from unfair contracts. Either way creators lose: the rights to our work (and the royalties we need) or the opportunity to work for Time Inc. publications. When freelance writers and artists can't survive, we all lose a valuable, independent voice in the media.

JK Rowling is a best selling author. But most writers aren't. If you really appreciate what artists and writers do, let AOL Time Warner know that how they're treating independent artists and writers is unacceptable. No one should be forced to sign away his or her copyright. And no one should be fired for refusing to sign an unfair and non-negotiable contract.

Sincerely yours,

Last modified: 16 November 2002 - © 2002 contributors
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