Underdogs bite back
THE Independent and Independent on
Sunday in their editorials and regular columns tend
to take the side of the underdog. So why do they think they can
get away with manufacturing their own underdogs through their
treatment of freelance contributors, Freelance Organiser John Toner
asked a meeting in the depths of Docklands on 5 February. The
meeting launched IndyNet, a freelances' network - on the principle,
you might say, that a pack of underdogs is powerful.
The fees they offer are ridiculously low for national papers.
For these pittances, they demand a lot of usage. Even if they
doubled the fees, they'd be asking a lot for the money: web
use and the right to "syndicate" articles not only
to other papers but to individual readers through archive
databases and so on. And some people who have tried to
negotiate have had blunt letters saying in effect
"these are our terms, take them or leave them."
Freelance Industrial Council chair Tim Dawson reminded
the meeting that it has always been a given that freelances
owned their copyright and managements had to pay for re-use.
Not doing so is "rather like someone who pays
for one night in in a bed and breakfast and decides they'd
like to stay".
Management seems to have thought no more than that
they could extort rights from freelances who "obviously"
had no power. The good news is that freelances have
stood up for their rights. He couldn't say that they have been
100% successful every time. But they've extracted an agreement
from the Guardian. They've got the BBC to the
point of signing an agreement on radio packages. And the
inspiring example was the formation of the US Editorial
Photographers' network, which in the face of a rights-grab
from Business Week got rates more than doubled
for an acceptable package of re-use rights.
Managements under pressure tend to claim they can get by
without freelances. John Toner told the meeting that the
Bradford Telegraph and Argus had said just that
in the face of a staff strike with freelance support - which
"was interesting, because they just ran a picture
of a children's Hallowe'en party, in February".
Independents Mother of Chapel Kate Simon
updated the meeting on the staff pay talks. Management had
offered 2.5 per cent, wanting to reserve any extra for
"merit rises" - at their discretion. It didn't
seem likely that'd be acceptable.
Freelance organisation at the Independents
will continue through an email list: visit
to join. Its first priorities are to collect information
on current terms - which seem to vary widely at different
section editors' whims - and to make sure that every
freelance contributing to the Independents is