IndyNet launched

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 in contact.

Last modified: 9 February 2003 - © 2003 contributors
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