Sell it again, Sam

THE WORLD is going off celebrities, at least as far as syndication of journalistic words and pictures goes, and a wide range of NUJ specialist writers can look forward to income from international sales.

That was the intriguing news delivered to the May meeting of London Freelance Branch by Dorian Silver, owner of the UK's only major independent words agency, Planet Syndication. It was echoed by Robert Hahn, who runs the Guardian and Observer syndication service.

"Celeb stuff is no longer our biggest seller," said Silver, whose agency supplies more than a hundred countries. "It's been replaced as the worldwide number one by health and women's issues. In fact, in developing markets - China, India, Korea, and eastern European countries - women's magazines are our biggest outlet."

Hahn, whose in-house department has 15 staff (the same size as Silver's agency), said that he believed syndication had improved appreciably in recent years because freelances were far better informed on the process and the technology was much "better organised".

LFB committee member Sion Touhig said that from his experience as a photographer and, in the past, working for an agency, "For photographers, the growth of large image corporations [such as Getty and Corbis] has effectively changed the meaning of copyright. A lot of younger members are faced with all-rights contracts phrased in such a way that they create the impression that copyright is not important.

"But copyright ownership is what enables you to resell use of your work repeatedly," Sion stressed, "and that right is established by law." Hahn said that, on rights, freelances had every right to negotiate improved terms, but that about 90 per cent of the 5000 freelance writers who contribute to the papers accept the minimum terms on rights (while 55 per cent negotiated rates over the minimum).

Those terms included the normal 50/50 split on one-off sales of individual articles and a raft of other rights including web use, photocopying and "bulk" sales of the whole paper to some foreign publishers. The supplement on the basic minimum rate to pay for these rights had recently been increased from 5 per cent to 6.5 per cent, but one member said that this didn't seem enough and urged the union to do an audit of the company's income from these sources.

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