Four reasons to resist Bauer’s grab
WHY should we resist contracts that grab all rights in our work - such
as that which magazine publsher Bauer is currently trying to impose?
In particular, when we feel less secure - as a member of a writers' discussion group
felt when saying: "those of us who are quite young in the game can't really
take the 'sod them' option." An older hand replied:
I don't want to appear to be condescending or pulling rank by dint of
being (alas) no longer young, but I would like to respectfully point out
that younger people have much more to lose over signing up than us old farts do -
and you absolutely can do that.
First, if you're nearer the beginning of your career than the end, and
agree to sell all rights now, that means that you won't be able to earn
additional income from the majority of work you do over the course of your
Except in exceptional circumstances contracts of this type are not retrospective, so
will only kick in from the date of signing. Those of us who've worked for
longer will therefore have back catalogues of work built
up over that time which aren't affected by the current grab, and which we're still
free to derive further income from.
Such income may be minimal, but it
does exist - one member reported to the NUJ London Freelance Branch meeting
last week that he'd earned more money in January from re-selling one
ten-year-old feature to a US magazine than from all other work that month.
Had he, at the beginning of his career, been
presented with an all-rights contract and felt his need for the exposure
and the immediate work outweighed other considerations and signed up, he
would have had a dramatically reduced income in January 2010. So something
you feel you can't fight today might well leave you unable to pay your
mortgage in 15 years' time. Unforeseen consequences, and all that.
Second, rights grabs of this kind rely on the publisher being able to tap
in to a pool of keen young writing talent to plug the gaps that will
materialise as extant contributors refuse to sign up. If the talented
young writers are able to hold their nerve and agree that their work is
worth at least the same as the work of their older peers (which it
absolutely is), the company will be forced either to dramatically lower
the quality of their product by further stretching in-house writing
reserves and accepting work from beyond the pool of writers they would
otherwise consider, or they would have to admit that their desire for
all-out ownership needed some tweaking and they will be forced to sit down
and negotiate something fairer.
Third, and this is going to sound really patronising but please bear with
me: while age and experience may bring a certain degree of self-belief and
fortitude when it comes to standing up to this kind of thing, please don't
make the mistake of assuming that it's an easy option for someone to take
just because they've been doing it a while. Whether you're renting a flat
and living on your own or the sole breadwinner in a mortgaged-up house
full of kids, the balance between paying your way and not is extremely
delicate. Few of us will truly be able to afford to lose work, and that
holds true just as strongly for the oldest and most experienced among us as for those
only just beginning their careers as journalists.
Fourth, you have to - I'm afraid - also consider not just those who've
gone before and the people affected at present but also those who will
come along afterwards. If we don't collectively take a stand now, then the
beginners of tomorrow will come into a journalism realm in which
all-rights is a non-negotiable norm, and earning an acceptable living from
writing over a medium or long term is going to be impossible. We all
know how hard it was to get in and make an impression and earn a bit of
money from doing this - by not standing up to it now, we're making it even
harder for tomorrow's newcomers to journalism. We owe it to them as much
as to ourselves to stand up to this sort of thing.
Publishers rely on and want you to feel like you have no option. They've got
you where they want you if you're thinking that you need them more than
they need you. Without good, knowledgeable, capable writing, they don't
have a product to sell, and they know it; just as, without their marketing
expertise and ability to sell advertising space as well as physical copies
of the magazine, we don't have a means of deriving income from our work.
It's a mutual dependency, and that's why, whoever you are at whatever
stage of your career, you have as much of an ability to wield power in
that relationship as anyone else. Don't let them browbeat you into
thinking otherwise - at least not until you've given it a good hard shot.