Online only - update 04/05/10

Bauer music magazines declare war on freelances

The following statement has been agreed by representatives of 200 freelance music journalists.

Bauer music magazines Kerrang!, Mojo and Q are in a stand-off with 200 freelance writers and photographers over the company's attempt to impose a copyright-grabbing contract. This comes just eight weeks after Mojo became the UK's best-selling music magazine in ABCs which, according to Bauer UK chief executive Paul Keenan, proved that "investing in editorial content is a winning strategy".

Bauer, a German-owned publisher which bought the music magazines and other consumer titles from Emap in December 2007, is seeking to impose new, draconian contracts on all contributors to Kerrang!, MOJO and Q. These contracts remove copyright and all financial, legal and moral rights from freelance writers and photographers while simultaneously requiring that the freelances provide Bauer with an unlimited lifetime financial indemnity in the event of legal action arising from their work.

Among various other restrictive impositions, the contract further grants Bauer the right to sell stories or photos to whomever they wish without reference to the writers, photographers or the subjects of the work - and it even presses freelances to acquire licenses from their subjects for the company to use their image for its own profit as and when it wishes.

In a covering letter delivered with the contracts, Bauer issues an ultimatum: after April 16, if the contributors do not sign, they will no longer be commissioned.

The three music magazines, which are heavily dependent on freelance contributions, are believed to be the first former Emap titles on which Bauer seek to impose the new contract. Stuart Williams, the managing director of Bauer's music titles, has confirmed the company's intent to roll out this policy across all the magazines Bauer purchased from Emap, which include Empire, Heat, Closer, Grazia, Max Power, MCN, Match!, FHM and Zoo.

Over 200 contributors to the three music magazines have refused to sign the new contract, which has been described by contributors as "foolish", "malicious", and "an unprovoked and pointless declaration of war on freelancers".

Since contributors sent an initial letter of objection to the contract in late February, Bauer have withdrawn the rights-grab from a revised version offered to a few contributors. However, the open-ended legal liabilities remain, and it is unclear whether these improvements for a few contributors will apply for long: Williams wrote to freelances that "Bauer is committed to its stated aim to seek copyright transfer."

The company has told freelances that there will be no further amendment to the contracts and that the 16 April deadline is final.

Bauer now faces losing most of its best-known music writers and photographers, including Q contributing editors Billy Bragg, Miranda Sawyer and John Harris, former Kerrang! editor Paul Brannigan, former MOJO editors Mat Snow and Paul Trynka and former features editor Jim Irvin, celebrated writers including Nick Kent, Jon Savage, Sylvie Simmons, Dave Marsh and Greil Marcus, and acclaimed photographers including Jill Furmanovsky, Kevin Westenberg, Kevin Cummins and Val Wilmer.

Westenberg speaks for many when he points out: "You'll either have to sign the contract - signing copyright away; sign and be a slave - or not work for them again. I already decided not to sign a long time ago. Never give your rights away. This is your pension and legacy."

A committee of the freelances affected has been attempting to enter into dialogue with Bauer since the first draft was issued late in February, but the company has rebuffed every overture. "Their behaviour is bizarre and counter-productive," says Iggy Pop's biographer Trynka, who was previously responsible for overseeing MOJO and Q syndication and contracts. "As contributors, we share Bauer's need for their titles to remain profitable, and are offering Bauer permission to use some material on the iPad and similar digital platforms for no extra payment."

Attempted rights grabs like Bauer's are far more than an assault on a specific group of music writers and photographers - they undermine the viability of freelance journalism as a whole.

Freelances bear a significant proportion of the risk in most media businesses because, behind their commission-by-commission availability, they pay for their own equipment, office space and training. Without any of the statutory sickness, holiday, maternity and paternity pay rights of staff, the only asset their work produces is their stock-in-trade: copyright ownership, as acknowledged by UK law.

Will Bauer's magazines sell more copies if they push these contracts through, so losing the services of many of their most expert, reliable and popular contributors? Will musicians and other showbusiness talent stand idly by and see their quotes and photographic likenesses commoditized and put on sale by a publishing company? In business terms, it doesn't make sense.

Last modified: 04 May 2010 - © 2010 contributors
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