Reasons to be radical

AUTHORS' RIGHTS are the foundation of our industrial strength, Freelance editor Mike Holderness told the trade union activists at this year's NUJ Annual Delegate Meeting. If your job is making widgets, and you are in dispute, you stop making widgets. No more widgets to sell. The company soon wants to talk. But if you produce words or pictures, the company can go on copying and selling them while you're outside on the picket line - unless you have strong Authors' Rights that give you control over your work.

But many people - including some journalists - see Authors' Rights as a rather airy-fairy issue. Continental claptrap about "Moral Rights", the sacred bond between the individual author and the public... what's it got to do with me getting paid?

Well... if the legal system sees your work as a mere commodity - if you see your work as a mere commodity - then the famous invisible hand of the marketplace is going to crush your income. The argument that you should have the right to a byline and the right to defend the integrity of your work is connected with the fact that what you do is different from making widgets, or shirts, or soap. These can't be copied. Once they're sold, they're gone. Their supply is limited, so the price stays up.

It's also an argument that there is a public interest in Authors' Rights. We journalists are not notoriously popular with the public. The point that, while we don't have proper Authors' Rights, Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch end up owning the first draft of history outright, with the right to change it, gives pause.

Summit homepage The NUJ is hosting an International Federation of Journalists summit on Authors' Rights in London on 14-16 June. To mark the occasion, this Freelance is entirely, rather than just mostly, on the subject. It reports enormous challenges and some victories.

The potential for a global campaign to confront the global media magnates is exciting. But whatever happens in the conference is just the trimmings.

It all depends on you. Respect your own work. Refuse to sign away your rights. Maybe you will do better journalism as a result. But anyway, even if you accept the popular idea that "cynical" goes with "journalist" like "wet" goes with "water", remember that turning work down is the first and most important step to making more money.

June    2000
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Last modified: 08 Jun 2000
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