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Copyright is a food-on-table roof-over-head thing

Show me the money

AS WE update the Freelance Fees Guide general advice section, we thought it would be useful to update some of the classic Freelance pieces that it references.

THERE ARE major principled reasons why freelances should retain the copyright they own under UK law. Rights being held by individuals rather than corporations is important to journalists' independence, responsibility and accountability - in an increasingly globalised and corporatised media set-up. These rights are very important to the fabric of society, the health of democracy and freedom of the media and so on.

But there is also the pressing, practical matter of helping freelances to make a living. These are some of the ways in which freelances can make more money by retaining their copyright and licensing further usage of their material:

Repeat fees: If the original user wants to republish or rebroadcast material, through the same outlet or another one within the same company or organisation, then a further fee should be paid - anything from 50 per cent of the original fee to much more than the original fee, should the new outlet be more commercially powerful.

On-sales & syndication: Freelances can syndicate their material, be it print or broadcast - that is, they can sell it on to other outlets or clients, at home or abroad. Photographers may well make a large proportion of their income in this fashion, some by selling through agencies (in which case the photographers' cut in different circumstances may range upward of 50 per cent), some by selling directly themselves. Writers can do the same, though there are far fewer agencies for words and they rarely pay more than 50 per cent of gross fees received. Cartoonists, of course, may make the biggest score of all, should they come up with a hit strip that's syndicated daily around the world.

Collecting societies: Collecting societies are not-for-profit bodies which collect money on behalf of copyright-owners for "secondary" usages of their material - traditionally, photocopying, but also some radio and TV usages. In the UK, ALCS (mainly for book and magazine writers) and DACS (for visual artists, including photographers, cartoonists, illustrators, mainly in print media) collect millions in license royalties (for example from libraries) via similar societies around the world, and distribute them to British journalists annually.

Derivative works: Sometimes an article or series of articles, or a cartoon strip, or even a sequence of photographs, can be the basis of a TV programme or series or even a movie, documentary or fiction. The freelance copyright holder will be able to negotiate permission for this usage of their work in exchange for suitable, possibly very large fees. Similarly, TV or radio programmes spin off print usage of words and images, which can yield the broadcast journalist some extra income.

Having a say: Where a freelance's work appears is important to their reputation. And without a reputation, a freelance has no work and no sources. A freelance may have promised a band that their interview will not appear in a particular tabloid. They may want to maintain a reputation for independence by stopping theor work appearing in PR material, and will want to respect the NUJ Code of Conduct by preventing its use in advertising. The only way to stop these things happening is to retain copyright - and to grant licences specifying "no syndication without consultation".

Public lending Right: UK libraries pay money to book authors, according to how often they are read - it's just that, oddly enough, it isn't dependent on copyright ownership; they get it regardless.

Mostly, though, you have to hang on to those rights to get your just rewards.

  • This was originally published in December 2005 and we updated it in July 2020.

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