August 1995

Nightmare on 43rd Street

THE NEW YORK TIMES company last month sent editors a freelance contract with a nasty new twist. It expects writers to sign a statement accepting that "As works made for hire, your articles may be reused by the New York Times with no extra payment being made to you."

This is an attempt to use the feature of Anglo-Saxon copyright law which gives rights in employees work to the employer as, for example, when a photographer is hired to do a days work rather than selling an individual photo.

Robin Davis Miller, executive director of the Authors Guild, responded that "The Times won't be carrying 'All the News That's Fit to Print.' It'll be 'All the News We Can Re-use for Free'." And "This is a declaration of war against all writers," added Jonathan Tasini, president of the National Writers Union and lead plaintiff of a lawsuit over electronic rights against a number of media corporations including the Times. "The Times has drawn a line in the sand. Unless writers cross it, fewer and fewer of the people who create our culture will be able to earn a living.

Dan Carlinsky of the American Society of Journalists and Authors pointed out that the Times staff contract gives them a share of syndication income - so management wants freelances to have fewer rights than staff, reversing the law's intention.

Prominent freelance writers joining the three organisations' protest include Russell Banks, David Bradley, Barbara Ehrenreich, Ken Follett, Erica Jong, Garrison Keillor, Barbara Kingsolver, Nicholas Lemann, J. Anthony Lukas, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Alvin Toffler, Heidi Toffler and Fay Weldon.

The NUJ has joined the IoJ and other UK organisations in another letter of protest.

Writers walk

Even before the latest letter, writers were refusing contracts from the paper. And the ASJA reports that Hearst publications have also lost out from management's hard-line attitude. One writer turned them down for an exclusive at double the normal fee - itself more than adequate by UK standards.

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