Freelance index page

November 1995

Database publisher coughs up

"I THINK MY WORK is appearing on databases without my permission," the member said to the Branch Committee member. "Hang on, I'll check" said the committee member.

The committee member dialled up NUJnet; selected the Reuters Textline database; and told it to search for all articles containing the member's surname and the word "Electronics", since Electronic Weekly was one of the suspect papers. Indeed, there one of the member's articles showed up among the first 20 headlines.

The search cost £5.82. Of that, Reuters had charged the committee member £2.43 for the privilege of reading the member's 998-word article online. (Reuters reports the length as 1113 words: we hope that Electronics Weekly paid the member for that many...)

In effect, such databases syndicate your work to individual readers at similarly exorbitant prices. (Prices seem to be set on what the perceived market will bear - what a City analyst or, indeed, a time-pressed journalist, will pay not to go to a library.)

The member contacted IPC, the publishers of Electronic Weekly and invoiced them for compensation for breach of copyright. They agreed - nothing in writing, mind you - to get Reuters to withdraw the article from the database. And they made an ex gratia payment of £65 for the one article.

It is not our goal, of course, to get articles removed from such databases. We'd much rather work with the publishers to find ways for freelances to get our share of the revenue.

But this case does underline that publishers, at least by implication, acknowledge their past practices have been illegal. And it makes clear the importance of not signing "all rights" contracts.

US freelances collect

There must be hundreds of thousands of pounds out there waiting to be collected. The National Writers' Union in the USA has collected thousands of dollars for its members through its Operation Magazine Watch. The NWU represents 4000 freelance journalists. Run by lay members of the union in California, Operation Magazine Watch trawls on-line databases for appearances of members' work and alerts them to suspicious cases.

Members of the NUJ are discussing ways of setting up a similar operation here.

The main question is: if we go for a central search and enquiry operation, how should it be funded? This must form part of the union's discussion about the role of collecting societies for journalists - see below and complete the questionnaire.

In the meantime, if you or your branch subscribe to NUJnet you can run your own Operation Magazine Watch, with the cheapest small-scale access to the databases that we know of. (Not any more.)

BY Mike Holderness

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