March 1996

Be on your Guardian over rights

FREELANCES working for the Guardian should be careful to specify what rights they are selling. A case taken up recently by the union has brought to light a clause in the NUJ house agreement with the paper which purports to give the company all rights in freelance contributions.

Deputy General Secretary and freelance organiser, Jacob Ecclestone, told the February meeting of the London Freelance Branch that he was shocked to learn of the clause. "It has been there for several years, apparently, but we can't possibly endorse such a clause again. It must be removed," he said.

The key sentence reads: "In the absence of written agreement to the contrary, the company shall hold world-wide copyright in the work as it appears in The Guardian."

Ecclestone told the LFB meeting that such a clause carried little legal weight. It was not possible, he said, for the union to make agreements disposing of members' property.

"The Guardian management may regard this as a convenient way to obtain all rights," he said, "but merely asserting their ownership of copyright does not make it a reality. Copyright belongs to the creator -- in this case the freelance writer or photographer."

Last autumn a freelance feature writer wrote to The Guardian asking for payment after discovering that her articles for the paper had been syndicated.

When the managing editor, Brian Whitaker, pointed to the copyright clause, the freelance responded by saying that since she was not (at the time) an NUJ member, she could not possibly be bound by such an agreement.

The story ended well: the freelance joined the union and within two weeks she was paid more than £700 in syndication fees.

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