May 1996

US Freelances collect now

A SOLID MODEL for freelances collecting what's due to us in the new electronic media was launched just as the last Freelance went to press. The Publication Rights Clearinghouse (PRC) is a ground-breaking initiative of the US National Writers Union, which represents 4000 freelances there.

It works like this:

  • You register with PRC. There's a small enrolment fee to cover admin costs.
  • You grant PRC the right to license specific rights in your work to electronic publishers.
  • Your work is published on paper in the normal way. The paper publisher pays you, in the normal way, for a license to publish it that one time.
  • Your work is also made available electronically.
  • Someone reads your article (or sees your photo) through an electronic information service or publisher. They pay a fee. The service makes a record of the transaction.
  • At the end of the month, each electronic publisher sends PRC a cheque -- with the record of the works read.
  • PRC adds up all the small amounts it has received as a result of people reading your work. It deducts a small handling charge -- and sends you a cheque.

PRC is a pilot project: at present, the only major electronic publisher signed up is UnCover. At present, UnCover mostly supplies faxed copies of articles on demand to users who are typically industrial or business researchers. Through its agreement with PRC, UnCover had been able to reduce the price they pay pay from $11.50 to $11.05. Of that, NWU members belonging to PRC get (net) $2.04. The system is designed, however, to "scale" to systems delivering many more copies of works electronically at lower prices.

There are two other major projects in the US. The Media Photographers' Copyright Agency was launched in 1992 by the American Society of Media Photographers. It operates as a cross between a collecting society and a picture agency: it holds scanned copies of its members' pictures. Members set their own conditions for licensing usage, and MCPA handles licenses according to these conditions and collects payments.

The Authors Registry was launched by the US Authors Guild and the American Society of Journalists and Authors. The NUJ added its support. Where PRC aims to build outwards from an agreement delivering actual cash from a single electronic publisher, the Registry is building upwards from a base of over 60,000 authors. The two must inevitably co-operate.

The NUJ is studying all these examples carefully to develop the system which best suits UK conditions. Since the electronic marketplace is international, it will need to form close relationships with all of them.

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