July 1996

The Norwegians have arrived*

THE NORWEGIAN Union of Journalists has signed a ground-breaking deal with newspaper publishers for electronic rights payments to staff.

The agreement, signed on June 13, is part of the union's national newspaper agreement. The 2100 members working in the sector were on the point of striking when a compromise was reached at the last moment.

The publishers had opened negotiations by demanding all rights in media yet to be invented. The last-minute agreement was forged in binding arbitration. Union president Diis Børn told the Freelance the government-appointed arbitrator's legal background was important: "We managed to convince her, as a lawyer, that this was the way the deal should be."

The payments agreed are not stupendous: a token 1000 kroner (£100) a year to staff journalists for use of their material on the Internet and £50 a year for distributing it through databases.

But the contract establishes the principle that distribution in these ways is a second publication. As far as the union is aware, it is the first agreement anywhere to do so so clearly.

General Secretary Tore Andersen told Associated Press that Norwegian "newspapers earn little, and often lose money, on Internet editions. But in the future there could be a lot of money in these electronic publications."

And Diis Børn is "really pleased that it's possible; if it's possible in one country, it will be possible in other countries as well, especially if unions co-operate internationally".

The agreement also makes it clear that staff journalists retain the general right to re-use their work outside of press and broadcast. They should normally get 50% of receipts from syndication by their employers, and may negotiate locally over material exchanged with other papers.

Journalists' "moral rights" of integrity and identification are specifically protected. And, finally, "The parties agree that introduction of electronic picture manipulation equipment assumes an agreement regarding the photographer's rights to the picture."

UK- and US-based readers may be wondering whether they've somehow ended up working on the wrong planet.

The situation for Norwegian freelances is, though, distressingly familiar. The publishers have refused to recognise an existing national agreement on freelance conditions. Diis Børn says that the union is trying to negotiate local agreements. She is also keen to explore the possibility of a collecting society for freelances' electronic rights.

The text of the agreement, in English, is available from the union's elegant site at http://www.sol.no/nj on the World-Wide Web.

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* This headline to be read over the Twin Peaks theme, copyright clearance permitting if in public