September 1996

You may already have won... don't lose out

WHAT PAID 20,000 journalists and writers an average £450 each last year, for practically no effort? What is sitting on tens of thousands of pounds -- some of which could be yours if you only claimed it?

The answer (to these questions, at least) is the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS). The NUJ has (at last!) come to an agreement with ALCS on preferential membership. You do need to sign up directly with ALCS to find out how much money is waiting for you. Read the enclosed letter from the NUJ's Deputy General Secretary. Watch the post like a hawk for a letter from the ALCS itself.

Much more will be at stake in the near future. Probably within a year, reader/viewer/listeners will start paying small amounts for electronic access to individual articles and pictures. Microsoft, Visa, Mastercard, and Xerox are some of the better-known organisations which are publicly betting on this being the way of the future. Individuals may pay only a penny or two an article... but 500,000 people paying a penny is £5000.

That's why publishers are trying to get you to sign "all rights agreements": they want to pay you a couple of hundred pounds for work which they will sell directly for many thousands, and may keep on re-selling for years for thousands more. Their excuse is that it's "too hard" to keep track of tiny payments to freelances.

Rubbish. The technology of the Internet could have been invented for precisely our purpose. That's why it's important not to sign away your rights.

Discussions are starting now between knowledgeable NUJ members and ALCS on building a system to collect electronic rights payments.

Authors and journalists in the USA have been slower than those in the UK to collect the kind of "traditional" payments which make up ALCS' current £9-million-a-year turnover. But they have leaped straight into electronic rights collection.

The Publication Rights Clearinghouse, set up by the National Writers Union, is about to make its second payment to members from its agreement with the UnCover database of articles. The NWU estimates that US$500 million a year is already collected in sales of articles by freelances -- mostly through databases like Dialog and FT Profile, and often without writers' consent.

The Authors' Registry in early August announced that its second distribution to members -- of photocopying fees and some database usage -- would total US$150,000.

Mike Holderness

Since this is about the electronic media, here are some "addresses" for further information: http://www.alcs.co.uk/;
http://www.nwu.org; and

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