[Freelance]

September 1996


Interesting news from Belgium

BELGIAN JOURNALISTS' union the AGJPB is suing the country's newspaper proprietors over their electronic re-use of members' work -- and on the face of it they stand a very reasonable chance indeed.

In 1994 a new law clarified Belgian journalists' position. The country adopted the doctrine of "authors' rights" in 1886.

Unlike UK and US copyright, which is defined as a property right on a par with ownership of a lawnmower, authors' rights are rights of the individual and cannot be transferred. Belgian publishers had, however, tended to bend the law or to deny that journalistic work was "original".

The 1994 law made it plain that journalists have full authors' rights. So, in Belgium, only the journalist can authorise reproduction or modification of a work.

Earlier in 1994, a coalition of newspaper publishers started work in secret on "Central Station", an electronic database of articles. No journalists were consulted.

After two years of pressure, the AGJPB (Association Generale des Journalistes Professionels de Belgique) met with publishers in late April -- barely a fortnight before the rumoured launch of Central Station.

The publishers insisted that there was no question of paying anyone for reproduction of work through the database; and they refused to talk to the writers' or photographers' collecting societies. Central Station is open, and it is charging users 5000 BEF (£106) per month plus 4 BEF (8p) per article per user.

Mike Holderness


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