Getting together to tackle the Guardian

THIRTY-FIVE GUARDIAN contributors met on June 4, angered at their harsh treatment at the hands of the allegedly cuddly paper.

Some Guardian contributors are being paid less now than they were two years ago. On at least one occasion the paper's accountants unilaterally cut journalists' payments, from the rates agreed with editors to an arbitrary "standard".

A major bone of contention, naturally, was the paper's attitude to copyright. Many contributors are not told what this is, but discover their work being re-used without their permission in papers with so-called "lifting rights" -- and being re-sold through the FT Profile computer database at around £5 per reader.

Managing editor Brian Whitaker later told the UK Press Gazette: "Company policy is to acquire copyright in contributions to the paper. That doesn't exclude the possibility of allowing the freelance to re-use the piece. All they have to do is ask... if they want to offer it to a newspaper already a member of our subscription service, we agree." And if a paper's a member of their subscription service, who gets paid?

One member had sued the Guardian over unauthorised re-use and won several hundred pounds. Whitaker's response was circulated: "I am... instructing commissioning editors not to accept any copy from you in the future."

NUJ Freelance Organiser and Deputy General Secretary Jacob Ecclestone responded that members should remind the Guardian "it is not acceptable in a civilised society for people to be blacklisted in this McCarthyite way for their belief that their property is their property."

Several at the meeting expressed interest in pursuing this belief through the courts. The union is taking legal advice on the best route. Civil action for damages is possible.

The Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 also sets a maximum jail term of two years for criminal copyright theft.

The meeting agreed that the immediate task was to seek the support of all freelances contributing to the paper. The Freelance hopes that, by the time this reaches you, the Union will have appointed a part-time organiser specifically for this task.

There will be a further meeting, open to photographers and Observer contributors as well as Guardian writers.

All freelances working for either paper should contact Pamela Morton on 0171-278 7916 for details.

If you know anyone who should be at the meeting who may not read the Freelance, please contact them now.

Jul/Aug 1997

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