Beckett backs us on cheque backs

MARGARET BECKETT, President of the Board of Trade, is supporting a freelance NUJ member who has refused to assign his copyright by endorsing the back of IPC cheques. In a letter DTI logo to Paddy Ashdown, leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ms Beckett says Tim Woodcock, a Somerset photographer, "acted correctly in refusing to sign [the cheque] if he did not want all rights in the photograph to be transferred to IPC magazines".

The minister says she "understands Mr. Woodcock's annoyance at being sent a conditional cheque", and warns that "the company would be in breach of contract if they were to refuse to reimburse him for the service he has provided." Ms. Beckett says she is copying the correspondence to the Director General of Fair Trading.

NUJ Freelance Organiser Jacob Ecclestone said: "This is great news. At last someone has recognised the iniquity of IPC's bullying behaviour towards freelances. The NUJ and others have campaigned for almost 20 years on this, so this letter from Margaret Beckett is a significant breakthrough."

He want on: "Every freelance in Britain should take heart from this unequivocal support for copyright." He will be writing to the Office of Fair Trading calling for a full enquiry into the way publishing companies have attempted to extort copyright from NUJ members by the unlawful use of cheques as contracts. The union has argued for years that the Bills of Exchange Act (1882) says that a bill of exchange -- a cheque -- cannot be made conditional.

Ecclestone paid tribute to Tim Woodcock's tenacity and courage in taking the matter up, through his MP, to the Department of Trade and Industry. "Tim has achieved something of benefit to all freelances in Britain. No one should ever again be intimidated by IPC in to signing the back of a cheque and thus giving away their property.

"Anyone getting a cheque which has to be endorsed, should keep a photocopy and send the original back with a covering note to the commissioning editor. The note should merely state that the enclosed document is not a valid cheque under the Bills of Exchange Act and that unless a valid cheque is issued in payment for work done, proceedings will be issued for recovery of the debt," he said.

Sep/Oct 1997

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