ASJA
CONTRACTS WATCH
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ASJA CONTRACTS WATCH
* CW951108 *
Issued November 8, 1995

The American Society of Journalists and Authors encourages reproduction and distribution of this document for the benefit of freelance writers. Reprint or post as many items as you wish, but please credit ASJA for the information and don't change the content.


The publisher of HARPER'S has told Circulation Management magazine he'll make good on having sublicensed freelancers' articles to Information Access Company without the writers' OK. (IAC compiles magazine articles into fulltext databases found on many online services.) According to CM: "`It's illegal, and if you're doing this without the writer's permission, you're going to get sued,' flatly states Harper's publisher John R. `Rick' MacArthur, who admits that his magazine has been collecting royalties it isn't entitled to, but is now working with IAC to rectify the problem." Harper's says it will split future gross income from online use with writers 50-50, as it has long done with proceeds from other secondary uses when it obtains those rights. Some other magazines have also adopted a 50-50 split of online database income, among them NEW CHOICES and AMERICAN HEALTH. Per-article tracking is fast becoming universally available, and IAC has pledged to offer breakdowns in royalty reports to publishers.

MEN'S JOURNAL (WENNER/STRAIGHT ARROW) offers a contract that asks for a list of rights, most of which don't call for more money for the writer. But as at many other magazines, those who refuse find that editors are allowed to reduce the contract claims severely. One recent deal was for first use only; another covered "first N.A. print serial rights" with an extra 50% payment for a second use in a special issue, and deleted every other contract claim, including electronic, reprint, anthology, syndication, and promotional rights. MJ's boilerplate also calls for payment on publication, which editors will change to "on acceptance." Lesson learned (again): It pays to open your mouth.

LOS ANGELES TIMES editors, following orders, tell most freelancers the paper's outrageous contract is a take-it-or-leave-it offer. (A cover letter from the travel editor, for example, warns: "Please do not alter the agreement in any way.") Not so, apparently. Reports are spreading that some have gotten the paper to retreat from one or two of its key demands, including being first to publish in North America and keeping exclusive rights in its five-county local area. The paper still insists on way too much, but changes editors have made in weak efforts to satisfy those who self-syndicate are significant because they demonstrate that writers who are fed the party line--that no contract changes may be made, period--are not hearing the truth.

Meantime, at HEARST's SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER, the paper's new claim of rights has produced outright refusals by some regulars and protests by many others. The assistant managing editor designated to field freelancers' complaints admits to having heard from at least a fourth of the freelancers faced with the Examiner's contract. The concession standardly offered to those who balk is a rather odd letter suggesting that the Examiner won't seek secondary print sales of freelancer's articles--though the contract says the publisher can do so to its heart's content. As for the electronic rights the newspaper wants for free, the editor says: "We don't make money at this. Not one penny changes hands." What about Examiner articles sold through Dialog, Dow-Jones, Lexis-Nexis...? "Oh, those," says the editor. "All right--money IS changing hands."

WORLD PUBLISHING has been asking writers who freelance for its CRUISE TRAVEL and TRAVELAMERICA (formerly TOURS &&; RESORTS) for permission to sell back-issue reprints by fax and later on the World Wide Web. Those who don't bite when asked to sign for free are sent a follow-up letter offering a 5% royalty. The publisher of another travel title, CARIBBEAN TRAVEL AND LIFE, also has eyes on the reprint business; its offer, in recent letters to freelancers, is so many cents per reprint, amounting to roughly 10% of the take. Writers are returning letters to both publishers countering that in such a joint venture--writer's property, publisher's marketing--the appropriate split is 50-50.

TELEMEDIA (CANADIAN LIVING, EQUINOX, HARROWSMITH, TV GUIDE/CANADA, VANCOUVER MAGAZINE,...), which is planning an innovative revenue share for e-rights that has some promise, has spoiled things by ordering all its publications to use a new contract claiming copyright and all rights. Under a proposed setup that's convoluted bordering on bizarre, Telemedia would parcel some rights back to the writer if requested, and would even pay small amounts for some secondary uses (including that revenue share for e-rights). But that doesn't overcome the copyright grab. "The terms of this contract are unfair, punitive and exploitive, and violate existing copyright traditions," says a bulletin from the Electronic Rights Committee of the Periodical Writers Association of Canada. "We encourage writers to abandon publications which impose these abusive conditions. This contract, in one stroke, condemns Telemedia's publications to mediocrity because the good writers who have built the reputations of magazines such as Harrowsmith and Equinox will go elsewhere." PWAC has begun to spread word among Canadian freelancers and urge other Canadian writers' groups to check out Telemedia's offer so that they can advise their members.

The SOCIETY OF PROFESSIONAL JOURNALISTS, made up mostly of news staffers and educators, has sided with freelancers on the matter of ownership of online rights. A resolution adopted unanimously at SPJ's recent 86th convention "condemns efforts to deny freelancers the legitimate secondary rights to their work...." The statement, drafted by the Press Club of Long Island (NY) chapter, states bluntly: "Freelance journalists should control the disposition of the electronic publishing rights to their works, and at the very least be free to negotiate for additional remuneration for the nonexclusive rights to such reuse of their work, much like songwriters and television scriptwriters receive royalties each time their works are aired."

In a recent issue of its magazine, THE FREELANCE, the National Union of Journalists (UK) points out that "if you sign away your rights in your work, worse things can happen than the loss of income on that piece." The story is told of a writer whose article was sold by an IPC magazine to the trash-tabloid SUN, causing an interview subject much apoplexy and thus the writer much chagrin. "I was really shocked when a friend told me I was plastered all over the Sun," the writer said. "I would urge other members working for IPC not to agree to `all rights'."

The GRAPHIC ARTISTS GUILD, in a report to members about writers' groups resisting the rights grab by the NEW YORK TIMES, suggests that if the move to strip writers of their rights is successful, the newspaper may make similar demands on contributing illustrators and photographers. The Guild urges member illustrators to protect themselves and support freelance writers by protesting to Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger (fax 212-556-1434), executive editor Joseph Lelyveld (fax 212-556-3690), editor for electronic projects Kevin McKenna (fax 212-556-3690) and associate managing editor Dennis Stern (fax 212-556-7126).


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