NUJ DIGITAL MEDIA
THIS IS STILL A DRAFT PAPER - presented here for the rec-
ord. The authors got on with working on specific policies
and campaigns rather than getting this formally adopted.
Original: Mike Holderness, Brian Trench
First Revisions: Gary Herman, Brian Trench
Second Revisions: Gary Herman
DIGITAL MEDIA ISSUES
The current and projected technologies which together
provide the basis for the so-called information
superhighway represent both opportunities and threats
for journalists. By precisely the same means that
journalists can locate and share information more
easily, publishers can resell the work of journalists
over and over again.
When the focus of computerisation in the media industry
was on production techniques in the 1970s and 1980s,
journalists reacted in defensive manner -- seeking to
protect themselves against the damage to working
conditions and hazards to their health. By and large,
they did not engage in the debate about types of
production systems, much less propose alternatives to
the production line systems chosen by their employers.
Some of the implications of the publishers' choices for
the nature and quality of journalists' work are only
now beginning to be appreciated.
Now the application of information and communications
technologies in the media industry is focused on
distribution techniques. The development of higher-
capacity electronic communications networks and more
powerful desktop computers have opened up
possibilities for delivering a range of information and
entertainment services direct to consumers' computers.
The major media corporations have seen the
possibilities for adding value to their journalists'
work, recycling and repackaging it in many different
ways. Journalists and their trade unions need also to
be alert to these possibilities, informed about the
technologies at issue, and armed to argue a democratic
strategy for their application.
Such a strategy has two main planks: it would seek to
maximise access to the means of information and
communication; it would seek to protect the rights of
those whose efforts provide the raw material for the new
services, whether these efforts fall under the current
definitions of "creative" and "intellectual", or not.
At a time when the European Union is moving towards
adopting a strategy for market-led development of the
new information infrastructure (following the publication
of the Bangemann Report on "Europe and the
Information Society"), journalists and their trade unions
need to consider what kind of regulation is necessary
to prevent the reinforcement, by new means, of the gap
between the information-rich and the information-poor.
We note that in its recent action plan, "Launching
the Information Society", the European Commission
responding to the Bangemann Report explicitly
acknowledges that its "own definition of priority
issues ... begins with employment and the working
environment", while simultaneously noting that
"possible responses to social and cultural challenges...
make up much less than one third of the Commission's
action plan". As with Al Gore's National (and Global)
Information Infrastructure proposals, the emphasis is on
supporting private sector involvement in introducing the
technology, not developing a strategy towards its effects.
But the issues are by no means settled. It is still possible
to intervene successfully in the decision-making
processes and affect final policy and action outcomes.
2 The Technologies
New means for reselling journalists' work:
* CD-ROM publishing, including image databases
* Online text databases (Profile as a UK example)
* Publishing on computer networks
* Electronic syndication -- all major UK daily
papers now have news and features "services"
* Blue-sky possibilities -- e.g. the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology Media Lab games with
personalised newspapers; the San Jose Mercury is
doing a primitive version of this. As envisaged
by its advocates, the electronic newspaper is
"formatted" by market research rather than by
The inherent characteristics of digital reproduction:
* It is relatively simple and cost-effective to
manipulate text, images (still and moving), and
* It is possible to produce an indefinite number of
copies of a work with no degradataion of quality
at an infinitesimal (effectively zero) marginal cost
But also "enabling" technologies:
* Computer conferences -- means to collect and share
* Electronic mail -- means to work collaboratively
* Electronic newsletters -- low-cost entry into
publishing for journalists in specialist areas
* The use of e-mail may create entirely new contact
opportunities for journalists
3 The Issues
At present most information conveyed by these new
media is reproduced from print publications: publishers
are managing to re-sell the same information in
several forms (cf. CDs, DAT in the music biz).
Publishers are avoiding paying subsidiary, syndication
and repro rights for this. This is the major reason
for publishers (IPC, the Guardian) pressing for all-
In the future, it is likely that more members will be
commissioned to produce material specifically for
electronic publication. What forms of contract should
we advise members on?
In the context of electronic publications, it is possible
that the possession of particular technical skills
will become paramount. Already we are seeing that the
ability to use particular software packages is becoming
an important component of many journalists' work.
Ethically aware training is unlikely to be provided by
employers, even if they do offer some form of skills
development (see section 6 below). Training also
represents an opportunity for recruitment by journalists'
unions, and an issue on which the union can engage
with employers on a number of levels.
New technologies often also mean increasing the
workload and/or expenses of journalists. This is
particularly relevant to freelances who may now
have to buy expensive hardware and software, use
diskettes as well as paper for submitting
copy, subscribe to online services, and face
alarming increases in their phone bills as a
result of filing images and text electronically.
These may affect staff, too, and there are other,
less obvious, effects of new technologies.
For example, an email address at the end of an
article or news item is a direct come-on in a way
which the inclusion of the publication's phone or
fax number is not. It is also easier for readers to
send messages to email addresses than to seek to
engage journalists in conversation. This may mean
that journalists have increased amounts of mail to
deal with as a result of the publication of their
All the technologies make plagiarism more likely.
Here we share concerns with the publishers. Are
modifications of copyright law, even to the Berne
Convention, necessary or advisable? How relevant are
such formal declarations in the marketplace? The
pressures on journalists to get ahead may be such that
they are tempted, particularly because it is now also
easier, to cheat in order to impress. Editors may be so
focused on getting one up on their rivals that they
care little, and less, about the methods used to get a
Journalism trainers can contribute to making
prospective journalists more aware of the need to
respect author's rights. But such ethical awareness
needs to be very strong to resist all the
countervailing pressures of the "real world".
The technologies also make it more likely that
newspaper publishers and broadcasting organisations
will sell their journalists' material in other markets
and time zones even as their own readers/listeners/
viewers are receiving it. The opportunities for direct
contributions by staff and, particularly, freelance
journalists are reduced in those publications or
broadcasters taking the syndicated material online.
The law in this area is a minefield, and few if any people
have sufficient expertise to be able to advise us. It may
be worth considering formal arrangements to monitor
developments. This could be done under the aegis of
the IFJ, or by the NUJ. We believe there is a strong
argument for appointing a full-time researcher to the
Developments in this area we should keep a close eye on:
* The National Writers' Union case against Mead
Data Central et al in New York
* We hear that Australian law does not recognise
"all rights" assignments and that the
contributions of Australian journalists have for
this reason been omitted from the new CD-ROM
edition of a weekly science magazine.
* The CITED demonstration system (see below)
* The eventual outcome of GATT Uruguay Round
discussions on intellectual property rights.
* The European Union discussions on the copyright
protection of databases.
But also ...
* Possibilities for journalists to share information
and experiences across national, sectoral,
commercial, etc boundaries are greatly increased.
* Possibilities for freelances to sell their
material, in modified form -- of course -- to
diverse outlets are also increased.
* Possibilities for journalists to assemble
information quickly from a wide range of sources
could make for a better informed, more research-
based journalism, also presents opportunities for
freelances to improve employability by developing
specialism(s) based, at least in part, on use of
electronic information resources.
4 Ownership and control
Network publishing in particular raises some serious
questions about the ownership and control of
As information providers, our members may at first
sight find attractive developments such as the CITED
pilot project -- a mechanism for readers to be charged
for access to individual articles, and in principle
for a proportion of the charge to be passed back to
As researchers, our word-producing members may find
this prohibitively expensive. Imagine a situation where
they're paying by the word for background, and
publishers are unwilling either properly to fund
research (for staff) or to reimburse research expenses
(for the increasing proportion of freelances and home-
As citizens, we should be very concerned by a world in
which high-quality information is metered. Consider
that Murdoch has been wandering round with an open
chequebook trying to buy up anything which may put
information on the "infobahn". Consider that Murdoch is
meeting with Bill Gates of Microsoft, Barry Dillon of
the (US) QVC cable service and Hollywood figures.
Consider the possibility for manipulation of a world in
which (exaggerating for the sake of brevity) the poor
get Sky News and an expanded Rothermere teletext
service, while the rich pay through the nose for
differently-slanted information. In fact, this is only a
natural extension of a situation that already exists in
much of the world.
We do not believe anyone knows the right answer to this
dilemma. We have an opportunity to get involved in the
debate about the nature and economics of 21st century
media. We should not let this opportunity slip by.
We must, soon, make a tactical choice on our attitude
to the questions on rights in (2), informed by our
response to the big-picture issues in (3). Do we:
(a) dream up ways of pressing for subsidiary rights
payments to be reinstated;
(b) ditto, proper once-off compensation for selling all
(c) roll over and die;
(d) come up with another approach?
Whatever the approach we decide to take (and we
believe it will probably require some creative thinking),
we believe that it is important for us as journalists
and for society at large that there should be universal
access to information, and provision for this to be
free ("at the point of delivery") through some form
of public digital library service.
This is not the same as universal access to
information superhighways (although we may wish to
consider that), nor does it mean foregoing intellectual
property rights. We must distinguish between the
right to receive information and the right to reproduce
it. We believe that the first is an inalienable human
right, while the second is transferrable and governed
by law and the market.
The principle at stake here is that authors should
be entitled to benefit from any transaction involving
their work. This principle binds together copyright
and public lending right in printed media. It will need
to be reconsidered in the light of new, electronic forms,
particularly since reproduction can now be
'virtualised' - that is, it can take place entirely
electronically and may involve no permanent or long-lived
physical object at all.
Three questions need to be answered:
* How do we define an author and authorship?
* Who pays for reproducing an author's work?
* On what basis are payments made?
5 Moral rights issues
We believe that moral rights are central to many of the
emerging issues and should propose the idea that
Automatic (you don't have to register)
Enforceable (mechanisms must be established)
Inalienable (they cannot be transferred or denied)
Obvious (they must be clearly defined)
Universal (they apply equally to all people in all countries).
Photographer members are naturally concerned about
digital manipulation. We think we should get down,
very very soon, to drafting codes of practice. These
* Minimum prominence for a "health warning" on
manipulated images (Most TV stations already label
"file (or library) footage" lest viewers think it's
* Where pictures are manipulated, a case could be
made that the moral rights provisions of the (C)
Act compel consultation with the photographer --
electronic return of "proof copies" of
manipulated images is cheap and instant.
We should consider the possibility of this effort
feeding into a joint lobby for an EC "honesty law".
Here we can pick up very considerable public support
and (re-) build a reputation as guardians of ethical
This would be really no more than an extension of the
integrity provision of the existing UK copyright law,
where authors have the moral right to ensure the
preservation of the integrity of their work. Under
these provisions, a work cannot be significantly altered
or revised without the original author's permission. At
present, however, it does not apply to all works (for
example, periodical journalism is excluded), nor is
"integrity" very clearly defined.
Advertisers are now taking notice of "blue-sky"
projects like the MIT Media Lab's. The distinction
between interactive computer games, film, advertising,
and personalised newspapers are meaningless in these
people's eyes. Consider:
* Product placement in films is routine, effective
for advertisers and accepted;
* Rumoured product-placement in Nintendo games;
* Efforts to develop personalised advertising -- the
TV that sells you what your buying profile
indicates you're likely to want;
* Sponsorship of news "shows" is commonplace in the
US and a fight will be required to stop it
happening in the UK.
* The ability to insert two dimensional images into
motion video - initially for the purposes of
customising billboards during sports broadcasts.
It is not paranoid to suggest that "digital
manipulation of text" will become an issue. That
personalised newspaper which promises to provide just
the news you're interested in will produce
advertorials... and there will be pressure to blur the
distinction between editorial and advertorial.
However, we can see no reason why 'consumers' should
not be allowed to select and build their own publications
by means, for example, of registering preferences with
a software robot. Nor do we see any practical way in
which this can be prevented. And if consumers can do it,
so can commercial organizations. The possibility of
producing "custom publications" means that third
parties could always sell the publications on.
In any case, interactive online multimedia publications
will increasingly be customised in this way. The
technological foundation of multimedia demands
new approaches to the protection of moral rights.
There is an analogy with home-taping and another
with online databases. The proposal in the EU
draft directive on database protection for a sui
generis form of copyright to apply only to
databases might provide a model for protection
of custom publications. The home-taping precedent
provides three other possible solutions:
(a) prohibit all copying/online selection of items;
(b) allow limited copying/online selection of items for
(c) allow all copying/online selection of items under
It's worth noting that while home-taping could
never be prevented by technological means
(the mythical spoiler signal), the same probably
does not apply to the reproduction of material
in digital form.
Certainly, we ought to develop a code of practice to
cover custom publication and the whole issue of
integrity. Thinking about it, it might become known
as a "reality law" or "anti-virtual law" rather than
In practice, we may wish to support the notion that
original works are somehow encoded so that they
cannot be manipulated, cropped, or cut without
permission. We must also consider how to enforce
collection of payment for items that are manipulated
with permission. Option (c) above suggests three
(a) a pool scheme
(b) a licence scheme
(c) a levy scheme.
The training issues arising from these developments
need to be handled at two levels:
1. The union should ensure that recognised pre-entry
courses include specific elements on the applications
of ICTs in the media industry, ensuring that those
entering the trade are attuned to the future
possibilities, equipped to handle current technologies,
and alert to the ethical and legal issues they
2. The union should encourage the provision by
recognised institutions -- and, where appropriate
provide itself, harnessing expertise inside and outside
the union -- of courses in the newer technologies for
those already established in journalism -- for writers
in electronic mail, online databases, CD ROM reference
works, electronic archiving, etc; for photographers in
digital editing, electronic filing; for subs in photo
Employers cannot be relied on to provide the kind of
ethically aware training which is required.
Photographers and agencies are in crisis _now_ as
papers try to cut electronic filing fees. Publishers
are trying to push the capital investment and
"revenue" expenditure onto our members. How do we
react to this?
7 Practical responses
Many of these issues are not of immediate concern,
but the union must provide leadership, because the
changes that are happening will be more significant
by far than the introduction of direct entry. To
this end, the union must support promotional
and research activities around these issues now.
Publishers are extracting already much more value
from journalists' work. Even allowing for the political
difficulties in prosecuting claims for house agreements
in Britain, a new type of productivity bargaining is
required which extracts a price from publishers for
these resale possibilities. This is already union
policy (ADM 1991) but never(?) implemented -- is it
Recognising that information providers to online
databases do not or cannot systematically strip out all
material provided by freelances on (assumed or stated)
one-use-only basis, journalists' unions should seek
preferential rates for freelances (or maybe for all
members) for usage of such services. This is already
union policy (ADM 1991).
Advice should be available for freelances on: What to
put on invoices and delivery notes asserting rights;
pix stickers / copy marking / coded electronic "stamp"
on scans; What to do if publisher asks for rights (fees
The union should make a thorough and determined effort to
apply information and communications technologies
effectively to its own work, seeking to develop the
existing union network beyond its freelance / techie
niche to become the preferred means by which Head
Office communicates with branches and chapels and these
with each other.
This would be an important signal to the membership as
a whole that the union is not merely reacting
defensively to the technologies and that it recognises
their potential to be applied in the democratic
Click here for demonstration of digital manipulation of photographic images.
Last modified: 4 March 1996
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