Publishers around the world are at it again in a determined effort to steal
The current wave of rights grabs appears to be global. Several major US
newspaper publishers have joined the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday, the
Evening Standard, Financial Times Business and the Economist, among others,
in trying to wrest the rights to their work from contributors. It is likely
that other publishers will follow suit.
Some are using a devious new technique to obtain the rights to journalists'
and photographers' work. The Mail on Sunday, for example, wrote to
contributors informing them that commissions are offered on the following
1. You retain copyright.
2. We will have: the world-wide right to publish your contribution(s) in all
the media formats in which we publish (now or in the future), including
print and on-line and off-line electronic media, publication on the internet
and CD-ROM . . .
Were you to agree to this, you would retain copyright, but would lose all
rights to further payment for use of your work by this media group.
The good news is that the NUJ is not aware of a single media organisation
that has not been persuaded to climb down from an "all-rights grab" with at
least some of its contributors. Certainly the Guardian/Observer, Express,
Emap, IPC and Future have allowed some or all contributors to keep the
copyrights and some or all of their rights to additional payments for
The key is negotiation. Some journalists and contributors have come together
to resist attempts to take their rights, others have done it by individual
If you receive a "rights grab" letter, the NUJ strongly recommends that you
reply straight away - lawyers warn that silence can sometimes be taken as
consent. See the suggested letter: you can adapt it as
Which licences you are willing to sell and what additional payments are
achievable is largely up to you. The Guardian/Observer recently agreed to
pay writers 5 per cent extra for re-use of their work on the Guardian's
websites (the NUJ thinks this figure is much too low and must be the subject
of further negotiations - in the meantime at least it establishes the
principle). In the US, photographers working for Business Week magazine
managed to double the rates they received for work on condition that it
could be re-used on the web version of the magazine, in foreign editions and
for certain other rights the magazine wanted (syndication is not included).
If you do receive a "rights grab" letter, it would be helpful if you could
copy it, your reply and any response you receive to the NUJ freelance office
(fax 020 7278 1812). The union has successfully backed claims by members
whose material has been republished without permission or payment, so if
this happens to you please get in touch.
These actions on the part of newspapers and magazines are part of a global
struggle between publishers and contributors. The NUJ and the International
Federation of Journalists held an international conference in June 2000 to
agree a strategy for journalists' unions around the world to combat these
grabs. At that conference, British government minister Dr Kim Howells said
that he wanted to see "fair play" and indicated that his sympathies were
with journalists and photographers who want to keep their copyright.
And in Ireland the NUJ has kept up pressure on the Government and TDs during
consideration of a new copyright law. Even when it seemed the freelance
element of the legislation was sound, lobbying continued on behalf of staff
journalists who stand to lose rights in the material they create.
The NUJ wants legislation to make copyright a human right as proclaimed in
Article 27 (2) of the Declaration of Human Rights:
Everyone has the right
to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any
scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.
We must take the campaign to the British and Irish governments and to the
European Union with the help of the International Federation of Journalists.