Victory in Scotland

THE NUJ photographers who were in dispute with Scotsman newspapers (TSPL) are celebrating a comprehensive legal victory over the company. The eleven photographers, on whose behalf the NUJ took legal action against Scotsman newspapers, have together won more than £20,000 in lost fees in a case that is estimated to have cost TSPL over £100,000. TSPL has accepted that its use of their copyright work was unlawful.

In early 2001 TSPL notified photographers that it wanted to establish a new contract with photographic contributors to its three titles (The Scotsman, the Edinburgh Evening News and Scotland on Sunday). The company initially negotiated with the photographers, and then with the NUJ. In essence the paper wanted to take the freelance photographers' copyright so that they could use their work time and again, without further payment.

Although the negotiations initially seemed productive, in March 2001 TSPL announced that it intended to impose the new contracts, come what may. It refused further discussion with the NUJ. A core group of photographers - many of whom had taken photographs for TSPL titles for years - decided that they would not work under the new contract and forbade TSPL from using any of their archived images. In doing so they had the support of nearly every freelance photographer in Scotland.

For nearly a month, all three TSPL newspapers appeared using publicity material - as well as unlawfully reproducing images taken by the photographers with whom it was in dispute. Many freelance photographers to this day refuse to allow TSPL titles to use their work, although the group who were in dispute stopped asking colleagues not to supply the papers once it became clear that the company would not return to the negotiating table.

At that point the photographers, backed by the NUJ, raised a legal action against TSPL for unlawful use of their images, both in the papers on web sites. Since then, the company has used every legal ruse possible to avoid settling. The day before the case was to be heard in court, TSPL capitulated and paid the photographers in full for the unlawful use of their images.

Colin McPherson, one of the photographers said: "It has taken an awful long time, but it is gratifying finally to have established that we do own the rights to the photographs that we have taken and the we do have the right to specify where they can and cannot be used. Of course, I would be much happier if TSPL had been responsible in the first place and had settled on a contract that established that it was reasonable for photographers to retain rights over their pictures and to be fairly paid when they are reproduced.

"TSPL's titles would have a far greater pool of talent to draw upon," Colin went on, "if they had been willing to treat photographers with professional respect. For the moment, though, we will be celebrating this victory, which should send a message to all publishers that they cannot ride roughshod over photographers', or any creators', rights."

NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear said: "This is a huge victory for a group of courageous photographers who refused to allow their work to be abused and strikes a blow for every freelance across the UK. It sends a warning to companies that they cannot ride roughshod over freelances' rights and expect to get away with it. I congratulate the photographers in this vital case."

The eleven photographers will now meet to discuss what went well in the handling of the case, and what have could be improved. There are continuing campaigns against TSPL. The first is against their copyright-grabbing contract, which they require all their freelances to sign. The second is against a future and far-reaching copyright grab which was accidentally revealed by their lawyers during negotiations.

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