Copyright grabbed - and returned again

The magazine was a poor payer and the editors elusive. But the peg - the assassination of the Lebanese prime minister - was there and the commission a chance to get out some more hard-won material from an earlier trip to Lebanon. I filed the piece and forgot about it.

Months later, I stumbled across it for sale at two US-based online libraries. IC Publications, the publishers of The Middle East, had sold it on without my consent. The editor denied any knowledge of the sale and referred me to the publisher, who sent One Of Those Documents - stating that cashing the cheque implied that the author assigned the rights absolutely, throughout the world.

Incensed, I wrote again. I think I mentioned the law, and the NUJ. A more conciliatory letter followed, and a phone call from the publisher.

The publisher agreed to reverse his copyright policy, the result of an old agreement to license material to online publishers for a bulk fee. The company had been losing money for years, and had never had the money to consult a copyright lawyer. He agreed with me freelance journalists had rights too. "We are not Haymarket," he said. "We want to do the right thing."

And he wanted me to rewrite the demon document, giving contributors the option to grant or refuse re-publication of their work on the net while retaining the copyright. So this, with help from NUJ Freelance Organiser John Toner, I did.

Sometimes it's cock-up, not conspiracy.

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