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Bauer freelances - some small gains

THE FREELANCE copyright and legal indemnity uproar at Bauer mags, Kerrang!, Mojo and Q is over. The outcome means it's another few degrees more difficult for freelance music writers and photographers to make a living now and build a career long-term.

The struggle began back in February when the company terminated generally acceptable pay and rights relationships between freelances and the mags by issuing contracts which demanded copyright assignment and dumped sole legal liability "under any law" on to the freelance. Covering letters added a "sign here or no more work" ultimatum.

More than 200 freelances responded with petitions rejecting the contracts and asking for negotiations.

The mags came up with two different, revised contracts. Tier 1, as we dubbed it, offered to maybe two dozen major contributors a far-reaching license for free reuse rather than copyright transfer. Tier 2 remained full-on all rights. Most freelances still said no.

Soon, the company added a couple of statements, couched as legally binding addenda - this helpfully restricted legal liability to cases where freelances had acted negligently or maliciously.

Worn out by the dispute's tensions and with chunks of their livelihoods threatened as the company finally enforced the "no contract, no commissions" ultimatum, the freelances ended the campaign - frustrated because our only gains were negatives, such as the company dropping its demand for ownership of our notes and interview transcripts as well as the published work.

Many regular contributors, including this writer, have not and will not sign the contracts offered. We'll lose work we love doing - and income. But while we've all seen nasty magazine and newspaper contracts, beyond Bauer they're rarely non-negotiable. There are other outlets.

And surely, even amid current El Dorado/ handcart-to-hell digital turmoil, publishers who take a broad, intelligent view will continue to depend on and therefore even encourage a body of self-employed workers/content providers whose commercial value includes covering their own business risks, office and equipment costs, holiday and sick pay.

True, as creative workers we're grist-to-the-mill rather than occasional golden egg providers like the (self-employed) musical souls we write about or photograph. But we're worth it, from independent journalistic voice to cash on the barrelhead.

  • For the small proportion of the 200 Bauer music magazine contributors in the campaign who are NUJ members, the union's National Executive Council voted a £5000 hardship fund for those whose income has suffered as a result of the rights grab and their refusal of it.
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