PERHAPS, when you receive one of those contracts through which a publisher graciously offers to relieve you of all rights in your work in media yet to be discovered and universes yet to be invented, your first thought is rarely "what would John Locke have made of this?"
It may not be immediately apparent, either, that your outrage probably implies a "natural law" approach to ownership rights, likely owing something in its implicit definition to the 17th-century philosopher Locke. It may be clearer, at least now it's put this way, that the publishers you confront are applying a utilitarian neo-classical model to minimise transaction costs... It certainly feels as though something that is naturally yours is being taken away from you. But what is a "natural right"?
Guiseppina D'Agostino is familiar, as Director of the Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in Canada, with both the US/UK copyright regime, in which copyright is (merely) a property right, and the natural-rights-based Authors' Rights law that broadly applies in neighbouring Quebec, founded (in theory) on the inalienable right to maintain a connection with your work.
She has written a most unusual beast: a law textbook examining, in detail, how the rights of freelance journalists could and should be protected. It very thoroughly reviews the case-law, so if you ever have to go to court you should thrust this into your lawyer's hand early on.
And part of the answer to the opening question is: Locke would have been deeply unimpressed with publishers demanding "assignment" of rights, because then you have to ask their permission to share your own work with anyone, ever again.
We freelances should not be beguiled, she says, by the presence of the letters "free" in our non-job description.
In economic terms we are more exploited than factory workers, who were eventually allowed to bargain collectively and still are, up to a point. Alienated from our labour, that's us.
- Copyright, contracts, creators by Guiseppina D'Agostino (Edward Elgar: ISBN 1847201067) £79.95