Reasons to be radical
AUTHORS' RIGHTS are the foundation of our
industrial strength, Freelance editor Mike Holderness
told the trade union activists at this year's NUJ Annual Delegate
Meeting. If your job is making widgets, and you are in dispute,
you stop making widgets. No more widgets to sell. The company
soon wants to talk. But if you produce words or pictures, the
company can go on copying and selling them while you're outside on
the picket line - unless you have strong Authors'
Rights that give you control over your work.
But many people - including some journalists - see
Authors' Rights as a rather airy-fairy issue. Continental
claptrap about "Moral Rights", the sacred bond between the
individual author and the public... what's it got to do with me
Well... if the legal system sees your work as a mere
commodity - if you see your work as a mere
commodity - then the famous invisible hand of the marketplace is going
to crush your income. The argument that you should have the
right to a byline and the right to defend
the integrity of your work is connected with the fact that what
you do is different from making widgets, or shirts, or soap.
These can't be copied. Once they're sold, they're gone. Their supply
is limited, so the price stays up.
It's also an argument that there is a public
interest in Authors' Rights. We journalists are not notoriously popular
with the public. The point that, while we don't have proper
Authors' Rights, Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch end up owning the
first draft of history outright, with the right to change it, gives pause.
The NUJ is hosting an International Federation of
Journalists summit on Authors' Rights in London on 14-16 June. To
mark the occasion, this Freelance is entirely,
rather than just mostly, on the subject. It reports enormous
challenges and some victories.
The potential for a global campaign to confront the
global media magnates is exciting. But whatever happens in the
conference is just the trimmings.
It all depends on you. Respect your own work. Refuse
to sign away your rights. Maybe you will do better journalism as
a result. But anyway, even if you accept the popular idea that
"cynical" goes with "journalist" like
"wet" goes with "water", remember that turning
work down is the first and most important step to making more