Laura Levine
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UK freelancers under attack
posted: April 12, 2010
My music photographer and writer colleagues over in the UK in the midst of fighting a battle with Bauer Publishing, the new owners of such respected magazines as Mojo and Q (both of which I've contributed to in the past). They've been presented a "take it or leave it" contract which basically grabs their copyrights as well as indeminifying Bauer should any legal actions result from Bauer's future use of their images.


This is horrfying contract, and a slippery slope. I feel all freelance content creators - whether photographers, writers, illustrators....whether in Europe or the US - should pay close attention to this situation and do what we can to support our sisters and brothers in this fight.
Here's the press release. I've highlighted some of the parts I find especially relevant.

Bauer music magazines declare war on freelances


The following statement has been agreed by representatives of 200 freelance music journalists.
 
Bauer music magazines Kerrang!, MOJO and Q are in a stand-off with 200 freelance writers and photographers over the company's attempt to impose a copyright-grabbing contract. This comes just eight weeks after MOJO became the UK's best-selling music magazine in ABCs which, according to Bauer UK chief executive Paul Keenan, proved that "investing in editorial content is a winning strategy".

Bauer, a German-owned publisher which bought the music magazines and other consumer titles from Emap in December 2007, is seeking to impose new, draconian contracts on all contributors to Kerrang!, MOJO and Q. These contracts remove copyright and all financial, legal and moral rights from freelance writers and photographers while simultaneously requiring that the freelances provide Bauer with an unlimited lifetime financial indemnity in the event of legal action arising from their work. Among various other restrictive impositions, the contract further grants Bauer the right to sell stories or photos to whomever they wish without reference to the writers, photographers or the subjects of the work - and it even presses freelances to acquire licenses from their subjects for the company to use their image for its own profit as and when it wishes. In a covering letter delivered with the contracts, Bauer issues an ultimatum: after April 16, if the contributors do not sign, they will no longer be commissioned.

The three music magazines, which are heavily dependent on freelance contributions, are believed to be the first former Emap titles on which Bauer seek to impose the new contract. Stuart Williams, the managing director of Bauer's music titles, has confirmed the company's intent to roll out this policy across all the magazines Bauer purchased from Emap, which include Empire, Heat, Closer, Grazia, Max Power, MCN, Match!, FHM and Zoo.

Over 200 contributors to the three music magazines have refused to sign the new contract, which has been described by contributors as "foolish", "malicious", and "an unprovoked and pointless declaration of war on freelancers". Since contributors sent an initial letter of objection to the contract in late February, Bauer have withdrawn the rights-grab from a revised version offered to a few contributors. However, the open-ended legal liabilities remain, and it is unclear whether these improvements for a few contributors will apply for long: Williams wrote to freelances that "Bauer is committed to its stated aim to seek copyright transfer."

The company has told freelances that there will be no further amendment to the contracts and that the April 16 deadline is final. Bauer now faces losing most of its best-known music writers and photographers, including Q contributing editors Billy Bragg, Miranda Sawyer and John Harris, former Kerrang! editor Paul Brannigan, former MOJO editors Mat Snow and Paul Trynka and former features editor Jim Irvin, celebrated writers including Nick Kent, Jon Savage, Sylvie Simmons, Dave Marsh and Greil Marcus, and acclaimed photographers including Jill Furmanovsky, Kevin Westenberg, Kevin Cummins and Val Wilmer.

Westenberg speaks for many when he points out: "You'll either have to sign the contract - signing copyright away; sign and be a slave - or not work for them again. I already decided not to sign a long time ago. Never give your rights away. This is your pension and legacy."

A committee of the freelances affected has been attempting to enter into dialogue with Bauer since the first draft was issued late in February, but the company has rebuffed every overture. "Their behaviour is bizarre and counter-productive," says Iggy Pop's biographer Trynka, who was previously responsible for overseeing MOJO and Q syndication and contracts. "As contributors, we share Bauer's need for their titles to remain profitable, and are offering Bauer permission to use some material on the iPad and similar digital platforms for no extra payment."

Attempted rights grabs like Bauer's are far more than an assault on a specific group of music writers and photographers - they undermine the viability of freelance journalism as a whole. Freelances bear a significant proportion of the risk in most media businesses because, behind their commission-by-commission availability, they pay for their own equipment, office space and training. Without any of the statutory sickness, holiday, maternity and paternity pay rights of staff, the only asset their work produces is their stock-in-trade: copyright ownership, as acknowledged by UK law. Will Bauer's magazines sell more copies if they push these contracts through, so losing the services of many of their most expert, reliable and popular contributors? Will musicians and other showbusiness talent stand idly by and see their quotes and photographic likenesses commoditized and put on sale by a publishing company? In business terms, it doesn't make sense.


Contacts: Phil Sutcliffe (greyhair@nildram.co.uk), Paul Trynka (paul@trynka.com), Mat Snow (mat.snow@virgin.net) and Kevin Westenberg (kjwestenberg@hotmail.com)

12 comments
Brian Stauffer April 13, 2010
Scratch me off the list of contributors. Twice. Here's a twisted scenario under the terms of this new contract: If your work was purchased as a stock image from a reputable agency like theispot, the artist would retain all acceptable industry standard copyrights for the work, but if you create an original piece for them, you are expected to retain no rights. Think about it.
Marc April 13, 2010
These are the kinds of contracts that show up more and more, and most young artists don't realize they're a starting point of negotiation, not a done-deal. You can't just sign these things and expect a future for the field. If the client won't negotiate, then you have to be willing to walk away. If they can't get content, they'll learn that they need to present fair terms.
laura tallardy April 13, 2010
unbelievable. the first read through i thought it was some kind of joke, by the time i realized they were serious i was all in a tizzy ready to say no to their contract!! my tweens will go nowhere near those uk music mags!! srsly tho, that's a crappy contract. i hope nobody actually signs the thing.
Kyle T Webster April 13, 2010
Hopefully, enough talented artists and writers will refuse these terms and the contracts will have to be rewritten with better terms. This is just ridiculous.
Ellen Weinstein April 13, 2010
Thanks for posting this, Laura. It is important that these issues are discussed.
Leo Espinosa April 13, 2010
It just keep getting worse, doesn't it? It's like paying for your food, then your luggage, now your carry-ons and next the use of the bathroom when flying. From the ussual -not being fair to contributors- to bauer's position there's a surreal gap. I'll keep rotating this information. Thanks for posting it, Laura.
Marc April 13, 2010
"It's like paying for your food, then your luggage, now your carry-ons and next the use of the bathroom when one flying." It's more like you're the airline, and the passenger is getting to keep the plane for the price of a one-way ticket. Outrageous.
Jim Paillot April 13, 2010
This is beyond unfair. It's outrageous. While bullies sometimes win, I hope this is a time we can all agree not to work with these folks.
Adam McCauley April 13, 2010
It is outrageous, and I'd be amazed if anyone were to sign such a ridiculous contract. A real shame too, because Mojo is one of the best music magazines. Thanks for posting this Laura, I'll spread the word - and stop buying Mojo too.
Martin O'Neill April 21, 2010
I've been Illustrating for Q for a year. The first ive heard of it. I've never signed a contract. Are Illustrators included? Im presuming so. Hnnnm. Very worrying indeed. I regularly have to fight for copyright these days. Just think how much original material they would own in say 10 years. It would eat the heart out of freelance creativity, destroy it.
Richard Kenward April 22, 2010
I am appalled that any company or organisation could try to impose these conditions. There is only one way to treat such people and that is to politely say no thanks and walk and mean it. This is the only language these people understand. Pro Imaging have bee campaigning against similar rights grabbing in photo competitions for several years with considerable success. Cheers Richard Kenward (Artisan Digital Services)
Demon Lee April 22, 2010
Ah well, this will be another publication using Mobile Phone pictures then I guess....!!! The trouble is, youngsters who take pics as a hobby will end up supplying pics... As a member of Pro-Imaging (as is the previous poster - Richard Kenward), it's about time the industry stepped up to the plate and badgered MP's so that the type of work being undertaken by Pro-Imaging in relation to competitions can be written into law, especially with the D.E.A. being passed recently.
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