Freelancers protest against 'rights grab'

A petition signed by hundreds of freelance photographers has been handed to the Guardian over its policy to no longer pay repeat fees for pictures it commissions.

After staging a protest against the policy on Monday, officials from the National Union of Journalists entered the newspaper’s London offices with the names of 850 objectors.

Their protest, held on the date that the policy took effect, was hailed by more than 30 journalists involved as a ‘demonstration for the creative rights’ of all freelancers.

It came after a letter sent to Guardian News & Media’s contributors in July said that, from September 1, the standard terms for commissioned photography would change.

GNM’s terms, the letter said, shall include a “non-exclusive, perpetual licence to re-use commissioned photography in its products and services without further payment.”

The Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell blasted: “Comment may be free, but content is not free. This move is theft of people's work and their right to make a living from it.”

Mr Bell, a member of the paper's NUJ chapel committee, reminded that the capturing of an image that defines “the moment” was a vital skill, “especially in this digital age.”

The NUJ’s freelance organiser John Toner, who delivered the petition, said: “Photographers are suffering severe hardship as a result of the economic downturn.”

It is therefore more critical now than ever before that GNM, and other newspaper owners who grab freelancers’ rights, realise that “re-use is not free use,” Mr Toner said.

Tom Davies, who represents London on the NUJ national executive and is a member of the Guardian chapel committee, attended the rally.

Speaking after the event, he said: “It’s important that photographers and non photographers, staff and freelance understand what's at stake.

“Wanting to use people's work for free, and other arbitrary cuts being made go against the ethos of the Guardian."

Since the petition was delivered, GNM have begun talks with their contract photographers, who are “already resisting moves to end payment for re-use,” the NUJ said.

The union will represent the contractors in a collective grievance against the policy of ending re-use fees, which will affect hundreds of photographers in the UK and further afield.


3rd September 2009

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