Bauer contracts 'undermine freelance journalism'

The viability of freelance journalism in Britain is at stake following a major publisher's decision to impose an 'all rights-grabbing' contract on all of its freelance contributors.

Bauer Media, publisher of Kerrang!, MOJO and Q magazines, told its freelance photographers and writers to agree to the contentious contracts by Friday or no longer be commissioned.

The German-owned group made clear that the contracts waive copyright and all financial or legal rights for freelancers, meaning the freelancers will be liable in the event of legal action.

The publisher's contracts also contain a clause precluding freelancers from moral rights, effectively giving Bauer the right to amend the work, while escaping liability if it is challenged.

The result of the rights-grab package is that Bauer could sell stories or photos provided by freelancers to whoever they wish without reference to its subject or its freelance creator.

Bauer, which plans to roll the contracts out to all the titles it bought from Emap, even wants freelancers to acquire licences from their subjects so it can monetise their image unconditionally.

Even leaving aside how those subjects might feel about such an arrangement, more than 200 freelancers have signed a petition refusing to work for Bauer unless the contract is rescinded.

Signatories include some of the best-loved music writers, including Q contributing editor Billy Bragg, former Kerrang! editor Paul Brannigan and ex-MOJO editors Mat Snow and Paul Ttynka.

They are joined on the petition by their photography counterparts, including acclaimed snappers like Jill Furmanovsky, Kevin Cummins, Val Wilmer and Kevin Westenberg .

"You'll either have to sign the contract - signing copyright away; sign and be a slave - or not work for them again," said Westenberg, reflecting on Bauer's announcement.

"I already decided not to sign a long time ago. Never give your rights away. This is your pension and legacy."

In line with his warning, the National Union of Journalists' freelance branch says the attempted rights grab by Bauer serves to "undermine the viability of freelance journalism as a whole."

But, shrugging off the NUJ's other charge that the contracts represent an "assault" on music journalists at Bauer, the publisher claimed it was acting contractually to protect itself from sloppy journalism.

Bauer prefers the contracts as a means to "copyright transfer" - an objective that its managing director of music titles, Stuart Williams, says the group is "committed" to achieving.

However the pledge was only pointed out by the NUJ to dispel hope that a revised contact, drafted by Bauer and issued to a few freelancers, was on its way to all of the freelancers affected.

"The open-ended legal liabilities remain," the union said, "and it is unclear whether these improvements for a few contributors will apply for long".

A committee of the affected freelances has tried to start talks with Bauer since the first draft of the contract was issued in February, but the NUJ says Bauer has been continually non-responsive.

"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 [Apple] iPad and similar digital platforms for no extra payment."

Yet the publishing house told freelancers to expect no further amendment to the contract after April 16, meaning the freelancers could accept its terms or find work outside the group.

The ultimatum comes eight weeks after MOJO became the UK's best-selling music magazine which, Bauer UK chief executive Paul Keenan said at the time,proved that "investing in editorial content is a winning strategy".


20th April 2010

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