Rights Issue: Freelancers go on StrikeBauer Media, publisher of Kerrang!, Mojo and Q magazines, is asking its freelance writers and photographers to sign away all rights to their work
By Stephen Armstrong, The Guardian
Freelance strikes are rare, but this week there will be a downing of tools by writers and photographers working for Bauer Media's music division – Kerrang!, Q and Mojo – in a struggle that has immense ramifications for an increasingly casualised media industry.Two hundred writers and photographers have signed a petition refusing to contribute to Bauer's magazines unless the company rescinds a new "all rights" contract, which also makes freelancers liable for all damages and costs in the event of legal action.
The petition includes Q's contributing editors Billy Bragg, Miranda Sawyer and John Harris, Kerrang!'s former editor Paul Brannigan, Mojo's former editors Mat Snow and Paul Trynka, as well as writers such as Nick Kent, Jon Savage and Greil Marcus, and rock photographers such as Jill Furmanovsky and Kevin Westenberg.
"You'll either have to sign and be a slave – or not work for them again," says Westenberg of Bauer's move. "I already decided not to sign a long time ago. Never give your rights away. This is your pension and legacy."
Copyright has proved contentious in recent years for several publishers – including the Guardian, which was involved in a dispute last year with photographers over revised terms – but Bauer is unusual in trying to wrest the rights of "first owner of copyright" away from the contributor.
Its new contract contains clauses that could, its freelancers argue, have career-wrecking implications. The company asks for all rights, "an exclusive, irrevocable and unconditional licence … for a period of six months and thereafter ... with the right to sub-license, to use, publish, reproduce and translate in whole or in part, in all and any media without restriction, whether now known or developed in the future, throughout the world".
In addition, the writer or photographer waives any moral rights – in effect allowing Bauer to modify the work at will – and agrees to indemnify the publisher against any legal action. According to Angus Batey, a Mojo contributor: "Q could send a photographer to shoot U2, print the pictures in any way they like and then use them in merchandise – even selling T-shirts outside U2 gigs. If the band were to sue for copyright infringement, the photographer would be liable for the full damages and the costs of both parties."
Stuart Williams, managing director of Bauer's music and film division, insists the company has always stood by its freelancers: "I personally appeared in court to defend a libel claim brought against Kerrang! in a case where we published a freelancer's work which we, and the freelancer, believed to be true. We lost that case but the company shouldered all the costs." The clause, he argues, protects the company in the case of malicious or sloppy journalism or plagiarism.
"It's understandable that media owners need to exploit rights in other media," says Andy Millmore, head of litigation at the media law firm Harbottle & Lewis, after examining the contract, "but, taken literally, the terms are so broad that I'd advise contributors not to sign it unless there was a concrete negotiated agreement that all individual commissions came with written specifics on rights and indemnity that negated its threat."
Bauer's deadline for signing the contract expired on Friday. After that the company will no longer commission freelancers who have not signed. It insists the figure of 200 petitioners is "considerably higher than the number of freelancers we currently use. We have received signed contracts from many and indications of acceptance from many more, we are in one-to-one conversations with our contributors, and remain confident we will continue to work with them."