Freelance writers and photographers for some of Canada’s top magazines are up in arms over a new contract they say would strip them of all rights to their work.
Transcontinental Media (TC Media), the $2.1 billion publisher of popular magazines such as Elle Canada, Canadian Living, and The Hockey News, has introduced a new contract that requires freelance writers and photographers to release full copyright and waive moral rights to their work without any additional compensation or a chance to negotiate.
The moral rights waiver gives TC Media the right to alter freelancers’ work without the writer’s permission.
“The contract terms would allow the publisher to take a writer’s story, change it in any way they want, and either take the writer’s name off or, what is perhaps worse, leave it on,” said Don Genova, president of the Canadian Media Guild’s freelance branch.
“And in exchange for all of these rights? The publisher will pay the same old low rates. This is truly outrageous.”
Under the new contract, a freelancer’s work will become the exclusive property of the company, without reasonable compensation or negotiation of terms, according to the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP), the country’s largest media union.
It’s a sad day indeed when Canada’s largest printer goes on a direct attack against some of the lowest-paid cultural workers in this country.
— Michael OReilly, Canadian Freelance Union
“Freelancers try desperately to earn something from their creative talents, and now have a vast media empire looking to snatch all rights to their work,” said Peter Murdoch, VP of media for the CEP.
“We will not stand by and let this company trample long-held creative rights. They are too important to those working in the media.”
Under the new contract, a freelancer’s work is treated the same as if it were produced by a staff writer or photographer. Unlike regular employees, however, freelancers have no job security and have no access to basic workplace benefits or employment insurance, while receiving relatively low wages.
“It’s the ultimate ‘having your cake and eating it too’ scenario,” said Michael OReilly, president of the Canadian Freelance Union.
“Transcontinental takes all the benefits for itself, and avoids all the responsibilities that typically go with having workers. It’s a sad day indeed when Canada’s largest printer, with revenues of over $2 billion, goes on a direct attack against some of the lowest-paid cultural workers in this country.”
Changes ‘absolutely necessary’
TC Media did not reply to requests for comment by deadline, but in an interview with the Story Board, an online community for independent Canadian journalists and media freelancers, Susan Antonacci, executive director of brand development for TC Media Consumer Brands, said the changes were necessary due to “the advent of new media delivery channels.”
“We needed to explore how to better serve our consumers in a multi-platform environment,” she said. “And it really came down to thinking, in order to remain competitive in this environment, that a new contributor agreement was necessary.”
We needed to explore how to better serve our consumers in a multi-platform environment.
— Susan Antonacci, Transcontinental Media
Antonacci said the publisher’s belief that copyright belongs to the author has now changed due to the advent of new media delivery channels.
“So much has happened, even since 2009 when we had our last agreement. Tablets and apps didn’t exist, they weren’t commercialized in 2009. The iPad was only launched in April 2010. There’ve been so many changes in the industry and the way we provide content that it was absolutely necessary that we look at making these changes.”
In a recent Story Board post, former Toronto Star columnist Ann Douglas said she resigned from the newspaper after being presented with a similar freelance agreement.
“Despite my attempts to find some mutually acceptable common ground, I quickly discovered that The Toronto Star was not open to negotiating the terms of its freelance agreement,” she wrote on Feb. 26.
“The agreement had to be signed ‘as is’—and before my next column could be published. I chose not to sign.”
Meanwhile, the Star announced Monday plans to outsource some editorial and advertising jobs as part of its strategy to cut costs amidst revenue challenges. The CEP says 44 of its members will lose their jobs as a result of the restructuring.
Like many newspapers, the Star has suffered from a decline in advertising and subscription revenue in the digital age. Many Canadian newspapers, including The Globe and Mail and several Postmedia publications, have turned to metered paywalls in recent years as a way to boost revenues.
The Star says it intends to start charging for online content sometime this year.
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