I have some rather frightening news about Fairfax’s new obsession with copyright and contracts for freelancers. I have been freelancing for Fairfax for six years. I was summoned to a meeting with senior management and a copyright lawyer on Thursday, and was told that Fairfax buys exclusive world rights in perpetuity to ALL print stories I am selling to them, even though I am on an old 2002 license agreement which specifically states that I am the copyright holder.
She goes on to explain that she has two (non-profit) websites where she reprints her published articles, and has been ordered to take down all of her recent content. The outrage! So now we can’t even promote our services anymore! Slaves to the Man!
So typical of most people’s attitudes towards writing and writers. Seems like a million publications now want writers, but nobody wants to pay for them any more. And Fairfax’s reaction seems to be the logical conclusion to attitudes towards what is now called ‘content’. Here are the sorts of gems you hear after you’ve declared yourself a professional, full-time writer:
“Hey, I used to want to write. But these days I don’t have the time. I could if I wanted too, though.”
“You write? Oh yeah. I spend all day writing, too. I write e-mails, documents, letters… you name it, I write it.”
“You charge what per hour? Geez, if I had your life…!”
“How wonderful you writers get to go on holiday when you like….take days off whenever you like.” (this one makes me particularly fume)
Then there’s the people you bump into in the street, trying to ‘catch you out’ for ‘slacking off’ who say, “Oooh, bit of writer’s block, eh?”
Yars, I know that when I lounge about with my many writer pals, all we do is sharpen our quills, drink heavily, rhapsodise about Byron, Shelley etc, constantly declare our souls to be ‘in peril’ and discuss how it’s impossible to get good help these days (to clean our ivory towers).
The besieged writer goes on to say:
Fairfax believe all freelancers websites are in competition to Fairfax. Furthermore, their lawyer told me that any “IP” — intellectual property — a writer builds up by being published in the Fairfax mastheads belongs to Fairfax, not the writer, and they want to restrict what I can actually publish on my websites.
And then she spiffingly editorialises:
This is brave new online world is turning the old media owners into scary sharks, who not only want to get rid of their staff but shaft the freelancers too. Fairfax have finally realised that Google and Yahoo are bigger media owners than they are, and they are throwing their weight around to make sure they don’t lose anymore ground in the war of online.
Right on, comrade. It does pose some qus, though. Why are they so threatened by freelancers they pay little to anyway, who produce content ‘in perpetuity’? Does she have a point about much bigger media empires than our own? Has Fairfax just hired some graduate lawyer with a degree in inserting their head up their arse (hons.), and is spreading around their new-found knowledge? Or are we just ‘inspired’ by the many media laws in the States, as we seem to do without thinking these days?
The Alliance Freelance Writer’s Network is looking into it as we speak. Here’s hoping us freelancers don’t scurry away from this one, for fear of ‘scaring away work’.
*Prob best not to mention her name – Big Brother has beady eyes.