Fairfax gets heavy with freelancers (and who isn’t I say?)

A posting came up on my freelancers’ forum about a writer who has been ordered to remove her Fairfax-related stories from her website. She* writes:

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.

8 thoughts on “Fairfax gets heavy with freelancers (and who isn’t I say?)

  1. What an outrage! Those pricks at Fairfax and all the other writers who take ‘the Murdoch shilling’ and any of the other no-knecks who inhabit boardrooms, know full well that their days are numbered. It’s the Bloggers who are inheriting the world. It’s the future of comment, informed and oitherwise that is giving them the hebbie-jebbies and there is really nothing they can do but threaten. Their greatest fear is with orginality. Those ratcatchers have organised their so-called product to totally exclude independent views. And while they preen themselves with their university-formed predjudices and their post journistic lives with promises of publishing contracts, hoping for a ‘window of freedom’ to write what they really feel or think, they don’t realise that the opportunties are already behind them, rolling away under the dark clouds of their wasted youth. Serve them right. Let their envy and their mediocrity consume them in their middle years and lead them (in their disappoinment) to careers as agony aunts and HR consultants. Lead on Boo and all who are like you. Treat them(the Fairfaxes and their lawyering pals) to an amiable smile. Give ’em your best and lace it with the publishing world’s greatest fear, an independent view.An you know who is speaking

  2. Love the picture. I’m working from home today, and it’s exactly how I look, other than that I’ve got a laptop rather than a pen and paper. But the outfit and the hair – it’s spookily similar. It’s like the painter was looking in my window…

  3. Hello Boo,Just found your blog and am mightily pleased about the fact, I must say. Once I started, I found I just kept reading… when I should be getting other, supposedly ‘important’, things done… In my defense, I will note that this has been remarkably constructive in confirming my resolve to never, ever go to my high school reunion. (And, if I ever break this resolve, you will probably see the gory outcome on the news…)Sorry to go off topic. Er. I’ll be staying away from those arseholes at Fairfax. Yessirree Bob!

  4. boo, are you telling me that they have somehow acquired someone’s ip rights retrospectively?if not, then from when did they acquire anything in perpetuity if there is an existing licence agreement? to quote a legendarily cranky lady, “i am most seriously displeased”. the newspapers are full of enough rubbish already. -mk

  5. Hmm by the tone of anon, swipe at HR and use of ‘pricks’ and ‘ratcatcher’ I say it was my olde man…hear hear old bean.Bek – even the ermine?? I would not put it past thee..Eleanor – thank you so much! I hope my random carping on whatever random crap takes my fancy does not put you off! I see your blog is just as eclectic, although I think better informed and more newsy. Welcome to our geeky world!MK – it appears so! They’re not paying anyone until they click on their copyright agreement. Here’s more from the forum:Just had a chat with a Fairfax ed who confirms (the) tip .. all section editors at Fairfax (Sydney – not sure if this is happening anywhere else)have been summonsed to a meeting in the boardroom on Friday with the copyright lawyers. They will be briefed – ie TOLD – what they are to do with freelancers & contributor’s contracts. Apparently they’re not being asked for their input & no discussion will be entered into..Refreshments will be served in the boardroom at lunchtime – usually a very ominous sign, says my source!The new contract apparently prohibits you writing for a range of Fairfax’s supposed competitors including News, Seven, PBL and ACP. And before they will pay you, you’re required to go online and agree to the contract terms.OUTRRRRAGEOUS! I just got a fat (and on time) cheque from ACP – thank Christ I gave up on the Age yonks ago! – BooApparently talk among the editors is that most of them are really unimpressed; they’re just about to lose another 35 staff, they are facing merged subs at the SunHerald and the Herald and most of them are overworked anyway as a result of the last round of redundancies. They are worried thatthey will lose their best freelancers if Fairfax gets heavy. Without good writers, sections are impossible to edit as they spend half their time chasing rewrites …

  6. Yes, even the Ermine – I have two Ermine stoles that were my Granny’s, complete with many tiny tails hanging off them.And they *can’t* enforce the provision that says you can’t write for anyone else (although it is in the Freelance Contributor contract I signed) – it’s restraint of trade. I checked with one of the lawyers at work and they said there was no way they would even attempt to enforce it.

  7. Bek: indeed! But you would be surprised about how many publishers try to include it in a contract! They think we are all silly…

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