Monday, July 19, 2010

Rogers Publishing rolls out new freelance contract that requires rights across "all forms of media"

[This post has been updated]Rogers Publishing is rolling out a new contract for freelancers. The differences between the old and the new is that Rogers is stipulating that a given article would be published across multiple platforms, presumably for the same freelance payment [see update* below] .
Rogers spokesperson Suneel Khanna said "the changes in the contract reflect the changing environment of how media is consumed. The revised contract clarifies and standardizes the exclusive and non-exclusive rights we are securing."

[*Update: Khanna says:  "Please note there is no mention in the old or new contract about payment. Compensation for the work being produced continues to be freely negotiated between freelancer and editor on a project-by-project basis."]
  • The old contract says it is buying first publication rights; the new contract says the same but "in all forms of media" and requires a 90 day exclusivity from the date of publication. Thereafter, Rogers retains non-exclusive rights.
  • The old contract specifies first publication rights; the new contract says the work may be published in all media, through any type of device or service, on Rogers websites, mobile or digial platforms and applications and in e-mail or electronic newsletters, so long as they are associated with the brand of the publication issuing the contract
  • The old and the new contract both specify the right of Rogers to archive the work "in any format" and make it available, for a fee or otherwise, themselves or through third parties. The new contract says the same thing, except referring to articles published in "any form of media. 
Such contract language makes second and subsequent rights for freelancers all but worthless. Where, in the past, a freelancer or their agent could resell the story in other publications and markets, this becomes pointless when the full text is available for free online. Yet Rogers -- and other large publishers like Transcontinental -- are not offering any premium for effectively tieing up all rights. The gesture of saying the freelancer retains copyright is negated by Rogers retaining a "non-exclusive" right to it after the 90 day exclusive period.  
A freelancer could negotiate a larger fee to reflect the fact that it is the only fee they'll get from a given story, but the general trend is that publishers are asking for more and more rights for the same fees as before.
  • The contract provides for an option for the right to publish the work or an edited version across all Rogers properties in all forms of media
Even the preamble to the contracts is somewhat different. The old contract said: "What we are buying"; the new contract says "What you are granting to Rogers". The old contract has been in place for more than seven years. The new one has begun to show up in  freelancers' mailboxes quite recently.
    [Note: I did not receive the contract from Rogers, which refused to provide a copy to me. Old and new versions were obtained elsewhere. Anyone who wants the comparison table can e-mail me at impresa[at]inforamp[dot]net]

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    6 Comments:

    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Khanna is correct in that writers and editors are technically free to negotiate on a project-by-project basis, but the reality he's not plugged into at his own company is the fact that, even with the old contract, Rogers scoops up pretty much every right imaginable. And that when a writer tries to negotiate based on what is being asked for, the editor always responds with a) we don't have the authority to alter the terms of the contract and/or b) we don't have any additional funds in our budget to compensate fairly for the rights being demanded (which often prevent freelancers from making further use of their work, a steady form of income in the days of old).

    If Rogers wants to have a positive relationship with those who provide much of its valued content, then it needs to engage in a dialogue with its contributors BEFORE somewhat crudely implementing contracts that were manufactured purely with its own initiatives in mind. The contract needs to have more flexibility in it so that writers can truly negotiate the terms based on what's being offered. Instead, this contract simply amplifies the deeply eroded sense of respect that publishers now have for their contributors in spite of public cries to create content of the highest standard.

    Khanna seems to imply that good old-fashioned negotiations will sort everything out in spite of the new contract. He is wrong. Rogers charges its customers separately for the various platforms it has on offer, but the idea of paying its contributors fairly based on usage in various formats is balked at because of the "reality" of modern publishing requirements. This is a simplistic and convenient explanation born of little more than greed.

    Ken Whyte is not making the same salary Peter Gzowski did at Maclean's decades ago. Yet somehow Rogers is still paying its contributors as though Gzowsk were still in his prime, but instead of first print rights they now want "any form of media" for the same 1970s price tag.

    Khanna is playing a silly game. Rights and fair compensation are not being freely negotiated at Rogers. That is a farce and he knows it.

    1:09 pm  
    Anonymous Gloria Hildebrandt said...

    Retaining copyright on all but first publication rights is great in theory. It's different in practice. I have been freelancing full time since the 1980s and I can think of less than 10 articles that I was able to resell elsewhere. The reality is that most magazine journalism is timely & written to suit a specific audience, making reprints not that desirable and not a source of steady income. At least not for me and many others like me.

    5:52 pm  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Nicely encapsulated. Unfortunately, that's been my experience with the Transcon mags, too.

    7:03 pm  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Gloria, that may well be true; most resales I've made have been a nice little extra, not an integral part of my financial picture. But the objection is that the major publishers, who have kept their rates abysmally low for decades, are now wanting even more blood from the stone, while not giving anything in return.

    In fact, if you look at the absence of certain contractual obligations that were once mandatory — hmm, where did that libel clause go, anyway? -- you'll find that publishers are providing less, grabbing more and putting out product that proves the adage "You get what you pay for."

    Writers are odd. No matter how many times you slap them in the face financially speaking, out of a sense of professional pride most will still attempt to do the best job of which they're capable, even f that means that the real hourly rate they make is less than the minimum wage. But increasingly, the short shrift they've been getting is showing up in the amount of work they put into a piece.

    Canadian magazine journalism is suffering because of it. Eventually, the only ones who will be able to afford to do magazine work of any depth will be children of privilege, and others in a similar boat. And the Canadian taxpayer continues to subsidize these "free marketeers," at the expense of the industry they purport to be helping.

    So do you get it now?

    1:01 pm  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Gloria--It's not whether reprints are a source of income to you--it's that all of those rights will ultimately be sources of income to the publishers. And the people who create the content should get a share of it.

    But it won't happen. Because publishers are in a position to take what they want and writers mostly will take what they can get and the good ones will get out of the business completely, or do a little writing on the side while finding ways to get better remunerated for their skills in other industries.

    Magazine writing in Canada is now officially a hobby.

    6:21 pm  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    It's not that reprints are, or ever have been, a major source of income for any freelancer in Canada.

    The problem (for publishers) is that with the proliferation of media and new publishing platforms, reprints could become just that, for the first time ever.

    Under the terms of the traditional freelance agreement, publishers would have to pay the writer an additional amount for each "reprint" or additional use of the original work.

    To sign is to sign away the possibility of earning a living as a freelance writer in Canada -- just when new publishing technologies have made it possible to do better than that.

    7:20 pm  

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