Sunday, March 03, 2013

TC Media defence of new contributors' agreement skates around the importance of moral rights

In recent weeks, the site Story Board, maintained by the Canadian Media Guild and the Canadian Writers Group has carried a great deal of information about the revised contributors' agreement being demanded by TC Media. Effectively, the new agreement would -- without compensation -- take all copyright from its many freelance writers and require a waiver of their moral rights.

TC Media has attempted to explain why it feels it needs these new and sweeping rights and yet why it is hoping that longstanding relationships with freelancers may be maintained. In a telephone interview between Susan Antonacci, Executive Director, Brand Development for TC Media Consumer Brands and Storyboard,  Antonacci tried to soothe concerns about the new agreement and its terms:
“What I can say is that we have great relationships with our writers and we’ll do everything that we can to promote our contributors and work with them moving forwards.”
 The detailed and very useful report of that conversation was published on March 1.

Of particular interest is a theme that Antonacci returned to several times, which can be characterized as "don't worry, be happy". For instance, in the matter of moral rights, she says that it would be "very rare" that the company would repurpose a writers' work and take off the byline. Her argument is that TC Media needs to be able to adapt content for
different platforms, for instance to better fit a smartphone or tablet. However this is a profound misunderstanding of her company's concept of moral rights; there is absolutely nothing in current arrangements that would prevent any publisher from adapting text to show to advantage on, say, a smartphone. 

But moral rights is about the integrity of the work and the contributors' agreement, as written, gives TC Media the right to alter the work in any way it wishes, without consultation or compensation. Essentially, requiring the waiving of moral rights means the writer loses total control over how their work is packaged, resold, republished, reworked, merged with other works or even refocussed (say, to the antithesis of what the writer intended).

Freelancers sometimes take the question of moral rights too lightly, in favour of arguing over fees (as important as they are). It is no comfort at all that this major consumer publisher also treats moral rights as being a mere trifle.  

Freelancers'  reluctance to let an apparently arcane principal get in the way of an assignment may seem simply pragmatic. But losing control of their work, without a say in the way it is used, means that they may lose what little leverage they have with publishers. 

Related posts:
*disclosure: I was involved in the development and final draft

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment posted on Story Board bears repeating here:

"Susan Antonacci was the longtime former editor of Canadian Living. She has worked with writers most of her professional life. For her to try and defend this bogus “agreement” is the pinnacle of cynicism.

Susan, just so you know, you’ve just squandered all your credibility in one fell swoop. You’d better hope like hell that Transcon, a company that has a history of dispassionately culling its ranks, doesn’t chop you next, because no decent writer will work with you again, ever. Beyond that, in the minds of the writers you claim to value so highly, your name is now synonymous with exploitation. How’s that for legacy?"

1:58 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

TC editors need to stand up to management on the issue of writers' moral rights. Cowards who take the attitude that, 'Well, I've got mine' do the entire industry a grave disservice. When I worked at Transcon, as it was then called, I was very vocal to Francine Tremblay and Pierre Marcoux about the risks they were taking by exploiting freelance writers. Like they cared.

8:52 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the problem: unlike those of us who work for them, this ship of idiots could care less about the quality of its publications.

I find it revolting that an industry veteran like Susan Antonacci would try to sugar-coat and spin this exploitive, toxic contract. How disgusting.

1:15 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The reality is TC can afford to maintain its position. It doesn't care what the Company's reputation is among journalists, only among investors. TC's executives only care about the stock price and year-end bonuses. They know that there will always be someone to take the work—and be grateful to get it.

Let's remember the foundation of TC's fortune-- the PubliSac, discount flyers wrapped in plastic bags that litter our neighborhoods.

If Susan A. doesn't shill for TC. They'll find someone else who will.

If all writers, photographers and illustrators walked away from TC, that would get their attention. How likely is that?

8:59 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I so agree with the comment "the ship of idiots could care less about the quality of it's publications. TC Media is only interested in making sure it has the content it needs to grease the platforms it has in an attempt to become the digital media company it aspires to be but NEVER will. They do not care about the people that actually create the content for them. Nor do they care about employees and loyalty. SA has already been booted out of her job at EIC of Canadian Living. She is trying to hang on by "drinking the cool aid". Some of us will and some of us just can't.

9:55 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just because someone else might shill/work for TC Media, doesn't mean that writers, photographers and illustrators shouldn't walk away. Quite a few already have and there is a campaign brewing that will make 2009 look like paddy cake.

But the onus is not just on these freelance contributors that Susan Antonacci supposedly admires and respects so much. Elle editor Noreen Flanagan, Canadian Living editor Jennifer Reynolds and their peers at Transcon have a responsibility to take a stand as well. If they truly cared about the creative people who make their magazines what they are, they would withdraw their services as well. I'm under no illusions that any of these people will ever actually do such a thing, but it should be expected of them in order to maintain any semblance of credibility. Your reputation as an editor does not get a free pass just because the exploitative agreement wasn't technically your idea. The "I've got mine"/"just following corporate orders" excuse is not tenable. Full stop.

I agree with previous commenters: Their legacies are rightly attached to this. There's no escaping that. Noreen, Jennifer and friends – you are indeed cowards if you just stand by and do nothing.

2:58 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

During my tenure at TC there were two separate attempts by management to implement the writers' contract. The first time, we dutifully sent out the jargon-filled pages to our writers, who naturally asked many questions. Some signed them back. Others didn't and nobody from management followed up.

Two years later, TC took another run at the contract. This time, I didn't send any out. I figured if it was that important, management would issue a reminder memo about it. They didn't and we continued as before with our freelancers for several more years.

This is the third run of a now more onerous contract than before.

Oh, and, by the way, TC also forced existing employees, as well as new hires, to sign a contract where basically TC owned whatever creative output you did while employed by them. So, if you happened to write a song on the week-end and it went viral, they owned it.

I consulted a lawyer and was told that the contract was so far-reaching that it was essentially unenforceable. So I didn't sign it.

Then a memo went around that said senior management wanted a list--a Black List, basically-- of all employees who declined to sign the contract. They would discuss these individuals at the next executive management meeting.

Intimidation. Bullying. Dirty tricks. That's TC. It takes cojones to stand up to them. Not everyone has a pair.

9:16 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Oh, and, by the way, TC also forced existing employees, as well as new hires, to sign a contract where basically TC owned whatever creative output you did while employed by them. So, if you happened to write a song on the week-end and it went viral, they owned it. "

That is unbelievable. How is this not a violation of employment law? Any public funding — and it's substantial — should be pulled from these clowns.

5:33 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And the best part? TC snuck the 'rights grab' in an addendum booklet entitled: Code of Ethics!

This meant, eitherTC does not understand the definition of ethics--or--they hoped employees and potential hires would just sign it in order to be perceived as being 'ethical'.

8:28 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And Jennifer Reynolds was PWAC's editor of the year last year. Wonder what she'll do with all of those great, pro-writer qualities now that she's at Transcon? I suspect she'll just enjoy the EIC photo shoot, the junkets and stare at her pay cheque while everyone hands over their copyright and creative souls. But it was sure nice to be honoured by all of you talented writers!

10:20 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be fair, if you're under their employ (as in, you're a staffer) I think its fair that they own what you create while you're on the salary clock. Most of us are unlikely to be writing youtube hits on the weekend anyway. I'm sure what they intended is that they own why you create when you're working for them. Most employers assume the same privilege.
TC Media has obviously bet on PLAN B. Which is that consumers will consume whatever junk you dangle in front of them... I'm thinking a subway ride "reading" a copy of METRO for instance. That by the way is what happens in Quebec (TC Media's home market) where lack of quality compeptition has lead them down a road where quality content is simply not required to compete in the closed French language market.
The question of course is what will happen when this same "strategy" is applied to magazines that do business in a market where quality content is a requirement of the marketplace (ie not a giveaway on the subway. Sorry Metro).
My guess is that the same lack of investment will NOT apply to Canadian Living. Surely not even TC media would nickle and dime away the brand equity of Canadian Living? Or would they? Lets see how a brand like Chatelaine (which the parent company does actually invest in) is valued a few years from now. The question TC shareholders and analysts should be asking is this... If this current divestment in quality content at TC continues, will Canadian Living be able to charge the same page rates for advertising a few years from now?
Time will tell.

2:38 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"To be fair, if you're under their employ (as in, you're a staffer) I think its fair that they own what you create while you're on the salary clock."

Salary clock being key. Just because you're a staffer doesn't mean that you relinquish your copyright to any creative endeavour done outside of work. That's patently absurd.

As for the remainder of your post, I think you're a little late to the party. Canadian magazines have been nickel and dimed to death for a long time, now. It has already had a huge impact on the quality of material you read.

5:49 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some places worse than others... but my point is that TC Media is one of the worst, and cost cutting and greedy contracts will require them to use second tier work, which will eventually be noticed on their bottom line. Its a long, slow spiral.

2:58 pm  

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