ASJA Contracts Watch

From: ASJA/Alexandra Owens <75227.1650[_at_]CompuServe.COM>
Date: 26 Sep 96 15:25:04 EDT

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ASJA CONTRACTS WATCH CW960927 Issued September 27, 1996

[The American Society of Journalists and Authors encourages reproduction and distribution of this document for the benefit of freelance writers. Reprint or post as many items as you wish, but please credit ASJA for the information and don't change the content.]


Another freelancer has collected for unauthorized use of articles on electronic databases. A longtime contributor to LOS ANGELES MAGAZINE found several of his feature articles online. Los Angeles (owned by CAPITAL CITIES/ABC, a DISNEY company) is one of the few leading magazines that does most of its article assigning without benefit of contract, but the writer argued that under the law, since he hadn't licensed electronic rights, only one-time print rights were implied. After consulting with ASJA, he demanded payment for electronic use since publication, setting his price at $1,845--15 percent of the total originally paid for the articles. His first letter was ignored. In a follow-up, he said simply that his next stop would be court. That brought a phone call and, after a little discussion, a check for the full amount.

"I asked for a reasonable amount based on what other publications now pay me for these supplemental rights," the writer told Contracts Watch. "Our conversations were cordial, but I was firm in my demands."

The publisher's attorney, in a letter, offered the customary denial of guilt ("The settlement payment to you should not be construed as an admission of wrongdoing...") but at the same time said the company had pulled all the articles and wouldn't sublicense their reuse again without negotiating with the writer.


MacDONALD COMMUNICATIONS, new owner of WORKING MOTHER, WORKING WOMAN and MS., is beginning to pay for articles it's publishing from the inventory acquired from the defunct former owner, LANG COMMUNICATIONS. Some editors are said to be telling writers they must sign a harsh, grabby contract--a carbon copy of the old Lang boilerplate--to get paid. Untrue: Others have amended the contract. One freelancer slashed the terms back to "first North American print serial rights" and wrote to her editor, "I would be happy to add other rights, with appropriate compensation, but would need to know just which rights are requested. By the way, if it's more convenient for the publisher to pay for additional rights via the Authors Registry, that's fine with me...." No additional rights were requested and the change was accepted. Owner Jay MacDonald has promised a new freelancer's contract that does pay separately for any extra rights beyond first use. It hasn't yet appeared.


The Senate Judiciary Committee has dropped--for now, at least--the attempt to yank the U.S. Copyright Office from its home in the Library of Congress and team it with patents and trademarks in the Commerce Department. The Washington Post said last week that the sponsor of a bill that would join the three, Sen. Orrin Hatch, "ran into a buzz saw of opposition." In an editorial, the Post surmised: "The senator's turnabout ... may have been influenced by a din of objections from academics, library associations, publishers' associations and writers' organizations. They made skillful political use of just those new electronic communications media--e-mail, electronic databases, the Web--that have turned copyright into a hot potato in the policy arena." The current draft of the bill, still in committee, is reported to cover patents and trademarks only, with no mention of the Copyright Office or its area of activity.


The latest newsletter of PEN devotes more than a page to an article decrying rights grabs by the NEW YORK TIMES and others. The author, PEN member Rolaine Hochstein, says, "While I recognize that PEN does not usually make public statements on writers' financial or business-related concerns, the state of affairs ... demands attention from all writers and the organizations that speak for them." For those who are ready to protest to the Times, the newsletter offers the fax numbers of publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. (212-556-1434); executive editor Joseph Lelyveld and editor for electronic projects Kevin McKenna (212-556-3690), and associate managing editor Dennis Stern (212-556-7126). The newsletter also notes that the PEN board has voted to join the Authors Registry.


Writers recently report cleaning up excessive rights demands in contracts offered by MODERN MATURITY, SAVEUR, PARENTS, FITNESS and FAMILY CIRCLE. At the last three, all published by GRUNER + JAHR, editors have gone to the brink on the company's standard demand for free e-rights, offering only to shorten the time for the freebie. But in each case they agreed in the end to drop the clause or insert "at a fee to be negotiated." As Contracts Watch has previously pointed out, if G + J stops allowing its editors to make significant concessions on electronic rights, potential FAMILY CIRCLE contributors can turn to competitor WOMAN'S DAY; writers not treated well by PARENTS can consider PARENTING; those unhappy with terms offered by FITNESS can find more flexibility at HEALTH and others in the field.


Buzz, which covers doings in Los Angeles, reports on responses of LOS ANGELES TIMES food section freelancers to the newspaper's insistence on the right to reuse their material every which way ("Food Fight: In an effort to cut costs, the Times takes a bite out of freelancers," October). It's smart business for the Times, explains Buzz writer Margo Magee, "to repackage the writing of freelancers ... for increased profits at no extra cost." The magazine tells of two regulars who signed without blinking and three who refused and walked. Contracts Watch has heard from many Times freelancers, from various sections, who have become former Times freelancers over the contract issue.


The WALL STREET JOURNAL has become the first major news organization to charge for entry to its World Wide Web site: $49 a year ($29 to subscribers to the Journal itself, a publication printed on paper and delivered to homes, offices and newsstands). "Our expectations are fairly modest," a Journal official told the New York Times. "We look at this as a magazine start-up, and even successful magazines take a while to ramp up." As both the Journal and the Times know, start-ups in any business pay for the goods and services they require, even before the ink flows black. That's why publishers who say "We can't pay for online use because we aren't making money yet" don't get much sympathy from freelancers who think about it.


Many ASJA members and others send a steady stream of contracts, information and scuttlebutt so that these ASJA Contracts Watch dispatches can be as informative as possible. Thanks to all.

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Received on Thu Sep 26 1996 - 19:32:48 GMT

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