The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Black Sky Thinking

This Right-Free Bauer My Prison: Contract Strife Bodes Ill For All Journalists
Ben Hewitt , April 26th, 2010 05:36

Publishing group Bauer's new "draconian" contracts for music journalists is bad news not just for Mojo, Kerrang! and Q's freelancers but for all journalists, says Ben Hewitt

"It’s very simple. We are talking about basic humanity. We are being asked to forgo our rights to copyright, to legal protection, to further income from our work, and we are being offered...nothing." Jon Savage

It may not be something we like to admit, but freelance journalists are essentially locked in battle with one another. It may not be unpleasant or hostile, but it’s certainly competitive. There’s only so much work to go around and, in lieu of the security of a salaried position or a regular income, you have to be one of the select few who gets it. Ultimately, your colleagues and friends are your competition.

Yet recently, freelance music journalists have stood together in a show of solidarity against the new freelance contracts proposed by Bauer Media, the German publishing company which owns the rights to titles including Mojo, Kerrang! and Q Magazine.

According to freelancers, the new "draconian" contracts will "remove copyright and all financial, legal and moral rights from freelance writers and photographers while simultaneously requiring that the freelances provide Bauer with an unlimited lifetime financial indemnity in the event of legal action arising from their work."

200 journalists including writers Jon Savage, Greil Marcus and Miranda Sawyer and photographer Kevin Cummins have signed a petition refusing to work for any Bauer title unless the contract is rescinded.

Speaking about the opposition to the contracts, photographer Kevin Westenberg said: "You'll either have to sign the contract - signing copyright away; sign and be a slave - or not work for them again

"I already decided not to sign a long time ago. Never give your rights away. This is your pension and legacy."

Under the "copyright-grabbing" contract, Bauer would own all of the rights to the work of its contributors, preventing them from re-using their articles or photographs for any other commissioned piece of work or title. The publishing company itself, however, would have the freedom to use them.

Contributors would also waive any moral rights to their work, which would effectively allow Bauer to modify it without consulting them.

Additionally, they would have to agree to indemnify the publisher against any potential legal action, which would mean that they would be required to fund all legal costs and expenses themselves.

Speaking to The Quietus, Jon Savage - journalist and author of England’s Dreaming: Sex Pistols and Punk Rock amongst others - said: "It's very simple. We are talking about basic humanity. We are being asked to forgo our rights to copyright, to legal protection, to further income from our work, and we are being offered.....nothing.

"Oh yes, there is something. All we have received as a group is a threat. That if we don't sign we will not be able to work for the magazines in question. Do you call that negotiation?"

Mojo contributor Angus Batey, meanwhile, suggested that the terms of the new contract could be just as detrimental to the titles owned by Bauer as it would be to its freelancers.

"I'm clearly of the opinion that this is A Bad Thing," he said, "and not just for music journalism: for all journalism. Bauer may be banking on being able to replace the contributors who don't like this with beginners who don't care - but if they are successful in creating a generation of contributors who meekly accept being treated like this, they'll have succeeded only in hastening the demise of the publishing industry. Once people realise how badly deals like this stack up for them, they will look for work in other industries. It is not worth the risk."

Contributors are also unhappy with the inclusion of an indemnity clause, too, as it would require freelancers to pay for any legal costs or expenses themselves, without any help from Bauer - which, according to Batey, is an unfair demand. "Responsibility should be shared," he said.

"What Bauer are proposing is that the freelance should deal with every aspect of this, alone. This isn't fair - neither is that the freelance should abdicate all responsibility for the work they do and insist that the company handle it all. Between those two extremes lies a sane and reasonable position. That's what should be being proposed, and is what is standard throughout most of the print journalism world."

However, despite legal advice from media law firm Harbottle & Lewis advising all contributors not to sign the contract, Bauer Media have re-iterated their belief that the terms on offer are "fair".

"Bauer Media is currently seeking new contract terms with our music magazine freelancers to enable us to use commissioned material across other brands, digital platforms, international editions and any new revenue streams. The ways consumers are choosing to engage with our brand content is changing and Bauer Media needs to be firmly placed to take advantage of opportunities as they arise," a statement said.

"The figure of 200 freelancers is considerably higher than the number of freelancers we currently use on our entertainment magazines. We are in 1-2-1 conversations with our contributors and we have received signed contracts from many freelancers and indications of acceptance from more. We will continue to publish the best music brands in the business under these new contracts."

With the deadline for the contract expiring last week, all that waits to be seen is if either side offers a compromise in the debate. Contributors such as Batey, however, are standing firm: "I wouldn't sign it under any circumstances,“ he said. "The NUJ's solicitor's advice was to only consider signing if the legal indemnity aspects were entirely removed.

"I think this is sane and rational. I am not prepared to risk my house, everything in it, the contents of my bank account and all my future earnings on the ability to earn 43 quid for an album review."

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.