Linda Castellani (castle) Fri 15 Sep 00 12:53
Drowned out by the uproar over MP3s and DVDs, a quieter revolution is taking place in the print world. For decades, publishers and writers operated on a tacit and often explicit agreement: one fee, one use. Publishers essentially rented the use of writers' work, and writers could resell their work over and over. Today, publishers are demanding all rights to freelancers' work so that *they* can resell the work over and over -- in databases, on the Web, to other publications. They don't intend to share the profits. They aren't paying any more to own the work than they did to rent it. they haven't raised their rates in years. In fact, when the American Society of Journalists and Authors surveyed its members earlier this year, the results were both shocking and depressing: many magazines are paying less today than they did 10, 20, or 30 years ago. Imagine earning the same amount today that you did in 1965. And, adding insult to injury, things are only getting worse. Freelancers at the Boston Globe were recently presented with a contract that said, in effect, "If you sign this contract, we own not only your current work, but everything you did for us in the past. Our previous agreements with you are null and void. And oh, by the way, if you don't sign, you'll never work for us again. No, we won't negotiate; take it or leave it." So writers are fighting back. Contributing to, and coordinating this discussion are writers: Farai Chideya is a print and television journalist who has also become an internet entrepreneur, partly in response to market forces which dictate that most writers will not only be poorly compensated, but very, very aggravated. She plans to try to change things as much as she can, in her own modest way. Wendy M. Grossman is a freelance writer based in London and a former folksinger. The full text of her book net.wars is online at http://www.nyupress.nyu.edu/netwars.html for free, and the MP3s from her 1980 album are at http://www.pelicancrossing.net/roseville.htm, also for free. Doesn't mean she doesn't want a cut if people sell them, though. Fawn Fitter, co-host of the WELL's Byline conference for freelance writers, has been a freelancer herself for the last decade. She's an active member of both the American Society for Journalists and Authors and the National Writers Union. She's perfectly happy to sell all rights for a reasonable fee -- but a buck a word is nowhere near reasonable.
Neil Glazer (neil-glazer) Fri 15 Sep 00 13:31
Of course, even before the current contract language was inserted, freelancers rarely saw a dime for reproductions in electronic databases such as Dialog, which apparently pay the publishers who have acquired first serial rights to written works without regard for the fact that in many cases the authors have retained the copyright. There was a recent decision in the federal appeals court in Manhattan that is very favorable to writers on this score, though the database companies that were defendants there are trying to take it to the US Supreme Court. Also, it remains to be seen whether courts will now look favorably toward freelance writers seeking to even the score. My question to the writers in this discussion is: would you prefer sell outright your full copyright in a work, or would you prefer an enforceable system to ensure payment for successive electronic publication? Or are there other alternatives? I would imagine there are reasons for preferring one system over the other, and I'd like to know how writers feel about this. Full disclosure: I represent The Authors Guild and a number of well-known writers in a lawsuit seeking class action status that was filed mid-August against some of the largest electronic databases.
stupid historical TITS! ON TV!! (fsquared) Fri 15 Sep 00 13:46
Hot damn. Please to tell us more. This is the suit against Northern Light and a bunch of other databases, isn't it? You are absolutely right about the electronic database issue. I'm not a lawyer so I'm not going to try to get into the details, but you can find a nice summary of that decision -- Tasini et al. vs. New York Times et al. -- here: http://www.nwu.org/tvt/tvthome.htm As for your question: > would you prefer > sell outright your full copyright in a work, or would you prefer an > enforceable system to ensure payment for successive electronic > publication I will happily sell outright my full copyright...for the right price. I do a lot of corporate writing these days because in exchange for selling it outright, I get a very, very nice paycheck. I would also like to see some kind of ASCAP arrangement allowing for payments for electronic publication (and, in fact, such things are being put together). The issue isn't about who owns what rights. The issue is, should other people be able to make money off of my work without sharing the proceeds with me? In my opinion, no.
Wendy M. Grossman (wendyg) Fri 15 Sep 00 17:48
In my area of the largely technical press, one of the problems has been that writers perceive (correctly, in many cases) their work as dating so quickly that it's not resalable, so they figure giving away all rights costs them nothing. I had one editor call us prima donnas for thinking we could resell our stuff, which didn't help. A lot of these guys come from computer backgrounds, not writing backgrounds, and the traditions of the industry are unknown to them. In Britain, however, it's not just technical writers that feel this way. One of the leading national columnists, John diamond, who frequents a forum I run for UK media (see http://www.fleetstreet.org.uk), has often said he doesnt see why writers should get more for further use. He doesn't, he says, pay his plumber extra if he decides to use the bathtub for showers as well as baths. Diamond does, however, argue that writers should be paid better -- his belief is we should be paid well once, and not care what happens nexxt. As a former musician, I've seen too many instances where people have sold their copyrights only to discover later that while they live in poverty someone else is making millions of their work. So I feel strongly that if someone is making money out of my work I should get a piece of it. On the other hand, I also believe strongly in the importance of free access to ideas. (DVDs etc. aren't part of this discussion, but I was watching the directors' commentary to Twister last night, and he mentioned several times that he wanted to put in references to the Wizard of Oz and coiuldn't do several of the ones he wanted to because he couldn't get clearance -- that to me is wholly wrong.) The ASJA newsletter recently highlighted how little most writers make. (Although I got no reply when I emailed the author and pointed out that several categories of highly paid writers, notably technical writers doing corporate and PR work and successful books like the Dummies books and other references -- and some of those people are well paid -- aren't included in the ASJa's membership.) I recently asked a magazine for a raise from $1 a word, which they'd been paying me for a year. The editor asked if I could cite another magazine paying me more to bolster his case. Fortunately, I could, and I got the raise. I do think a lot of our problems stem from the fact that there are umpteen million would-be writers out there and somewhere there is always going to be hungry enough to undercut the established names. That said, I think it's incumbent on us to ask for raises, to object to unfair contracts, and for the well-established folks to take the lead in doing so. wg
Martha Soukup (soukup) Fri 15 Sep 00 18:17
I'm a fiction writer, so I'd rather not sell all rights to my work for any sum of money. I occasionally write nonfiction, and would consider selling all rights: but my goodness it would have to be some good money. If they really think they can continue to make money on my work, they can cut me in on it. Otherwise, why try to buy all the rights?
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Fri 15 Sep 00 18:32
I'm not a writer but it seems to me that for a flat fee to work, both sides need to have a very good idea about how well a piece will sell. But if sales are unpredictable, or there are differing opinions, then royalties make more sense.
Tiffany Lee Brown (magdalen) Fri 15 Sep 00 20:16
i suppose this is a simplistic view, but: * actors get royalty checks from movies and TV shows they did years/decades ago. this is not considered overly demanding. * musicians and composers get royalty checks from songs and recordings they made or recorded years/decades ago (in a lot of cases, at least). this is not considered overly demanding. * when writers ask for similar compensation, they are currently frequently seen as overly demanding. there's something wrong with that picture. as a writer, my instinct is to say: if the publisher wants these rights from you so badly, they must be worth something! as a realist, though, i also think it's sometimes appropriate to sign your rights away for $1/word. i feel this about the numerous short-shorts and one-offs i write -- breezy lifestyle or tech pieces for online publications, short reviews for magazines. i also feel fairly compensated for the online content development work i do, where my words show up in business plans, assorted client deliverables, and as nomenclature and content on the initial web site. in these cases, i *am* work-for-hire and don't mind my rights being treated as such. chunkier articles are a different thing. of course, that's part of the problem right there... other writers may consider their breezy 350-word lifestyle front-of-book pieces worth fighting for, in terms of extra pay or royalties for electronic rights. in such a circumstance, *my* signing away those rights is an affront to writers' struggles everywhere.
dog (bud) Fri 15 Sep 00 23:19
UNIONIZE!!! TO THE BARRICADES!! (do not listen to the entreaties of the Teamsters)
Tiffany Lee Brown (magdalen) Sat 16 Sep 00 00:18
yeah! this is why i'm in the NWU! so we can, uh, picket northernlight.com or something. seriously, maybe we shouldn't use Napster as an example to people who don't understand why writers are concerned about digital rights. instead, let's use something even more inflammatory: imagine that you were an art photographer, and you took a photograph of your wife. in the photo, she was nude. you hung the photo in a gallery show. someone else took a photo of your photo of your nude wife; maybe this second photographer owned the gallery. maybe not. it doesn't really matter, does it? and then this person posted your photo of your nude wife on the Internet, and charged people to look at it. would you not be a little pissed off, and for more than one reason? this might be how writers feel when their work is STOLEN outright and placed in databases such as that on northernlight.com.
Farai N. Chideya (zimby) Sat 16 Sep 00 00:32
I think that Wendy, Martha, and Tiffany all bring up interesting distinctions between how different categories of writing are perceived in terms of resale value--by the writers, and presumably by the market in general. 1) breaking news/dated material 2) longer shelf-life features 3) fiction 4) corporate writing I think in the last case, business writing/consulting is almost always viewed as work for hire. No one is going to ask for royalties on that report they did, no matter how brilliant or well-crafted. So let's throw that out of the mix. Writing Worth Fighting For? I think the first three categories of writing are ones which most writers would like to retain their electronic rights to. They may not be willing to fight for those rights, but they would like them. A couple of other points: 1) Ultimately, I think most writers will benefit modestly from retaining their electronic rights. They'll see a slight bump up in income or royalties, nothing spectacular. 2) A few will "hit the jackpot." Something which has had an ordinary life in print will have some sort of extraordinary life, either in circulation or revenues, in electronic media. 3) I think we are headed for a series of test legal cases and, just as important, individual author/publisher showdowns which will eventually tip the balance of power in favor of the author. This will only happen, however, if authors organize in some fashion--which can be as simple as word-of-mouth campaigns about which magazines to write for or as concrete as a NWU campaign. Where will revenues come from? 1) sales to individuals. Much as people buy books, they could buy content-items, the Contentville model, w/ authors getting a cut. 2) sales to sites. If you retain your electronic rights, then you can sell second serial rights for a book or article to a website. 3) (indirectly) off-line sales generated by online presence. Yes, it sounds convoluted, but generating offline properies (esp. films) from online entities is the hot thing du jour. So your short story becomes a concept for a flash animation, which then becomes a movie. You're rich! (Chances: 1:1,000,000, if that.) Specifics: #3, fiction, is poorly compensated and has a limited number of outlets overall. (A great shame, in my opinion.) #2, general features: the largest potential market for re-sale of print material online #1, dated material: the lowest. Big news outlets do this stuff the best and everybody else just links to them. The one exception is international news. Between the high overhead of the news business and our tendencies to myopia, we don't cover "the world" like we used to. The big guys are shutting down international bureaus, etc. I have not given up the electronic rights to anything I have written for at least two, maybe three years. I have been consistently told "we can't do that" or "we can't pay you" and believe me, they can, and they will. More on that later. Right now I'm running a site, www.PopandPolitics.com, which is very small. One way I plan to expand is by seeking out writers who've retained their electronic rights and paying them for second serial. That's nonfiction/fiction; books/magazines. I've been able to get some great people to write for me for free--and I could get some MORE great people to write for me for free if I had the time to bug them. On the one hand, this is good. On the other hand, it shows that we're completely used to thinking of writing as something which is a hobby, a side project, a love--not dinner. That's bad. You can do good writing part time, but it helps to be able to do it full time at least some of the time. And putting more money in the hands of writers, in my mind, will produce more serious full-time writers and better writing all around.
stupid historical TITS! ON TV!! (fsquared) Sat 16 Sep 00 00:54
People also tend to think of writing as a mysterious art, something people do because they're compelled to do it -- and yet, at the same time, they think of it as something they could do themselves, and therefore not particularly valuable. So why should non-writers care for even a minute about whether or not those of us who make a living putting words together can continue to make a living if things keep going the way they're going?
Wendy M. Grossman (wendyg) Sat 16 Sep 00 06:03
The one problem in zimby's otherwise admirable post above (I'd write for popandpolitics) is the second sales to Web sites: almost every magazine these days has an online edition and want the articles for it. I don't actually object to that: I don't think there are, at the moment, any content providers who are making money off their Web sites. What I want, however, is the right to reuse or resell the material myself as well after a specified period, and the retention of copyright and moral rights. The one thing I really do insist on is the right to reuse material in books, -- as I tell people, I do not ever want to be in the position of having to ask someone else if I can reuse my own work. wg (If anyone wants to know what I do, see http://pelicancrossing.net. I'm basically migrating my entire Web site there.)
Farai N. Chideya (zimby) Sat 16 Sep 00 06:59
<scribbled by zimby Sat 16 Sep 00 07:00>
Farai N. Chideya (zimby) Sat 16 Sep 00 07:01
(sorry, typo) I agree Wendy. One point worth clarifying is that I think writers should make their own judgments about the value of their work, and consider doing different things based on the type of work they produce. For example: 1) If you're doing a breaking news story, perhaps you do sell the e-rights outright for essentially nothing--no financial gain, though at least you acknowledge that fact rather than leaving it unacknowledged. 2) Or, if you're selling an evergreen feature to a publication with an online edition, maybe you sell the e-rights in perpetuity for a premium. 3) Or, if you're selling that same feature, you sell the e-rights for a limited term, say a year, for a lesser fee. Then you could potentially re-sell those rights (not as batty as it sounds, because I think that the web is better at aggregating than producing).
stupid historical TITS! ON TV!! (fsquared) Sat 16 Sep 00 12:58
>I don't think there are, at the moment, any content providers who are making money off their Web sites. It's not my problem if a website isn't profitable yet. The reason the publisher wants the rights is because it thinks the website will become a source of revenue in the future. And what happens when it does, and I can't get my share?
Linda Castellani (castle) Sat 16 Sep 00 13:42
From the Internet, Judith writes: Let's put aside the question of how much writers should get paid for multiple uses, or the fact that book contracts call for additional payments for subsidiary rights, like foreign language editions, paperbacks, serialization, etc. The fundamental problem is that $1/word standard for print rights. This hasn't changed for 30 years. Doesn't anybody see anything wrong with that?--Judith Trotsky
stupid historical TITS! ON TV!! (fsquared) Sat 16 Sep 00 18:55
Hi, Judith! Absolutely, I see something wrong with that. A buck a word? Hell, plenty of magazines are trying to get away with less than that, and they're cutting their editorial hole as well. So instead of making $1/word for 4,000 words -- a not unreasonable fee in the '70s, and plenty of opportunity to delve into a subject -- writers now are making $1/word (if they're lucky) for 1,500 words, which gives them hardly any room to go in depth but requires every bit as much research. It's unbelievably disheartening. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what to do about it. Do we all quit writing for magazines that can clearly (based on their ad rates) afford to pay more than a buck a word? Sure, we can do that...but there will always be another writer willing to write for peanuts to get a byline, just as there will always be another writer who won't kick up a fuss about selling all rights for those peanuts. And readers end up with cheap crap to read because editors aren't willing to shell out for the good writers. When I started refusing to work for less than what I considered a decent rate, I ended up having to pass up a lot of magazine work in favor of corporate writing. So I now find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between making a crappy living doing something I enjoy or making a decent living doing something that, for the most part, has no particular value to me -- and hey, if I wanted to lack interest in my work, I'd give up freelancing and get a day job! It is a source of constant frustration.
Arf! (mcdee) Sun 17 Sep 00 06:13
It's hard for me to think of any way to gain leverage in this situation. When I was casting about for a career back in the 70s (I still cast about for one now and then, just to stay in practice) lotsa folks who know I can write suggested freelancing. I evaluated the economic situation and decided it was untenable. Perhaps an ok career for an extrovert with a thick skin and great salesmanship skils. And a trust fund.
stupid historical TITS! ON TV!! (fsquared) Sun 17 Sep 00 11:13
Hmmm. I'm not an extrovert and I definitely don't have a trust fund, but point taken. All the same, it still comes back to the same problem: how do we manage to get paid what we're worth? I've had discussions with other writers who say the answer is to publicize the situation to get public support.
Martha Soukup (soukup) Sun 17 Sep 00 11:46
One thing that always gets me is that the prestige price for stories in the top magazines has stayed about the same since the _1920s_: $1 a word or so. That's what you'd get back then in the Saturday Evening Post, that's what, I believe, you'll get today in the New Yorker. If you sell a piece of fiction to Playboy for big huge money, you might get $5000, which sounds like a lot, and isn't bad; but it's a story you spent a month writing, and you don't get a sale that big very often so it has to last you. Part of the problem: in the early decades of the last century, magazines were a huge part of popular entertainment. They've been usurped by other media, particularly television. People don't read magazine serials for their prime entertainment now. Still, wouldn't it be nice for people to be paid what they're worth, and to even retain their moral rights to what they've made....
Wendy M. Grossman (wendyg) Sun 17 Sep 00 12:08
Bearing in mind that British ffreelances make about 1/3 per word than US ones unless they're writing for the Sunday magazines, my solution to the problem Fawn poses was to specialize in an area that at the time I chose it was relatively unknown, ie, the Internet. If everything I do feeds into something else I do, it becomes economical to write for less (assuming you can keep up a steady delivery pace). Also contributing to this, of course, is lower administrative overhead in terms of time -- UK editors generally do not make you jump through the extensive hoops that US ones do, either in getting the commision or in servicing it afterwards (fact=checking, supplying sources, etc.) I am supremely uninterested in corporate work, it turns out, so I do almost none. And then every so often I take on a piece in a field I know relatively little abou5t in order to learn about it. wg
Linda Castellani (castle) Sun 17 Sep 00 12:50
One of the things I was hoping we could talk about here is the increasingly frequent issue of writers discovering their works on the Web, without permission, being offered for sale or even for free. Neil Gaiman just posted: Topic 73 [inkwell.vue]: Neil Gaiman - SANDMAN:THE DREAM HUNTERS #556 of 558: Neil Gaiman (neilgaiman) Sun Sep 17 '00 (05:51) 6 lines Does anyone know anything about http://www.wsmf.org/texts/emonks/annex/Literature/ They have Don't Panic posted there without permission, along with an enormous quantity of stuff by, among other people, Douglas Adams, Harlan Ellison... it all appears to be copyright material. My blood is boiling, gently. It was this very issue, albeit about Contentville, that make me want to start this discussion in the first place...
Martha Soukup (soukup) Sun 17 Sep 00 12:52
(I should append the $1/word top rate post above to note that when a fiction writer makes ten cents a word she's very, very, very happy.)
Linda Castellani (castle) Sun 17 Sep 00 13:15
That's *made* me want, in my post #21 above. Not "make."
stupid historical TITS! ON TV!! (fsquared) Sun 17 Sep 00 13:28
I have never heard of that site. I'm going to toss it out among the writerly types I know and see if anyone's heard about it. In the meantime, it is not even remotely uncommon for publishers to simply...er...ASSUME electronic rights and pop stuff into databases without having purchased the right to do so. In fact, there are and have been a few lawsuits about just such activity in recent years. As for individuals, I just assume they don't realize they aren't allowed to do such things, and they usually cooperate if I send them a stern note saying "Hey, don't do that!"
Gail Williams (gail) Sun 17 Sep 00 14:05
http://www.wsmf.org/texts/emonks has "Arbitrary Placement of Walls" too. All kinds of stuff there. Might be interesting to invite the site's originator to state his purpose. Perhaps by email.
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