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IPC Cancel Contract Talks

23 July 2002 - EPUK

IPC Media, Britain’s largest magazine publishers, have cancelled talks scheduled with photographers’ representatives over the company’s proposed new contributors’ contract.

The contract, called the Core Contributors’ Agreement, assigns all rights in work produced to IPC. Photographers greeted the contract with a storm of protest, describing it as “heinous” and a “classic rights grab”. IPC responded that it was “merely a tidying-up exercise in line with AOL Time Warner’s requirements”; IPC was purchased by AOL Time Warner late last year.

After calls from IPC contributors National Union of Journalists Freelance Organiser John Toner contacted Mark Winterton, IPC Intellectual Property Manager, and they agreed to meet last Thursday July 18 to discuss the issues raised. Long time IPC watchers expressed surprise – the company has for many years refused to meet the NUJ, and the last meeting scheduled between the two parties was cancelled by IPC at short notice.

The cynics were not to be disappointed. On Thursday morning Winterton called Toner to cancel the meeting. When asked why Winterton apparently replied “You’ve seen the letter, there is nothing further to say.” The letter Winterton referred to had been delivered that day and was from IPC CEO Sly Bailey. In it she accused the NUJ – and presumably photographers – of “getting it all wrong”.

This was not the only letter on the matter from Sly Bailey last week. On Thursday she berated the Press Gazette for its’ “misleading front-page story” in which the magazine stated “IPC has sparked outrage among photographers by an attempt to get them to sign a contract which hands over the copyright for all their photos”. In the letter she repeated what has rapidly become IPC’s standard defence: that this was merely an administrative exercise at AOL Time Warner’s behest.

But the real news was buried deep in the second paragraph – that IPC have five contributors’ contracts, not just the single all rights contract which they have been posting to contributors. The existence of the five contracts had been announced in a company memo to commissioning editors, and a limited number of photographers had become aware of the differing options. However this was the first time the company had made such information widely available – contributors have only received the “rights grab” version.

The NUJ and the Association of Photographers responded to news of the meeting’s cancellation with a press release claiming that Bailey’s letter to the Press Gazette “contains more questions than answers and we would have liked the opportunity to pose the questions directly.” Specifically they pointed out the “apparent contradiction that a company that does not seek all rights should write to its contributors stating ‘it is understood that any future Work(s) you are commissioned to do will be on an “ALL RIGHTS” basis unless otherwise agreed in writing.’ ”

Whether a meeting between photographers’ representatives and IPC occurs remains to be seen, but it seems unlikely on past form; while the company stresses that they are willing to negotiate terms with individual contributors, they have been reluctant in the past to deal with them collectively.

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