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Rights grab at "thelondonpaper" raises fears for other News International titles

30 August 2006 - EPUK

Potential contributors to News International’s new freesheet “thelondonpaper” have been sent a copyright grabbing contract in what is believed to be an experiment to gauge hostility to rights grabs before introducing them across all News International titles.

Potential contributors to the title have been asked to sign away their copyright for a standard job rate of £130 including expenses.

Figures gathered by EPUK show that ten years ago, News International was paying contributors £150 plus expenses for the same job – but just asking for First British Rights, enabling photographers to resell their work after it had first appeared.

The two-page ten-point contract, a copy of which can be downloaded below, mostly contains non-contentious items. However, paragraph four contains the following rights grab:

The Contributor hereby assigns to News International Free Newspapers Ltd (NIFNL) all present and future copyright in the Material for the full term of copyright, which includes (but is not limited to) the right to use the Material in all the Magazines’ different present and future forms e.g. print, microfilm, Braille, talking book, electronic database, e-paper, website, mobile phone, electronic device or any other facsimile or derivative versions in any medium and the right to include the Material in any book or other publication produced by NIFNL

Later paragraphs stipulate that News International retain the copyright regardless of whether the work is used. Freelances working for the title are required to shoot what is described as ” original top quality material” and are also asked to supply “a perfect copy of the digital original to NIFNL”.

“The thin end of the wedge”

A senior member of staff on a News International title who spoke to EPUK on condition of anonymity said that there was no doubt that the copyright-grabbing clause was added to gauge how receptive photographers were to rights grabbing contracts.

Download the contract here in PDF format:

> Click here to download the contract

“I’m not surprised they are doing this at all, which is not to say that I’m happy with it. If photographers accept this, you’ll see similar terms being introduced at the Times and Sun within a year.”

“But what will stop them is if picture desks report that they photographers are refusing to work for them. But if there are no objections from photographers, there is very little the desks can do to stop them”

“As I understand it, the contract was originally opposed by editorial staff, who were overruled by senior management. If this contract succeeds, there will be considerable pressure to introduce it elsewhere”

“Reject the contract”

None of the photographers who spoke to EPUK after being contacted by thelondonpaper had accepted work under the contract terms. One well-established regional freelance who regularly works for other News International titles said: ” News International freelance rates have been stagnant for the last decade with cuts to wire fees and other expenses on top of that. Now with this ‘freesheet’ copyright grabbing contract to further squeeze the freelance market, I doubt if there will be anybody left in five years to produce the ‘top quality’ images they are looking for.”

John Toner, Freelance Organiser of the National Union of Journalists told EPUK that the NUJ would advise its 2,200 photographers to reject the contract.

“It is deplorable that News International is trying to grab photographers’ copyright. If they expect thelondonpaper to win the battle of the freesheets they will require quality photography. All professional photographers will resist giving up their copyright, so thelondonpaper will be denied the quality they need. I would urge News International to think again, and consider a licence that would be acceptable to photographers.”

When contacted by EPUK, a spokesperson for News International refused to comment on why the rights grab was being introduced, and refused to deny that there were plans to introduce it across other News International titles which include The Sun, the Times, the News of the World and the Sunday Times.

The imminent launch of the Murdoch owned thelondonpaper will put it head to head with Northcliffe’s London Lite with both titles expected to distribute 400,000 copies a day each. Most media commentators have viewed the launch of the competing titles as an immensely costly battle of media giants, with only one of the titles expected to last into the long term.

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