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Truth and lies in the Scotsman dispute

9 May 2001 - EPUK

As the dispute between photographers and The Scotsman Publications Ltd over a new contract enters its seventh month, TSPL executives have embarked on a public relations campaign, most recently in the UK Press Gazette.

Photographers, led by SNAP, the Scottish Newspapers’ Association of Photographers, have responded by accusing TSPL of being thrifty with the truth.

How successful is the strike ?

THE SCOTSMAN SAYS: “It’s only four people who are stopping everyone else from signing” (Tony Marsh, Picture Editor, Edinburgh Evening News). “Oppressive peer pressure has scared away many freelances who want to sign the contract” (John McGurk, TSPL Editorial Director, UK Press Gazette, 29th April 2001).

SNAP SAYS: UNTRUE: The TSPL picture editors are left with a quandary in their position: if the deal is as good as they pretend it is, why have only a few people signed after six months? And why are once-proud newspapers like the Edinburgh Evening News reduced to employing students on shift but paying them only when their work appears in the newspaper?

The answer is to pretend that every freelance in Scotland actually WANTS to sign away their copyright in order to continue working, but have been physically prevented from doing so by a few photographers determined to stir up trouble.

The reality is that SNAP – which currently has 124 photographers and agencies throughout the UK on its mailing list – continues to support those freelances who feel forced to sign the contract for financial reasons, and is still committed to working with them to make further changes to the contract. No “oppressive peer pressure”, no “stopping people from signing”.

But the reason that so few have actually signed – as the TSPL picture editors all know – is because of the fundamental flaws in the contract.

What kind of deal does the contract represent ?

THE SCOTSMAN SAYS: “Our offer is right for freelances and Scotsman Publications at the moment” (Phillip Thorp, Project Manager, UK Press Gazette 1st December 2000).

SNAP SAYS: UNTRUE: No offer which includes a copyright grab is ever “right for freelances”.

Are Scotsman Publications rights-grabbers ?

THE SCOTSMAN SAYS: “TSPL are not attempting to steal copyright” (John McGurk, TSPL Editorial Director).

SNAP SAYS: UNTRUE: The penultimate and unqualified clause of the TSPL contract – the so-called “licensing arrangement” McGurk refers to in his letter – is reproduced below in full.

“4.1 Grant of Rights: The photographer grants to the Company a licence to use, publish and/or reproduce the Work in any and all media. Said Licence shall subsist throughout the entire copyright period for the work, whether or not this Agreement remains in force, and without prejudice to the foregoing generality shall include reproduction in any medium whatsoever whether that be printed, electronic, on the internet or any multimedia format whether that be for the purposes of publication or as part of a storage or information retrieval system. Said licence also authorises the Company to distribute, sell or otherwise deal with the work with appropriate agencies by traditional methods or electronic means whether by syndication or otherwise, all at the Company’s discretion”.

As this clearly grants the same rights to TSPL as a “copyright grab” , McGurk’s protestation that TSPL are not “asking freelances to give up their copyright” is both untrue and misleading. John McGurk has also been quoted in two separate articles on the TSPL dispute as saying that by hiring staff photographers “they do not have to worry about copyright”.

How “generous” are the reproduction payments ?

THE SCOTSMAN SAYS: “Generous reproduction fees will continue to be paid each time the photograph is used” (John McGurk TSPL Editorial Director, UK Press Gazette, 4th May 2001).

SNAP SAYS: UNTRUE: The new reproduction rates are far from “generous”, especially as the commissioning titles now refuse to pay for any subsequent reproductions. In many cases photographers are now being paid as little as £10 for reuse of a picture, and until very recently TSPL were refusing to pay any more than £40 for any reuse (or any more than £20 for reuse in the Edinburgh Evening News).

Do photographers have a choice in who syndicated their pictures ?

THE SCOTSMAN SAYS “We have suggested to freelance photographers that we want to syndicate their pictures…” (John McGurk, TSPL Editorial Director, UK Press Gazette, 4th May 2001).

SNAP SAYS: UNTRUE: TSPL have not “suggested” that photographers syndicate their work through them: under the current deal there is no choice. Snap knows of no other organisation which insists in forcing photographers into a syndication deal they would not otherwise accept.

THE SCOTSMAN SAYS: ”...syndication by us will earn the photographers more money” (John McGurk, TSPL Editorial Director, Press Gazette, 4th May 2001).

SNAP SAYS: UNTRUE: As McGurk acknowledges, the syndication percentage paid to the photographer is based on NET profits rather than GROSS receipts, a technique usually favoured by unscrupulous agencies who want to pay photographers as little as possible. The suggestion that TSPL will generate more money for photographers than other agencies is therefore somewhat spurious.

THE SCOTSMAN SAYS: ”...freelances will also retain the right to syndicate their own work.” (John McGurk, TSPL Editorial Director, UK Press Gazette, 4th May 2001).

SNAP SAYS: MISLEADING: The statement that photographers are free to syndicate their own work elsewhere is also misleading, as most major agencies will not accept work which is already being syndicated by another party.

Are the shift rates more or less than before ?

THE SCOTSMAN SAYS: “The deal has increased our shift rates substantially to 135 GBP while the new rate for the Edinburgh Evening News is up to 120 GBP” (John McGurk, TSPL Editorial Director, UK Press Gazette, 4th May 2001).

SNAP SAYS: UNTRUE: The shift rates are not £120 or £135 as McGurk claims. These rates are for both a shift AND related expenses, so a Scotsman freelance could have a shift rate as low as £95 after expenses; equally, an Evening News photographer could be left with just £45 out of a shift rate of £85.

Information and misinformation

THE SCOTSMAN SAYS: “I believe misinformation is a major reason why some photographers have been unwilling to sign the new deal” (John McGurk, TSPL Editorial Director, UK Press Gazette, 4th May 2001).

SNAP SAYS: UNTRUE: The reason that John McGurk is finding it difficult to find photographers who will sign the TSPL copyright contract is not because of “misinformation”: on the contrary, the photographers seem to be far better informed than TSPL’s own picture editors. The only misinformation that SNAP is aware of are the picture editors who have told freelances that the NUJ have endorsed the contract, when – as McGurk knows well – both the NUJ and SNAP continue to condemn it.

Is the Scotsman receiving complains about existing payments ?

THE SCOTSMAN SAYS: “We have not received any major complaints following the introduction of the self-billing system” (John McGurk, TSPL Editorial Director, 9th February 2001).

SNAP SAYS: UNTRUE: TSPL Project Manager had received repeated angry complaints from freelances about the new billing system, and a survey conducted by the NUJ and SNAP could not find a single freelance who had both been paid correctly and received a proper remittance advice.

“This is a take-it-or-leave-it deal”

THE SCOTSMAN SAYS: “This is a take-it-or-leave-it offer” (Alan Macdonald, Picture Editor, The Scotsman, 29th November 2001, about the first contract). “The second contract will be the final offer” (Phillip Thorp, Project Manager, phone call to SNAP representative, 20th February 2001). “The third contract is the final document” (John McGurk, TSPL Editorial Director, letter to freelances, 2nd March 2001). “We’re not going to change the third contract. The third contract is not going to change. Do you understand that ?” (Phillip Thorp, Project Manager, phone call to SNAP representative, 14th March 2001). “The fourth contract…is a final effort to reach agreement” (John McGurk, TSPL Editorial Director, letter sent with the fourth contract, 11th April 2001).

SNAP SAYS: UNTRUE, UNTRUE, UNTRUE, UNTRUE: The first contract was revoked after just five hours. The second contract was revoked just two hours after a meeting with Editorial Director John McGurk. The third contract lasted just a month. At the time of writing, the fourth contract has lasted three weeks so far, but watch this space…

Do the NUJ endorse the existing contract, as TSPL claim ?

THE SCOTSMAN SAYS: “Paul Holleran, the Scottish Organiser of the NUJ has informed me that it is his belief that many photographers are now in a position to sign the fourth contract” (John McGurk, TSPL Editorial Director, letter sent with fourth contract, 11th April 2001). “I will not send out the (fourth) contract unless the NUJ are happy that the majority of the photographers will sign it” (John McGurk, TSPL Editorial Director, Press Gazette, 27th April 2001). “The NUJ endorses the fourth contract” (Kayt Turner, Picture Editor, Scotland on Sunday and Spectrum, telephone call to freelance).

SNAP SAYS: UNTRUE: Both the NUJ and SNAP have repeatedly made it clear that neither organisation can endorse the contract until the contentious clauses concerning reproduction payments, copyright, internet use and mandatory syndication. Both organisations also condemn any attempt to trick their members into signing by pretending that the dispute is resolved.

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