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From the Periodical Writers Association of Canada

If It's Worth Publishing,
It's Worth Paying For

By Mark Zuehlke


A few years ago, my friend and colleague Larry Jackson added to his E-mail signature the reminder "If it's worth publishing, it's worth paying for, every time." He was referring to the freelance writing that forms the backbone of most Canadian magazines and the more opinion-oriented and interesting sections of the nation's daily newspapers. Open almost any magazine, crack the fold on many sections of Canada's newspapers, and you read words and see images not created in the sterile offices owned by modern media moguls, like Ken Thomson and Conrad Black. What you see instead are the stories of a nation, your nation, Canada.

These stories are created by writers, photographers, and illustrators scattered across the mosaic of a vast land -- geographically the world's second largest nation, yet also a country that remains scarcely populated. Get two parallels away from the 49th boundary and there aren't a lot of us living up there.

Larry, who was raised in the Alberta foothills, has been one of those who lived north of the rest of us. He and his wife Laura spent years in Labrador, a place few Canadians can even imagine, let alone write about with familiarity. In recent years, they've called St. John's Newfoundland home. Larry's writing has been informed by, and focused on, the worlds north of the 51st with which he has been intimately acquainted. His stories about the people of Labrador and Newfoundland and the problems and joys they faced in surviving and triumphing in the daily struggle to survive have graced the pages of Canada's best magazines, including Equinox, Canadian Geographic, Reader's Digest, and Maclean's.

In 1996, however, Larry's voice was largely stilled. It was stilled by what has now become known as the copyright wars. Simply put, freelancers in Canada suddenly faced an unforeseen crisis that threatened their livelihoods and served to muzzle some of their best voices. Publishers, big and small, in Canada and elsewhere, took it in their heads to just take the copyrighted work of freelance writers, photographers, and illustrators, and to start using that work in forms of publication never included in the original terms under which publishers license the right to print freelance work. Larry was one of the freelancers who fought back. He spoke out loudly and strongly against the abuse. He became a focal member of the Periodical Writers Association of Canada's Copyright Defence Committee fighting the rights-grabbing contracts that publishers tried to implement, to coerce freelancers into surrendering traditional copyright terms to publishers for little or no extra payment. At the heart of this issue was, and still is, the publishers' desire to exploit and profit from new forms of media without actually paying for the content that gives the media value.

Publishing based on printed pages is one form of publishing. For that form, publishers have traditionally licensed from freelancers the right to publish their copyrighted work for a set fee. When the work appeared in the nation's magazines or newspapers, the rights to the work reverted entirely back to the freelancer, who was then free to resell it to other markets.

Now, however, the Internet provides the opportunity to publish via World Wide Web sites and to resell work through vast and inclusive electronic databases that offer up all the works of many years of literally hundreds of magazines and newspapers. Publishers also want to include the work of freelancers in CD-ROMs containing vast collections of a publication's editorial material. Bizarrely, most Canadian publishers think freelancers should allow them to build and ultimately realize the future profitability of these new markets without paying any additional licensing fees to the people who created the very content they market.

The ludicrousness of this concept struck Larry profoundly. He fought back, never mincing words. In doing so, he sometimes alienated people and made them uneasy. He caused editors, publishers, and even some freelancers who signed the publisher's contracts and surrendered rights to their work for little or no recompense to protest that he was being unfair.

But Larry was just being nakedly honest. When PWAC started the process of forming The Electronic Rights Licensing Agency (TERLA) a few years ago, Larry offered his energetic support. Now being incorporated as a federally-recognized non-profit rights agency, the solution offered by TERLA is simple.

All publishers will have to do is negotiate fair rates of usage for electronic rights to freelance work and pay the agency. If fair rates can not be negotiated, TERLA, as a copyright collective, will be able to file for compulsory tariffs with the Copyright Board in Ottawa or conduct any legal action it sees fit. TERLA will distribute the money to creators, saving publishers a lot of administrative headaches.

Spearheaded by a PWAC that remains active in safeguarding copyright for freelancers, TERLA is the kind of solution that easily correlates with the simple lines: "If it's worth publishing, it's worth paying for, every time."


Mark Zuehlke is past national president of PWAC and past chair of PWAC's Copyright Defence Committee.

Published in Sources, Number 42, Summer 1998.

See also:
Battle Rages Over Electronic Publishing Rights
A Copyright Tutorial
Electronic Rights (and Wrongs)
CANCOPY and photocopying
Permissions and documentation: When not to worry

 



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