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
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.
Rages Over Electronic Publishing Rights
Rights (and Wrongs)
and documentation: When not to worry
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