Freelancers providing copy to Pacific Publications are up in arms over a new standard contract that requires them to assign all copyright to the company.

The new agreement states that if copy is syndicated the freelancer will see just 40% of the proceeds. Syndication is a major means by which some freelancers manage to make their profession sustainable. The Pacific agreement closes that door.

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Writers are also expected to indemnify the company against all legal action in respect of their work being published. Pacific is the company that brings us magazines such as Women’s Health, New Idea and a host of other lifestyle publications. They are big users of freelance copy.

But according to the Sydney Freelance Journalists’ group the company is also now requiring freelancers to be a private company, or a “contributor”. And a contributor, according to Pacific, is:

“Someone we pay a fee in return for the copyright of their works. It is not a fee for the labour involved in producing the works, as we are only paying for the copyright of the completed works. For example articles and photographs are included as distinguished from sub-editing or design work.”

Freelancers report that individual magazine editors are resisting the contracts, but senior management is insisting that everyone signs up, or lose work.

Another clause of the standard agreement is so loosely worded it allows a publisher to reject a piece without any compensation to the writer.

These contracts are the latest in a series of moves by leading publishers to crack down on freelancers, who are already poorly paid.

Recently the journalists’ union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, won the right to collectively bargain on behalf of freelancers over onerous contracts, but so far there is no sign this has given publishers pause for thought.

Peter Fray

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