Why I refused to sign the copyright agreement Money Marketing wanted
for a light-hearted piece for an October issue.
Read the piece
My copyright week
Tuesday 26 September
I was quite excited when Samantha Shaw, a reporter from Money Marketing emailed me to ask if I would write 'Correspondent's Week' for a future edition of the weekly. It is a column of 650 words describing in a light-hearted way a week in the life of a financial journalist.
Thursday 28 September
The money was terrible - £150 which is just 23p a word - but I agreed. After all, unlike most of the things I write, it required no research. I just had to remember what I did over seven days. I thought I could manage that and, as Sam replied apologising for the money,
"I'm afraid £150 has been set in stone for years, I appreciate it's not the best rate but I can assure you it will be the easiest piece of freelance you ever do!"
I was quite entertained with the idea of writing something vaguely amusing along those lines so I set to at once and got it going. The deadline was not until Thursday 5th October but for once I was ahead.
Friday 29 September
Sam tried to send me the contract to sign by e-mail but as often happens no attachment was there.
Saturday/Sunday 30 September/1 October
Over the weekend I fiddled some more with it and by Sunday evening it was virtually complete subject to one possible change on Monday evening.
Monday 2 October
On Monday Sam successfully sent me the contract. When I returned home from the BBC I opened it. That was when the trouble began.
Money Marketing is owned by Centaur Media plc. Centaur didn’t just want to publish the piece. It wanted to prevent me from re-publishing it, or any part of it, at any time. It wanted, in its own words
"the copyright and all other rights of a like nature…absolutely for the full term during which the said rights and any renewals or extensions shall subsist."
In other words I would have had to seek permission from Centaur to put my own writing on my own website and they could withhold permission or charge me a fee to do so. Ditto if any of my heirs wanted to republish it up until 70 years after my death, or longer if the law changes later this century.
Centaur also wanted to take away what are called my ‘moral rights’. They give the author the right to be identified as the creator of the work and not to have their work published under someone else’s name. They also prevent the publisher from adding, deleting, altering or adapting the work in a ‘derogatory’ manner – for example by re-editing the work so that it is nonsense. These rights represent the minimum that authors can expect and were important new rights in the 1988 Copyright Designs and Patents Act.
In some parts of the EU moral rights are considered so important the law prevents them from being signed away. Under UK law they can (though some lawyers think that EU law may make any such agreement void). But Centaur wanted me to agree to
"irrevocably and unconditionally waive all moral rights in the Material to which you may be entitled under Chapter IV of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 and any other similar laws in force from time to time during the term of copyright in any part of the world."
In other words Centaur wanted to be free to publish my piece without my name on it – or with someone else’s name on it – and to be free to edit it in such a way as to be derogatory. I doubt it would ever have done those things. But that is what waiving moral rights gives it the freedom to do and if it had no intention of doing them why did it want the freedom to do so?
I never sell all rights and I never waive moral rights. If you had told me that when you emailed me I would not have accepted the commission on those terms. I am happy to sell Centaur the right to publish - and republish - the piece in print and electronically everywhere and forever. But not the exclusive right as the copyright must remain with me – so for example I am free to put it on my own website. Or use phrases and sentences from it elsewhere if I choose.
I simply don't understand the need for clause 3. I am sure you intend to publish the item with my name on it and acknowledge my authorship of it and I am sure you don't intend to edit it in such a way as to bring me into disrepute. So you don't need me to assign away those things which the moral rights section in the CDPA 1988 gives me.
Hope this isn't a problem.
Tuesday 3 October
But it was. Apologising for wasting my time, Sam replied that there was nothing she could do. Further discussions with her boss, news editor James Phillipps, confirmed that position.
So Money Marketing, which for two years running voted me in its top 100 influential people in financial services, wanted to buy me out and prevent me from ever republishing my own work. They also wanted the right to publish the piece without naming me as the author, the right to name someone else as the author, and the right to subject my work to derogatory treatment.
No thanks. Not for any money. And definitely not for a hundred and fifty quid!
23 October 2006
Three weeks later the piece had not appeared and I decided to send them an invoice. After all, I had been commissioned and written the piece before the contract had been sent to me. So I should be paid even if Centaur had decided not to publish. I sent an email saying I presumed it would not now appear - it was too out of date apart from anything else - and an invoice for £150 plus VAT. I heard nothing.
30 November 2006
I wrote again pointing out that the invoice was over its 30 day payment date due and I would take the matter further if I wasn't paid. I was told I would be.
14 December 2006
Just as impatience was getting the better of me, the postman brought me a pleasant surprise. A cheque for £150 plus VAT from Centaur Publishing. I emailed to thank News Editor James Phillips who replied
Very glad to hear that has come through and apologies again for all of the hassle. Likewise, would hate to fall out with a fellow journalist, particularly over something like a contract which is out of both of our hands...here's to a happy healthy New Year, All the best James