CWG negotiates new deal with Reader’s Digest
It doesn’t happen every day, so when writers make gains after negotiating with a publication, it’s a story worth sharing.
Working with Reader’s Digest managing editor Derek Webster, Derek Finkle negotiated a new pay grid on behalf of writers represented by the Canadian Writers Group this fall. Shortly before Webster left the magazine in October, he and Finkle worked a new sliding fee scale for Reader’s Digest freelance work that takes into account the writer’s experience as well as how labour intensive the assigned story will be. In addition to this pay scale, the magazine also agreed to pay an extra fee to compensate CWG writers for additional rights their contract demands, including exclusivity and the right reprint the story in foreign editions of Reader’s Digest. CWG has about a dozen writers working for Reader’s Digest and sibling publication Best Health at any given time, according to Finkle.
This follows CWG’s talks with Reader’s Digest (Reader’s Digest Magazines Canada Limited or RDM) that resulted in a new freelance agreement in spring 2010, one that gained the agency’s writers protection from certain clauses in the previous version. In one case, the older agreement had allowed RDM to counter-sue a writer if a libel suit was brought against the magazine as a result of the writer’s story. In the new agreement, the amount for which RDM can sue the writer is limited:
RDM does not expect its writers to pay for RDM’s legal fees. In the event of a suit launched against RDM proving successful, if the reasons for that judgment are directly related to the writers’ incompetence and/or negligence, then RDM may hold the writer jointly responsible, and seek some redress with the writer. In which case, writers may be responsible for expenses and costs up to a maximum of 4 times the original story fee, but no more.
Additionally, the previous agreement gave the company rights to sell the rights to byproducts from the assigned story, such as books or films; now, the writer must give RDM 14 days to respond to a written proposal for the project:
At any time, you shall provide RDM with a right of first refusal with respect to such supplemental usage which would/could incorporate the Work or portions thereof. RDM shall have a period of fourteen (14) days from the receipt of a written proposal to provide its response. In the event that the response is positive, you will enter into good faith negotiations with RDM regarding the terms. If the parties do not consummate a deal with respect to the terms, then you have no further obligations.
A clause states clearly that, subject to other clauses in the agreement, nothing is stopping the writer from writing a book based on the Reader’s Digest story. A note in the clause reads, in part:
RDM’s position is that no one can copyright an idea. This has implications for both RDM and the author. All rights not granted within this contract remain with the author, including: the right to exploit the theme or concept of the work in other media. For example, the specific terms granted to RDM for rights to other media do not stop authors from writing movie scripts based on the idea; they simply mean you should come to RDM first, that’s all.
Finkle says that initially RDM was using this new agreement only with CWG writers, but in recent months the magazine has been sending it to other contributors.