CFU makes progress in negotiations over Canada Wide Media contract
A couple of months ago, we brought you details of Canada Wide Media’s new freelance contract. The contract raised a number of concerns for writers — concerns that include a lack of specifics regarding kill fees, a lengthy waiting period for submission approval, the lack of specific wording related to e-book rights, and a clause that attempts to hold writers solely liable for damages in defamation lawsuits.
Michael OReilly, President of the Canadian Freelance Union, took these concerns to Canada Wide Media last month, presenting a counter-offer on behalf of over 30 of Canada Wide’s regular freelancers.
“We’ve got a number of members who came to us and they were concerned with the contract,” said OReilly, speaking to Story Board earlier this week. “We’ve actually organized quite a large group of Canada Wide freelancers into a cohesive group and approached it from a collective strength response.”
OReilly reported that Canada Wide has been quite responsive to the freelance group’s concerns.
“Within a couple of days they came back with a positive response to our initial counter-offer. And they accepted some things right off the bat,” he said.
One area that Canada Wide has agreed to adjust is the defamation clause. Although Editorial Operations Manager Mike Roberts told Story Board in November that Canada Wide Media expects its freelance contributors to be able to “discern work that constitutes defamation,” the publisher has now agreed to change that clause so that it does not indemnify the publisher for legal costs arising from defamation suits. The publisher has also agreed to add specific terms regarding kill fees to the contract.
Negotiations were interrupted by the beginning of the holiday season, but OReilly said further discussions will take place over the next few days.
“I hope to make further progress, but we’ve already made significant progress to improve the contract,” he said.
Canada Wide freelancers invited to join discussion group
OReilly encourages other freelancers who write for Canada Wide Media publications to get in touch with him.
“If there’s anybody that works for or even is thinking of working for Canada Wide, just send me an email,” he said.
“We’ve got a private discussion group set up. It’s not just about this contract, people are sharing information about rates and rights issues. So even if you’ve signed the contract, even if you’re happily working away, you’re more than welcome to come and join us,” he said. “We’re trying to generate solidarity by having the group talk to each other.”
OReilly says a united front is necessary when pushing back against the kinds of demanding contracts that are becoming the norm in the publishing industry.
“It’s a long-term trend where publishers and owners of publications and media in general want to have all the rights. And they don’t want to pay for it, either,” he said. “There’s been a long-term trend of declining rates and increasing rights demands that go back to the mid-90s. And we have to find a way to work together to stop this.”
These kinds of pressures make a career in freelancing less and less viable.
“I don’t know anybody who is writing for periodicals exclusively anymore,” said OReilly. “They’ve killed our side of the business by continuing to squeeze rates and at the same time increasing the rights demands, which effectively closed down all secondary markets.”
“It’s not about the internet, it’s not about the economics, it’s all about power,” he said. “They have it, and we don’t.
Freelancers feeling the squeeze
Luigi Benetton has been freelancing for Canada Wide since 2006. In addition to the defamation clause, Benetton says he’s concerned about the rights issues in the Canada Wide contract.
“[There’s] no extra money for web publications, and you leave them with the option to use this stuff in the future without any extra compensation to the freelancer,” he said.
Benetton has been following the discussions in OReilly’s freelance group and, with the advice of the Canadian Writers Group, made some changes to the new Canada Wide Media contract he recently signed. He agrees with OReilly that collective action is required if freelancers are to gain back ground in contract negotiations.
“If they’ve got 75 freelancers and 55 of them get into this group and empower this one person to speak on their behalf, you get their attention,” he said. “Then they’ve got to start worrying about where their content is coming from.”
Although he enjoys writing for Canada Wide Media and hopes to continue doing so, Benetton says rates and contract pressures have caused him to switch the main focus of his freelance business from periodical to corporate writing work.
“Freelancing for periodicals is fun,” he said, “but the day’s long past when a freelance writer could actually make a living, pay a mortgage, maintain a car, buy food and so on and so forth just freelancing for publications.”