Transcontinental Media responds
Last month we told you about the new Transcontinental Media contributor agreement, an agreement that demands full copyright from freelancers as well as a waiver of moral rights.
Story Board requested an interview with TC Media Senior Vice President Pierre Marcoux to ask about the reasons behind the changes to their agreement. We were granted an interview with Susan Antonacci, Executive Director, Brand Development for TC Media Consumer Brands.
Speaking with Story Board by phone, Antonacci explained that the advent of new media delivery channels caused TC Media to change their contributor agreement.
“We needed to explore how to better serve our consumers in a multi-platform environment. And it really came down to thinking, in order to remain competitive in this environment, that a new contributor agreement was necessary. So much has happened, even since 2009 when we had our last agreement. Tablets and apps didn’t exist, they weren’t commercialized in 2009. The iPad was only launched in April 2010. There’ve been so many changes in the industry and the way we provide content that it was absolutely necessary that we look at making these changes,” she said.
“We’re still experimenting with the new. There’s no proven model yet. And that’s another reason as to why we need to optimize our content.”
Although TC Media Senior Vice President Pierre Marcoux told Masthead Online in 2009 that the publisher believed that copyright belongs to the author, Antonacci said that that belief has now changed.
“It has changed in the sense that yes, it did belong to the writer, but so much has changed since 2009, the media landscape is so different that we have to think about that as a company, especially a publishing company, moving forward,” she said.
Antonacci said that one thing, however, has not changed.
“I think there are a number of contributors who can tell you this, and I’ve worked with many over my 30 years in this business, and that is that we highly respect the contributors that we work with. And we really appreciate what they do for us, and we want to continue working with them,” she said.
Copyright across all brands
The new agreement gives TC Media worldwide rights — in perpetuity — in all forms of media now known and hereafter invented. Although this gives the publisher the right to publish a writer’s article throughout any of their magazine brands, Antonacci said the company is in the process of imposing strict internal guidelines regarding content sharing.
“Quite often because the brands are so different, the chances of the content being used with another brand is unlikely,” she said.
When asked why, in that case, TC Media requires full copyright, Antonacci said that as the company’s brands are evolving, and exploring different initiatives, there is more of a chance that content might be shared.
“But the circumstances are rare,” she said.
“It’s a safety net that we’ve put in place and for us it’s important that we have it in place. But that being said, we’re very mindful of the essence of each brand as well as the value of our content, so we’re establishing the policies and strict guidelines to tightly manage the content and respect the integrity of the work.”
Moral rights and bylines
The integrity of the work, in fact, is at risk under the new TC Media agreement. The moral rights waiver gives TC Media the right to alter the work in any way they wish. When asked about this clause, Antonacci explained that TC Media needs to be able to adapt content for different platforms – to better fit a smartphone or a tablet, for example.
“With the multiplication of numerous new technologies and delivery channels, media companies need to become more agile in order to reproduce content on multi-platforms – to use part of this content, to adapt it or enhance it or change it. When I say change it, I would be showing something differently on tablet than I would be showing it in print or online.”
This clause also gives the publisher the right to remove a writer’s byline from their work. Antonacci said this is not an issue that should concern freelancers.
“It sounds light for me to say it’s not a big issue, but it’s not because, in keeping with our practices, TC Media will undertake to credit the freelancer’s name in accordance with industry standards. So that means that we will almost always have a byline,” she said.
“The only time I can think of off the top of my head when we wouldn’t have a byline is if we were doing something where we were cropping a number of photos and putting them onto a subscription card to send out to a group of subscribers to promote a product… promote Canadian Living or Style At Home or whatever. But we will always go with industry standards and use bylines whenever possible,” she said.
“It would be very rare that we wouldn’t use them. And as an established publisher, we really, again, respect the integrity of the work. So we have no intention of distorting a freelancer’s message or not giving them credit where credit is due.”
Higher fees for more rights?
Story Board asked Antonacci if TC Media is willing to pay higher fees for the increased rights demands in the new agreement.
“We totally believe that the copyright has value and we value our relationships with our contributors. And editors and art directors, they’re in charge of commissioning the work and they’re negotiating with our freelancers on a case-by-case basis. It’s a contributor’s decision whether to work with us, but we do believe that the full copyright has value,” she said.
“Will we consider paying a higher fee again? A lot of that depends on the editor and art directors. But we feel that we’re one of the leading publishers in Canada and we do offer competitive rates and we will continue to do so.”
Antonacci pointed out that TC Media is not the only publishing company in Canada rethinking their contributor agreements.
“The way the publishing industry has changed is that all of the publishers in this country are looking at the way they work with their contributors. But for us at TC Media, we have a number of freelancers and contributors that we’ve worked with for a very long time and we really value those relationships and we want to keep those relationships,” she said.
As more publishers shift the financial burden of failing business models onto the shoulders of freelancers, making a living as an independent content creator is becoming increasingly difficult. When asked how freelance writers will be able to continue to make a living with publishers demanding increased rights without increased pay, Antonacci said she was unable to answer at this time.
“What I can say is that we have great relationships with our writers and we’ll do everything that we can to promote our contributors and work with them moving forwards.”
A freelancer responds
Daniel Wood, one of Canada’s longest serving freelance writers and a contributor to a variety of TC Media titles, takes issue with many aspects of the new freelance agreement.
“There’s no mention of any digital re-use step-up. Nor any mention of kill fees, payment on acceptance/publication, what copyrights rights revert to writers when,” he told Story Board via email.
“Basically there is nothing that states what the company’s contractual obligations are to its writers. If nothing is stated, nothing could be what writers end up with,” he said.
Story Board will be posting further responses to the TC Media contract and Susan Antonacci’s comments in the coming weeks.
If you have questions about this agreement or would like to be involved in discussions about it with the CMG, please contact Keith Maskell at Keith@cmg.ca.