Is the Canada Periodical Fund helping TC Media squeeze freelancers?


By Katherine Lapointe

The Canadian Media Guild has sent a letter to Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore asking him to review the funding TC Media receives from Heritage Canada’s Periodical Fund in the wake of the new contract it tried to impose on freelancers this year. TC Media has received between $7.5 and $8.5 million from the fund each year for the past three years.

The Canada Periodical Fund was created in 2009 by James Moore to replace the Canadian Magazine Fund and the Publications Assistance Program. The stated purpose of the newer fund is to strengthen the Canadian cultural sector and to provide stability to the tens of thousands of employees in this industry. As Moore said in 2009, the fund exists “to offer Canadian publishers a simple and effective program so that they can continue to provide readers with a broad range of quality Canadian periodicals.”

In practice, the Canada Periodical Fund fails to support the Canadian cultural sector and its workers. While the total amount of funding available to publishers each year has remained the same – about $75.5 million – the new fund is only available to publications with a paid circulation of 5,000 copies or more. This makes it all but impossible for small, independent (often art, literary and scholarly) publications to qualify and the Support for Arts and Literary Magazines (SALM) program was discontinued. This means the fund favours large publications that typically contain a high number of ads and a relatively lower amount of Canadian content, prompting outcry at the time from a coalition of artists, freelancers and readers.

Instead of enriching the cultural sector and helping to stabilize employment, the latest TC Media contract demands that freelancers sign over all rights to their work, while offering no increase in pay rates. Under these terms, TC Media has the right to republish or alter the work without permission (including removing the byline) and without paying the freelancer another cent.

Recently, the Canadian Media Guild has learned that TC Media has told some freelancers that they do not have to sign this new contract and that they are making amendments to the agreement. A new version is expected in early summer.

“As we await the new contract from TC Media, it is an appropriate time for James Moore and Heritage Canada to look at whether the fund is actually serving to help strengthen the country’s cultural sector or whether it is, in fact, helping the big publishers make life even more difficult for cultural creators,” says Karen Wirsig of the Canadian Media Guild.

The Guild is encouraging freelancers and readers to contact their MPs and ask for a review of the Periodical Fund. You can find out more here.


Katherine Lapointe is the co-ordinator of the CWA Canada-Canadian University Press Associate Membership Program. You can reach her at


Posted on May 8, 2013 at 10:02 am by editor · · Tagged with: , , , ,

7 Responses

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  1. Written by Don Genova
    on May 8, 2013 at 10:25 am
    Reply · Permalink

    I’m sure part of the federal funding the magazines are receiving is going to pay their lawyers to come up with these horrible contracts for freelancers.

    But we also have to stop being our own worst enemies. If at all possible, we should refuse to sign contracts like the newest one from Transcontinental Media and seek work with publications who treat their content creators in a fair fashion.

  2. Written by Ann Douglas
    on May 15, 2013 at 8:11 am
    Reply · Permalink

    When you push back against a bad contract, you make it easier for other writers to negotiate fair contracts with the same publisher. Don’t just sign the first draft of a contract that comes your way — unless it is a model contract. Ask for terms that are fair and that reflect best industry practices. And commit to working for industry standards that are sustainable for writers over the long-term. Working for free or for poverty rates and/or giving away copyright are not sustainable practices for any writer who is committed to this industry for the long-term.

  3. Written by Jake
    on May 15, 2013 at 12:35 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    I don’t understand what the big deal is about copyright. Now, as a freelancer, I’ve never had to sign a contract where I gave up my copyright but I really don’t care. It’s not like I’m going to resell a story (and even in cases where you’re not giving up copyright, more often than not, you’re granting an exclusive license, so you can’t resell); publications can, in almost every circumstance, reuse what I write for them pretty much however they want – even without copyright.

    I know this might be a “line in the sand” but it’s a pointless one.

    And as for the idea that you can “push back” against the TC contract, what a joke. It’s Transcon, they’ll find someone else to write some cheap filler to go between the ads.

    • Written by editor
      on May 15, 2013 at 12:54 pm
      Reply · Permalink

      Copyright is a big deal for many freelance writers. Although it may not be be worthwhile (or possible) to resell a piece of service journalism, it’s a different scenario when the work in question is a personal story that might be adaptable into a book or a screenplay. This is an important moment for writers. The publishing industry is changing and independent creators need to stand up for their rights so that they don’t get lost in the shuffle.

  4. Written by Keith Maskell, Staff Representative, CMG
    on May 15, 2013 at 1:39 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    @Jake: you state that you don’t understand and don’t care about copyright. That’s fine. The fact is, though, that freelance content creators (writers, illustrators, photographers and others) who are trying to earn a living off their work *do* care very much about copyright and moral rights issues.

    A radio documentary maker who does a piece for CBC can resell that very same piece to any number of additional media outlets and websites around the world. A writer can reuse a column or an article as part of a book. A photographer or illustrator can reuse an original work dozens or hundreds or thousands of times. All of that generates revenue; last time I checked, revenue was a good thing. But you can’t do any of those things if you’ve given up ownership and control of the work.

    No one is saying that copyright can’t and shouldn’t ever be ceded. There are circumstances where a content creator can be convinced to surrender future rights in return for some (financial) compensation. But it shouldn’t be the default position, and it certainly shouldn’t be expected for free.

    Enough people balked at the TC Media contract that the company is reviewing its options. You may think that freelancers are being quixotic – but then again you say you don’t care. Go ahead and give away all your rights to everything you create. The rest of us will try to earn a living.

    • Written by Jake
      on May 16, 2013 at 3:37 pm
      Reply · Permalink

      I actually DO earn a living as a freelance reporter, thanks for telling me what I care about.

      The possibility of re-selling a radio documentary makes sense, but how many writers ACTUALLY turn their columns or articles into books?

      How many artists (who aren’t selling prints retail) sell the same image thousands of times?

      In the real world, most of us write something, have it published, and move on to the next assignment.

      Maybe I’m just out of touch with “content creators” (a reductive term if I’ve ever heard one), because most of what I do is actual journalism.

      But don’t for one second think that you speak for all freelancers – or any more than a tiny minority. You don’t speak for me and you don’t speak for anyone I know.

      Where was the CMG when OpenFile writers were fighting to get paid? Tilting at windmills.

  5. Written by Derek Finkle
    on May 17, 2013 at 8:25 am
    Reply · Permalink

    Hi Jake,

    I agree that many contracts these days allow for a certain amount of reuse of the content, though it is usually within the context of the title/brand in question.

    There are many, many examples of Canadian writers turning magazine articles into books. I did so myself back in the 90s when I was starting out. A magazine feature for Saturday Night magazine became my book No Claim to Mercy. If I had done that today for a TC Media title under the “copyright” agreement, I would have had to get TC Media’s permission to sign my book contract, as all book contracts demand that you warrant you are the sole copyright holder. (This is something that TC Media has agreed is the case, and who knows, they may have demanded a cut.) Similarly, the first feature I ever wrote was optioned for a film. If I didn’t hold the copyright, that publisher would have received all of that money, which was a crucial piece of financing I needed to start my career.

    A more current example, perhaps, is Russell Smith. We held onto the digital rights to his feature-length memoir about losing his eyesight, which ran in Toronto Life (print only) a year ago. We published it in e-book form (because he was the copyright holder), and Blindsided became a bestseller.

    As to your point about “actual journalism”, I think you have it backwards. I could see a writer who specializes in, say, service copy about something relatively generic not being too fussed about copyright as long as the fee was agreeable, but if you’re covering an important and/or sensitive subject and you’ve put a lot of unique reporting into it, then I would think it becomes important, even from the sense of your commitment to your sources, that you maintain copyright. I’ve been in touch with a writer who’s been discussing a feature on a specific anti-child prostitution effort with a TC Media magazine, and there is no way that writer would even have the conversation with them under the now deep-sixed agreement. As someone who does “actual” journalism, I would argue that you have an obligation to protect the integrity of your work, and that’s pretty hard to do if you give up copyright, allow your moral rights to be waived and give the publishers the option of removing your byline from the work.

    Last: Open File. We represent a number of writers who wrote for Open File and are part of the CMG. All of these writers were paid early in the process. (And I discussed this with David Topping way back when, I’m fairly certain.) So your assessment is not quite accurate. If you belong to CMG, you have access to legal representation under situations like this, among other useful things. So instead of sniping at an organization that helped people get paid, perhaps writers in an Open File-type situation in the future will turn to the CMG and become members.

    Derek Finkle
    Canadian Writers Group

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