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Paying for Quality

By Christopher Moore | May 8, 2009

In the wake of The Globe and Mail‘s settlement with writers over its appropriation of their digital rights, there’s been some discussion of the actual state of newspaper contracts for digital uses of freelancer material.

The Globe now generally acknowledges creator copyright and seeks to licence one-time use in the print edition and “perpetual inclusion in the internal and commercially available databases and other storage media.”

CanWest’s terms are far harsher. Freelance writers are required to “irrevocably” surrender all rights to their work, including moral rights and copyright, with no opportunity for reselling or republishing the material without CanWest’s “express written permission.” CanWest, on the other hand, asserts the right to “exclusively use and exploit” the material “in any manner and in any and all media, whether now known or hereafter devised, throughout the universe, in perpetuity.”

I have never heard this last part read aloud among writers without provoking real laugh-out-loud disbelief (“across the universe?”), but there it is.

One consequence: some significant number of professional writers simply avoid that chain entirely. Former staff writer Charles Gordon and automotive columnist Shannon Lee Mannion are mentioned among those who no longer write for The Citizen and CanWest, because of its freelance terms.

Surely this is not entirely unrelated to CanWest’s edge-of-bankruptyc financial difficulties and the plight of much mainstream journalism in general. Who will pay them for crap when there is so much crap available for free? If newspapers want to offer the good stuff, they will have to be prepared to pay for it.

Now, if we coud get the universities and educators to grasp that, too….

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