Canadian Magazine Industry News
1 October 2009,     TORONTO
Transcontinental and CWG executives speak out on writers boycott
As Masthead reported yesterday, a boycott has been issued from 14 Canadian writer’s groups to the thousands of writers they represent to not write for any Transcontinental publications. The announcement was made yesterday afternoon in a press release from the Canadian Writers Group (CWG) and Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC) in response to Transcontinental’s Master Author Agreement. Transcontinental is asking every freelance writer it works with to sign the agreement.

CWG head Derek Finkle spoke to Masthead and says the announcement yesterday is the result of meetings between the CWG, PWAC and Transcontinental. “With many of the writers groups, as soon as the Transcontinental contract dropped in mid-June, there was concern,” he says.

After a meeting between Finkle, David Johnston of PWAC, Pierre Marcoux senior vice president, business and consumer group and Jacqueline Howe, group publisher at Transcontinental in July, Finkle thought their issues had been resolved. “By the end of the meeting we got the feeling like they wanted to fix it and after the meeting I asked Pierre how long he thought it was going to take for this to happen and he said a few days,” he says.

Marcoux says to Masthead that is where the miscommunication started as Transcontinental never had an intention of changing the agreement in their next meeting, only clarifying it. Marcoux and Finkle spoke again at the beginning of September which is when Finkle says Marcoux informed them there would not be any changes to the contract.

The first point of contention for writers in the freelance contract, says Finkle, is that copyright has been very “muddled”. “They say that you can keep copyright but we’re going to license it under the copyright act,” he says. “They’re basically saying we are licensing your work in order to do anything with it that is permissible under the copyright act. In any form or medium for eternity. Which they admit basically means films, television, radio, plays – pretty much the whole gamut.”

Marcoux maintains the copyright issues are the result of a misunderstanding. He says Transcontinental is asking for first exclusive rights for a magazine’s website, digital edition, promotion and mobile applications. These rights only extend to the brand the story is written for. “We can use the article for print, the web, mobile but only under the brand, for example Canadian Living,” he says. “Also for promotions such as a radio show. In my mind there has been a misunderstanding regarding the contract because in our minds copyright belongs to the author.”

The permanent nature of the contract is also call for concern, says Finkle. “I’ve said this before on the record, at this point in time with so many balls up in the air in the media universe signing a contract like this doesn’t make sense,” he says. “It is generally perceived as a very aggressive request. Most agreements also have an out clause, where as this one doesn’t.” Marcoux says that the permanency of the contract is meant to minimize administrative work on their end and simplify the relationship between the writer and the company. “In the past there was one contract for each article,” he says. “So on our side we decided to do one contract because it can become a management issue. However we understand that some writers may feel uncomfortable so we allow writers to sign individual contracts. The permanent agreement – there is nothing for us to gain except that there is less paperwork.”

The fact that there is no mention of kill fees, payment details or libel provisions in the contract is also a sticking point for writers, says Finkle. Marcoux made no mention on the omission of kill fees from the contract but says that payment details are decided on a case-by-case basis. “If a certain writer works for Canadian Living and has 30 years experience, a great name, a great pen, their work is worth more than someone who is not recognized,” he says. “That’s why the fees can vary from one author to another.” As for libel, he says that is a business issue and including it in the contract could make it confusing. “However, there are laws and Transcontinental is a pretty good corporate citizen. We’ve always tried to treat our people the best way we can and that’s not going to change.”

Finkle says that in the months he has worked with freelancers at the CWG he has seen nearly every contract in the country and none are like the one presented by Transcontinental. “In the four to five months this agency has been around I have seen pretty much every contract out there and there is nothing else like this,” he says. “There is no other contract that asks for copyright, or what I call it – parallel copyright. There is nothing in this country that is permanent and looks at all future work. I think there is universal agreement in the writer’s community, someone online referred to it as a ‘line in the sand’.”

The Master Author Agreement was presented to Transcontinental’s freelance writers in Quebec about a year ago, says Marcoux. Eighty percent of freelancers have signed the contract there and 60 percent have signed throughout the rest of Canada where the contract was released in June.

Marcoux says Transcontinental’s plans are simple if the boycott continues. “If the writers that work with us have questions they can talk to their editors, publishers, me, Jacqueline Howe, the people in Montreal,” he says. “We also say to the organizations to call us and speak to us.”
The boycott is the first in a series of actions against Transcontinental, says Finkle. Over the coming weeks the groups will launch a petition and will lobby federal ministries of industry and heritage. “Magazines want to have control of everything but pay what they did in 1985 for first exclusive rights,” he says. “It is a really disturbing trend and people are deciding this can’t be dismissed the way Transcontinental did over the summer. They didn’t have much interest in listening to the concerns of the people who make those magazines sing.”

For another perspective on the boycott check out Corinna vanGerwen’s blog where she calls on editors — Transcontinental or otherwise — to give their take on the dispute and what can be done in the interim to fill the pages.

— Val Maloney
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