Thursday, 16 December 2010

Who do you think you're kidding, Mister Bauer?

A writer in London receives a letter in the post from a man in Germany. 

Actually, it isn't a letter but a 'Commission Agreement', a kind of contract, where the publisher demands that the recipient writer signs up "to abide by the terms of the agreement". 

Heinrich Bauer Verlag, the publisher, did not personally lick the stamp and post the envelope. A hired UK-based minion, simply obeying the German magazine publisher's orders, must've mailed it.

Two of Bauer's 17 clauses particularly reek. Paragraph 5, for instance, pongs: "By signing and returning this agreement to us, you irrevocably and unconditionally assign to us in perpetuity...the entire copyright and all other rights and title of any kind that you have in the Commissioned Works throughout the world...".
Decoded, this legal jargon means Bauer magazines might no longer commission writers until they sign away their entire copyright. Bauer will be able to make money by re-selling the material but writers won't get a penny.

The same Bauer para ends with a 'cling on' sub-clause. "You hereby irrevocably waive any and all moral rights you have in the Commissioned Works." Translated, writers won't be able to ensure their name credit, or by-line, goes on any syndicated stories.

Bauer's Paragraph 12 'pen and inks' too. "You will indemnify us from all claims, proceedings, costs, losses, expenses and liabilities arising from...the Commissioned Works." This humdinger means the writer will be liable if Bauer is sued because of an article  - even though the writer no longer owns 'their' article.

Ironically, a Hamburg court ruled the above intimidating provisions were illegal in Germany. But that hasn't stopped Bauer trying to impose these terms on freelance writers and photographers in the UK where duress still seems acceptable. 

More than 200 UK writers and photographers are hopping mad with Herr Bauer, whose company bought a swathe of EMAP titles in the UK including Bella, Take A Break, Motor Cycle News, Kerrang!MojoQ, and Rail.
Coralled by the London Freelance Branch of the National Union of Journalists, the scribes and snappers signed a protest statement, asking: "Will Bauer's magazines sell more copies if they push these contracts through, so losing the services of many of their most expert, reliable and popular contributors?" 
Our recipient London writer put this exact question to Bauer but no company representative responded.

Of course, we live in hard times; some writers feel they've no choice but to shut up and sign. Our writer, a contributor to Bauer's EMAP titles for over five years, curiously noticed the 'Commission Agreement' came with no stated deadline by which to sign. 
Bauer's countersignatory is an illegible squiggle with no printed name to identify the responsible company officer. 
There's also no covering explanatory letter nor a stamped addressed envelope.

Without a return address, our London writer can't yet act on their first instinct, to return the 'Agreement' - unsigned  - with only a short but sweet attached note advising Bauer, "Please insert your Agreement in a place where solar radiation no longer permeates."

Paul Coleman, London, December 2010.

Photo: Courtesy of Snug As A Bug Images.

1 comment:

Dave Vickers said...

Hi Paul, I couldn't agree more, freelance life is hard enough already without having one arm tied behind your back and waiving all rights away.It has an air of a Dicken's novel about it. I had a similar problem with Haymarket, they want you to sign an agreement printed on the back of the cheque they send before payment is released! I'd be interested to know how many of the top end writers/photographers are under the same restrictions. Dave Vickers