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CMG’s response to the Citizen letter on Canwest freelance contracts

Graham Green, the executive editor of the Ottawa Citizen, was quick to reply to the CMG’s concerns over the standard contract form being sent to freelancers. Click here to read his reply.

Unfortunately, while his response seems to leave a door open to negotiating the terms of the standard Canwest contract, the reality is a different story. He asserts freelancers do indeed have the right and responsibility to decide for themselves whether the terms are acceptable. They can make counter-proposals, which the engager (in this case the Citizen) has the right to accept or refuse. However, in my own recent experience in negotiating a contract with another Canwest owned company, while I was able to successfully negotiate a suitable rate for my work, I received a lot of pushback when asking to change the copyright and moral rights sections of the agreement.

It’s unfortunate that the letter is silent on the issue of moral rights for creators. The demand made in the standard form contract is far-reaching, yet even when the Guild challenged Canwest’s position; Green appears to have chosen to offer no defence whatsoever.

Based on Green’s response, and reports I’ve heard from other freelancers who have objected to the contract, the best course of action for freelance content creators may well be to stop offering material to the Citizen, or any other Canwest’s publication, as long as they insist on using this contract. If enough people take a stand to protect their principles, perhaps engagers like the Citizen will begin to re-think their policies.

Here are a few tips you can use when entering into a contract with an engager, Canwest or not:

GET IT IN BLACK AND WHITE: Always sign a contract before you begin work. Document your negotiations and the promises of your editors. It will help ensure you get paid properly in case there are any disputes.

SHOW ME THE MONEY! If you are an experienced freelancer, avoid working for the minimum rates wherever possible. Your fee should reflect your experience and expertise. Remember: a staff reporter for a magazine or newspaper with five years of experience would never work for the salary of a rookie. You shouldn’t either.

IT’S YOUR WORK: As a Freelance Writer, you still own the intellectual property of your material, your ideas. If you must assign or sell your copyright, ensure you receive significant compensation.

IT’S BUSINESS: Selling your work for publication is a business. Treat it that way. If the fee being offered is not adequate, say so. If you are unable to negotiate a higher fee, be willing to walk away. Your time and expertise are valuable, and you may be better off employing it elsewhere. It’s hard to say no, but once you get used to getting a better deal for your material, you and your fellow freelancers will be better off. We really need collective action to push up fees and protect our rights.

Don Genova
Freelance Branch President
Canadian Media Guild

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