Media Top Stories

Bauer in dispute with music freelancers

By | Published on Monday 12 April 2010

A stand-off has emerged between Bauer Media and up to 200 freelance writers and photographers who contribute to the publisher’s three music titles Kerrang!, Mojo and Q. The freelancers object to a new contract being forced on them by the media firm, which gives the publisher ownership and control of all the rights in a contributor’s work, but at the same time extends the liabilities of the writer or photographer if their work results in any legal action.

Bauer argue that they are simply trying to formalise what has been for sometime the slightly informal commissioning process employed by its music titles, and to ensure the firm has the rights in place to enable it to use content from its magazines in other undefined digital products and spin-off ventures, and to more prolifically syndicate content to other media around the world. They also say that the contract they are proposing will enable them to continue to use freelancers with the same frequency and on the same rates as in recent years, whereas, they claim, other publishers are looking to cut their use of and the fees they pay to freelance staff.

But a consortium of freelancers has hit out at Bauer’s plans, arguing that a one-size-fits-all contract that assigns all rights to the publisher is unfair and unworkable, while a clause that requires a freelancer to indemnify the publisher against all or any legal action could potentially bankrupt a writer who, despite their best efforts, found themselves on the wrong side of a libel dispute. They also object to Bauer’s approach to introducing the new contract, which they say has been presented to them as a non-negotiable fait accompli.

The new contract was put to freelancers in mid-February, with a request that contributors sign the agreement by the start of March if they wished to continue working for their music magazines. But most refused.

The consortium of journalists who oppose the contract, and who sent a joint letter to the publisher outlining their objections, claim all their efforts to enter into collective negotiations with Bauer bosses have been knocked back, with management there saying they will not budge on any of the issues raised by the writers. However, the aforementioned indemnity clause has since been tweaked, and a handful of the freelancers who signed the joint letter have reportedly been offered more favourable terms.

Of course, Bauer already re-use articles originally commissioned for their print magazines for spin-off products, and syndicate content to other media owners, but have previously done so in collaboration with the freelancers who wrote the original content, normally paying said writers a second fee for any re-use or syndication. The new contract would deprive freelancers of any additional re-use fees, and allow the publisher to re-use and re-work a writer’s content in anyway it so wished.

Bauer also claim that the all-rights contract that they are trying to introduce is similar to that used by many other newspaper and magazine publishers in the digital age. But several freelancers have told CMU that while other media firms do often offer all-rights deals by default, in reality a number of differing model contracts exist allowing a commissioning editor the flexibility to negotiate terms with a freelancer on a case by case basis, depending on the nature of the piece of work. Such flexibility reportedly even exists at the likes of NME publishers IPC, despite them trying to introduce their own non-negotiable all-rights contracts nearly a decade a go. Such a flexible system is thought to operate elsewhere in the Bauer empire also.

As the freelancers made their battle with Bauer public last week, the publisher issued a statement reading thus: “Bauer Media has already seen a fundamental change in most of its brands from magazines to multi-platform products and has been extremely proactive in launching websites, live events, TV and radio stations. Consumer expectations and ways in which audiences choose to engage with our content will continue to change and Bauer Media needs to be firmly placed to take advantage of new revenue streams and opportunities as they arise”.

It continued: “To that end, Bauer Media is seeking new standard contract terms with freelancers to enable us to re-use commissioned material across other brands, digital platforms, international editions and any new ways its consumers choose to engage with brand content. Bauer Media is famous for its multi-platform influential brands which touch nineteen million UK adults every week. Our goal is to inspire, entertain and connect passionate communities wherever, whenever and however they want”.

But one of the freelancers opposing the new contract told CMU: “I think we all accept that the media is changing, and that titles like Mojo and Q have to adapt. But a big issue here is that Bauer seem to see their freelancers as part of the problem rather than part of the solution”.

They continued: “If they’d come to us and said: ‘We’re looking for new ways to use your content to ensure the long term success of these magazines’, we would have been very willing to talk about the options available and whether that required us to have a different relationship with the magazines. We want these titles to succeed more than anyone. But this is being forced on us without explanation, and without a willingness to negotiate. It says to me there is a lack of strategy at Bauer, so a message has come from high up that they need to own everything. But in doing so they will alienate some of their best contributors, irreparably damaging the very brands they are trying to save”.