News / 23.01.2012

Freelance journalists aggrieved over poor treatment by major publisher

Linus Atarah

Finland’s freelance journalists are deeply dissatisfied with unfair treatment by Sanoma News Magazines, part of Sanoma News Concern, over working contracts which they say allows the media giant to appropriate their copyrights. Sanoma Magazines Finland (SMF) has sent out a working contract to freelance journalists which would form the basis of continuous work with SMF.

The contract was sent out this month unilaterally by SMF with no prior consultation with the nearly 700 hundred freelance journalists and photographers who work for SMF, and they are expected to sign by the end of the month. But the freelance journalists are angry not only at the failure of SMF to consult them, but mainly because according to them, the contract seeks to expropriate the copyrights of freelance journalists and photographers without commensurate financial compensation.

The agreement confers all copyrights of material produced by freelancers on SMF who also retains the right to freely modify and sell it on to a third party without additional compensation to the original author of the work.

“The author’s rights in the contract are very broad for the publisher but freelance journalist gets no rights and no extra payments for his work and that is the biggest problem in the agreement”, said Petri Savolainen, Director at Union of Journalists in Finland.

The contract should give equal rights to both the publisher and the freelance journalist or photographer to use the material after first publication, Savolainen said.

“I have never seen that type of an agreement before”, said Lauri Eriksson, a photographer who has twenty years’ experience working for Sanoma Magazines.
Eriksson questioned why SMF as a business enterprise should seek to control the immaterial rights of other business enterprises – most freelance journalists have been forced to operate as sole entrepreneurs and as such are considered business enterprises.

Eriksson charged that Sanoma Magazines aims to compile a material bank from which it can freely sell products to third parties. But Riitta Pollari, publisher of Sanoma Magazines denies that charge.

“Other media houses such as Tallentum and Otavamedia have contracts which allow parallel rights to authors and publishers to the use of their works and do not seek to expropriate all the copyrights. Why not Sanoma Magzines?”, asked Savolainen
Sanoma Magazines also retains the rights to freely use all material obtained from freelance journalists and photographers in marketing and other PR activities. But that part of the contract contravenes existing agreements which state that a person or his photograph shall not be used without explicit permission.

It would also put a burden on photographers who might incur penalties if their subject has existing contract with a modeling agent.

The contract goes so far to state that a freelance photographer shall not commercially benefit from photo material that he has privately taken for his personal use while on assignment for SMF.

Nevertheless Publisher of Sanoma Magazines, Riitta Pollari appears to stick to her guns. She defended the contract to a packed meeting of freelance journalists and photographers on Tuesday by arguing that the agreement was necessary in the face of fierce competition in the print media field.

She reiterated her stand that those photographers and journalists who fail to sign the contract would no longer be assured of work with Sanoma Magazines.
 “To SMF the contract is important; those who sign it will work with us those who do not sign will not”, warned Pollari .

In a fierce exchange with photographers some of who have worked with Sanoma Magazines, for over twenty years, Pollari argued the media giant needs to maintain its unique brand in order to stick out from the rest for it to survive in the competition.

But Savolainen said that freelancers are indispensable to Sanoma Magazines. The company regularly relies on 700 of the estimated 2 200 freelancers in Finland for its print media and therefore would run into difficulties if they refuse to sign the contract.

“It is not every freelancer who can work for Sanoma Magazines, they need experienced and quality freelancers”, said Savolainen.

When asked how long Sanoma Magazines would last if all those gathered in the room refused to append their signatures to the contract, Pollari answered:  “yes, we will manage”.

The Union of Journalists in Finland who has been given a mandate to negotiate on behalf of freelance journalists has urged all freelance journalists to withhold their signatures until a Sanoma Magzines comes with up a better contract which addresses their concerns.

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