News / 05.03.2012

Freelancers take on giant publisher


Linus Atarah

With strong backing from the Union of Journalists, over 300 freelance photographers and journalists have signed a petition not to work for Sanoma Magazines under the terms of the current contract which seek to expropriate all copyrights to their works with no compensation.

And the action seems to be paying off.  According to various sources, chief editors and senior editorial staff of the publisher have had difficulties finding photographers for many of their publications, and last week began contacting individual freelancers in order to recruit them.

However, those contacted told the Union of Journalists they were prepared to work for Sanoma Magazines occasionally but have refused to sign the contract.

Only about 30 photojournalists have agreed to the terms of the contract and have signed the agreement.

The company’s attitude towards freelancers appears to be causing division within the house. The union chapter in SMF sent a letter to the leadership of the company last month – which is considered a polite show of lack of confidence – questioning the company’s hardline stand not to negotiate with freelancers at all on the terms of the contract.

The Union chapter expressed concern over the impact on the quality and work process of the publications if contacts with established freelancers are severed. The Union chapter said they would also like to be informed on the financial and other justifications which lie behind this freelancers’ agreement.

In mid-December last year, Sanoma News Magazines unilaterally and with no prior consultation, sent out a contract to 700 hundred freelance journalists, photographers and graphic designers asking them to sign or else they cease working for the company.

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

Part of the contract also demands that it is the responsibility of the freelancers to seek permission from their subjects for the unlimited use, including commercial use, of their interview or photographs.

And after the permission has been granted Sanoma Magazines then appropriates all the rights of the product which it can publish anywhere in the world without commensurate financial to the journalist or photographer.

“If you sign that paper then you have the responsibility over the publication of that image and whatever happens to it anywhere in the world, but they can sell it anywhere in the world and make money from it. You have the responsibility, they have the rights to 100 per cent of the money”, says Kari Kuukka.

Kuukka of Finnfoto, was speaking on a National Union of Journalists panel discussion at the Congress Centre on Friday.

According to Kuukka, the big publishing companies do not necessarily want to gain financial benefits from the material but rather to have control over when to publish it or whether it would be published at all.

For instance, if a sports photographer signs onto that agreement and later wants to document a sports book of his career, then that would no longer be possible because he cannot use his own pictures for anything commercial, Kuukka says.

According to Kuukka, the annual turnover of the creative sector in Finland is 1.5 billion Euros. The figure is from 2008.

“It is bigger than our forest industry, it is bigger than our tourist industry, it is a huge amount of money and now some huge corporations are taking all the rights to manage that because they get to keep 100 per cent of the profits”, he says.

According to him, SMF and other big publishing houses are cashing in on the current financial dire straits in the printing industry to exploit poor journalists who have no work.

There is also a loophole in the law which is being exploited by the big publishing houses. A majority of the photographers are sole entrepreneurs, and under current legislation, uniting as a single negotiating force would be illegal because they would be considered a cartel.

“You cannot unite with other companies even though you are one single person, and negotiating with a company with 2.5 billion euros turnover when your own turnover is measured in tens of thousands, is a bit uneven stance”, to say the least, says Kuukka.

However, Jukka Liedes, director of cultural policy and copyright issues at the Ministry of Education says that it may not be necessary to change the legislation on cartels in order to accommodate the rights of independent journalists and photographers.

He instead advised that independent photographers could form their own professional association like other creative workers to defend their interests.

However, most freelance photographers are part of the nearly 16000 membership of the Union of Journalists in Finland which has consistently fought for their interests.

The Union has sought for and obtained a mandate to negotiate on behalf of freelance journalists and photographers in previous disputes with Sanoma Magazines but the company has been intransigent.

“Sanoma Magazines is the biggest publishing house in Finland and the fifth largest in Europe and thus with loads of people dying to work for them they are not willing to negotiate because they hold the thumbscrew”, says Kuukka.

“They are in position to say, ‘sign this, we take your rights but we give you a little bit of money’, and sure someone is always willing to work”, he says.

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