Freelance Writers And Photographers In A Standoff With Bauer Publishing

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Bauer, a German-owned publisher which bought music magazines Kerrang!, MOJO and Q in December of 2007 from Emap is trying to impose a new contract on freelancers working for those titles. Over 200 contributors to the three magazines have refused to sign the new contract which contains clauses that “provide Bauer with an unlimited lifetime financial indemnity in the event of legal action arising from their work” and “to acquire licenses from their subjects for the company to use their image for its own profit as and when it wishes.”

In a cover letter delivered with the contracts, Bauer issued the ultimatum that after April 16th any contributors who do not sign will no longer be commissioned.

Here’s a copy of the contract someone sent to me a month or so ago:

BauerContract

I received a press release signed by several of the freelancers standing up to Bauer that states:

A committee of the freelances affected has been attempting to enter into dialogue with Bauer since the first draft was issued late in February, but the company has rebuffed every overture. “Their behaviour is bizarre and counter-productive,” says Iggy Pop’s biographer Trynka, who was previously responsible for overseeing MOJO and Q syndication and contracts. “As contributors, we share Bauer’s need for their titles to remain profitable, and are offering Bauer permission to use some material on the iPad and similar digital platforms for no extra payment.”

Attempted rights grabs like Bauer’s are far more than an assault on a specific group of music writers and photographers – they undermine the viability of freelance journalism as a whole. Freelances bear a significant proportion of the risk in most media businesses because, behind their commission-by-commission availability, they pay for their own equipment, office space and training. Without any of the statutory sickness, holiday, maternity and paternity pay rights of staff, the only asset their work produces is their stock-in-trade: copyright ownership, as acknowledged by UK law. 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? Will musicians and other showbusiness talent stand idly by and see their quotes and photographic likenesses commoditized and put on sale by a publishing company? In business terms, it doesn’t make sense.

More at British Journal of Photography and London Freelance.

The other magazines Bauer purchased from Emap, include Empire, Heat, Closer, Grazia, Max Power, MCN, Match!, FHM and Zoo. All are expected to see a similar contract unless this one is defeated.

There Are 19 Comments On This Article.

  1. Several thoughts:

    1. Clearly the long-term revenue and copyright issues associated with Web publishing have made a lot of organizations more aware, and probably a little paranoid, about ownership of material. Lawyers, as they are wont to do, are writing contracts that attempt to assign all ownership to their clients. This agreement is doubly amusing in that they are trying to grab all rights for freelance material while simultaneously attempting to claim all liability for the material falls on the freelancer. That seems like a serious, possibly fatal, inconsistency. Certainly someone contemplating a lawsuit involving published material is not going to accept that only an underpaid freelancer can be sued. They are going to go after the publisher who owns the copyright and derived the revenue from the material as well. Just because you write stuff in a contract doesn’t mean it will stand up in court. This “pay us, sue them” approach could invalidate this agreement on the first legal challenge.

    2. Bad economic times are always a breeding ground for one-sided. self-serving contracts. At least this contract can be terminated by either party. It could be worse. Sometimes these things are written such that you are basically agreeing to lifetime indentured servitude to the publisher.

    3. The old line “one bullet, both feet” comes to mind. There has been much discussion about whether quality content will ultimately be the salvation of publishing organizations (particularly in online ventures). By demanding all freelancers sign this sort of agreement, Bauer is probably guaranteeing the top freelancers will either flatly refuse to work for them, or only agree to engagements of extremely limited scope. There will always be people willing to work under these sort of terms, but the people who don’t have to probably won’t. So to extrapolate, Bauer winds up with mainly second and third tier freelancers. If quality content really does become king, Bauer will be operating with a freelance staff of mainly serfs. To further extrapolate, that suggests Bauer will either have to offer different contracts to get top-tier freelancers to work for them (which will probably kill the current contract), or just be happy using the freelancers willing to sign their agreement. Quality suffers, their publications decline further, initiate death spiral sequence/set mode=accelerate….

  2. thanks for posting this. i am a regular contributor to a number of their titles, and received a cover letter about this outlining brief details of what the new contract would include. I had already decided that i was’nt going to sign, but as far as i knew, i was alone. Good to know there’s a greater body moving with more clout in the same direction. the true value of good blogging! thanks rob.

  3. I’m a big fan of Mojo (although I haven’t seen it in a while–maybe it’s not as good as it used to be), but I’ve had a couple problems with them. Once they yoinked a photo from my Web site and published it (small) with a credit, but without permission or payment (they said a low level staffer ran it who didn’t know better). Also, I still haven’t been paid for an assignment I shot about 2 years ago.

    • This “a low level staffer ran it” excuse is being used everywhere. It is complete bull, and just a ploy to get you to not sue them. Sue them.

  4. I agree. Information like this is invaluable–thank you again for posting it. What a disgusting, unethical contract–especially the part about making it the poor freelancer’s responsibility to persuade the photo subject to waive away all rights so that bauer publishing can enjoy unlimited rights to use the artist’s image to make money for themselves. i remember photographing the band Kiss in one of my very first assignments at 16 magazine. their boots were so high i couldn’t even see past their knees. it was dark and noisy, and i had three minutes with them. (by they way, they were very sweet and friendly–who knew?) I can’t even imagine taking the shots and then insisting that they sign a license to benefit my publisher. that’s just bizarre.
    in my years as a rock photographer, i never was faced with a demand this nakedly draconian from any magazine i supplied photos for, and later, as a photo editor, i wouldn’t dream of asking this of anyone i hired.
    it is imperative that photographers categorically refuse to sign this contract. the legal nightmares that could ensue far outweigh any money this publisher might pay.

  5. I see this as another way to intimidate the non-star photographers. Do you see Mark Seliger signing off on this contract? I’ve seen the same thing with other big clients. They have an exceedingly convoluted and grabbing contracts, but the second they need a star photographer who’s never going to go through their acceptance process (preferred vendor lists, wanting all rights, unlimited lifetime financial indemnity and expecting photographers to negotiate model releases for the clients etc), they hire that photographer under his or her normal contract. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a bluff, but as photographers we need to make sure we’re not the first to blink.

    Solidarity!!

    • @Nick B, they know big names won’t sign off on this, but they also know that there are photogs out there who will, because they don’t know better or because they’re willing to sell themselves out to get published. I hope that no one signs this, but I’m too optimistic. There are so many photogs scrambling for work and recognition–there’s a serious supply and demand problem.

  6. Mojo and Q both ‘seem’ like decent music magazines, editorially speaking. However I would NOT shoot anything under that contract until it is seriously revised and I hope other photographers have the sense to refrain as well.

    The photographer with skill and vision is still in control. You don’t need a magazine’s access to make great and even exclusive photos. I’d rather shoot what I love independently and license the work appropriately.

    Unless Bauer is paying $10,000+ for a shoot, a photographer would be throwing the value of their work away for the ‘privilege’ of seeing it published with a tiny credit buried in the gutter. There are much better ways to build a portfolio.

    Contracts should evolve with new media and photographers should see the wider distribution of their work on new, more connective platforms as added value to them as well as the publication. Bauer’s stance is completely absurd and unacceptable.

  7. It’s the clauses of the contract where they demand the photographer:
    “provide Bauer with an unlimited lifetime financial indemnity in the event of legal action arising from their work” and “to acquire licenses from their subjects for the company to use their image for its own profit as and when it wishes.”

    That’s just not a photographers job. I’m not an insurance agency and as I freelancer I represent my business, not the magazine/publisher. How the hell can the photographer, who’s been hired to shoot XX band, be expected to negotiate model releases for the magazine with bands before they shoot them??? Photographers have a tough enough time getting bands to sign releases or work on a license model for publicity shoots, let alone do the above. If they weren’t serious, it would be laughable….

    Regarding the comment about anyone with a lawsuit going after the larger publisher rather than the smaller photographer, don’t believe it for a second. A family member was in a very similar situation – it was even against a major music magazine publisher in the UK. The publisher had the big gun lawyers, so the plaintiff’s lawyers went after my family member instead, who couldn’t afford big fancy lawyers, and who ended up paying out a substantial “settlement” rather than even more exorbitant lawyer fees to put up a suitable defense. Make no mistake, clauses like this can lead to bankruptcy.

    Thank god my new business plan has me doing very little editorial work….

  8. Okay, so Bauer wants a photographer to be responsible for their bad decisions, sure no problem. I hear they are service up cold beer in Hell.

  9. Oh, forgot to say, if they get any photogs to agree to the contract, the black hole of death will have opened up so far there will be no escaping it and it is only a matter of time.

    It is unfortunate that greed and lack of responsibility can be the motivating factors for survival that ultimately lead to a long painful death.

  10. There are no ‘big name’ photographers working for any of Bauer’s magazines. Primarily because Bauer don’t produce any magazines that big names would want to work for. That’s not to say that they don’t have any good mags – Mojo is a great music mag but it’s content is 80% archival.

    Bauer’s attitude to the people that actually create it’s product reminds me of the scene in “Shakespeare in Love” when the company is rehearsing Romeo & Juliet for the first time. We see Shakespeare, played by Joseph Fiennes, giving some impassioned direction. The camera pulls back and in the foreground are 2 skanky Elizabethan characters – bit part players.

    Nodding towards Shakespearee one says, “Who’s he then?”
    “Him? Oh him. He’s just the writer. He’s nobody.”

    We’re in the end times now – for magazines. They had 15 years of good times and, bit by bit, they lost publishers and management who came from editorial background and replaced them with people from marketing and soft drink sales backgrounds. They packaged products that were designed to appeal to advertisers and forgot that these products are no good if they have content without nutritional value in it.

    They deserve everything they get. It’s just a shame that those of us who love working for and contributing to great magazines are treated with no more respect or value than the people that put the lettuce in the buns at McDonald’s.

  11. Respect is a word, once something to be honoured, that has both lost it’s meaning and it’s importance.

  12. I think it’s probably easy to express outrage over the way potential clients like Bauer operate, but it’s even easier just to ignore them and walk on down the road. If “Also, I still haven’t been paid for an assignment I shot about 2 years ago.” is true on top of their proposed contract, why would anyone even think about working for them. No sense losing any sleep over it. Go find someone who values what you do.

  13. God bless the internet. The best way to fight nonsense like this is through exposure, education and combined outrage.

  14. “There are no ‘big name’ photographers working for any of Bauer’s magazines. Primarily because Bauer don’t produce any magazines that big names would want to work for”

    Is it just me but I thought the likes of David Bailey, Nadav Kander, Perou are big photographers? they seem to shoot for those guys a lot.