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Letter of support from Self-Employed Writers’ and Editors’ Alliance of Toronto

October 8, 2009

Below is a letter sent by members of the Self-Employed Writers’ and Editors’ Alliance of Toronto to editors at Transcontinental Media. It outlines their concerns with the Master author Agreement, and asks the editors to push for change within their organization.

October 8, 2009

Dear Editors:

We are writing this letter as a gentle reminder of the productive, creative and wonderful relationship we have shared as writers and editors. As members of SWEAT (Self-Employed Writers’ and Editors’ Alliance of Toronto), we thoroughly enjoy working with many of Transcontinental’s terrific publications and would like to continue to do so. That does not mean, however, that we are not deeply concerned over the recent Transcontinental contract.

Our first concern is with the matter of copyright. Although the Transcon Master Author Agreement grants copyright for each work to the author, it then appears to undercut that agreement by giving Transcontinental: “The ongoing non-exclusive right to do in respect of the Work any other act that is subject to copyright protection under the Canadian Copyright Act (including, without limitation, the right to produce and reproduce, translate, develop ancillary products, perform in public, adapt and communicate the Work, in any form or medium) as well as to authorize others to do so on behalf of or in association with the Publisher.”

We have been told that Transcon will only reproduce our work under the same brand, but many publishers (including Rogers) pay an additional fee for the electronic rights to our work and we feel that this is fair. When a publisher is able to continue to make money on our work, it seems fair that we should share in the proceeds.

We respectfully ask you to take into consideration that, during the 20 years or more that many of us have been working in this industry, we have seen rates for freelance writing stagnate at about $1 per word. Given that inflation has averaged about 2.52% over the past 20 years, we’ve actually seen our purchasing power eroded by almost a third. (It took $1.32 in 2008 to buy what $1 bought in 1988). Virtually all other professions have seen wages rise at least at the level of inflation.

We are also worried about the fact that the Transcontinental contract does not spell out the responsibilities of both parties in the transaction. There is no provision for a kill fee if—for some unforeseen reason—our work never appears in print. In addition, there is no mention of support in the event of legal action taken against a writer’s work for a Transcon publication, putting writers in an extremely vulnerable position.

Perhaps our biggest concern about the contract is the perpetuity it implies. It is impossible to predict what the publishing climate will look like even five years from now. The rights we “sign away” now could become much more valuable in the future, and a lifetime contract does not allow for the natural evolution of contractual agreements in tandem with changing business conditions.

We would like to emphasize how much we enjoy working with Transcontinental’s various publications and how much we value our relationships with our editors. We ask that you consider our concerns and, in a spirit of collaborative resolution, communicate them to those higher up at Transcontinental. We’re not trying to put you on the spot, but we would very much appreciate your support,

Sincerely,
SWEAT

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