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Why I won’t sign the Transcontinental contract: Diane Hill

November 18, 2009

Diane Elizabeth Hill is a freelance writer and editor. She has published feature articles in Reader’s Digest, More, and Best Health, personal essays in the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail, and poetry in Avocet, the Penwood Review, and Carousel. She also operates a small business providing writing, editing, and research services to non-profit organizations. She is the former Director of Research at United Way Toronto. She refuses to sign the new Transcontinental contract. Here’s why.

No more More for me.

Let me explain. I started writing for More magazine earlier this year and had a great experience. My editor was terrific and I was looking forward to pitching her again.

The contract I signed gave them first publication rights for 18 months, their right to archive my article in the context of the magazine, and to keep it on their website for two years. Any subsequent publication must be agreed to in writing by me. If the article generated any royalties from a paying electronic archives and/or reprographic processes, 100 percent went to me. I would also receive 50 percent of any royalties from CEDROM through a nonexclusive license (leaving me free to also reproduce through other means). Any other rights not expressly named in the contract remained mine.

The same month that my story was published, I heard that Transcontinental had a new contract. I was shocked to see that all of the rights stipulated in the previous contract had been stripped away, with nothing offered in return, such as a pay increase.

If I signed this new contract, I could kiss goodbye my e-rights, my database royalties, and my right to re-sell. My copyright would not revert to me after 18 months — it was gone forever. There was no mechanism for me to negotiate my own terms of work or to opt out of any of the clauses. Once I signed, the contract would remain in force in perpetuity with no possibility of future renegotiation.  It would cover all work I would ever do in the future, for any of their publications. They could reprint an article I wrote for one of their magazines in any one of their fifty-four other publications, as many times as they wanted, or even sell my article to a third party, all without paying me any additional fees. Besides the loss of copyright, there is no language about the things that tend to keep writers awake at night: payment terms, kill fees, and libel.

Oh yes —  either I sign or I never write for Transcontinental again.

The contract puts writers into a box designed by Transcontinental.

When writer’s groups approached Transcontinental to express their concern, they were basically shooed away. At least the top brass at Transcontinental was being honest — they didn’t pretend they wanted to work in collaboration with their writers. That’s a shame, because that is certainly not how their editors operate.

It’s not surprising that a major multinational corporation wants to strip copyright away from the people who create what they sell. And I know that things are tough out there in the publishing world.

But things are tough in here, too. I’m a business person. I earn my living by writing. Pay rates for periodical writers haven’t increased in decades. I can’t afford to give my work away in perpetuity, to give up my right to re-sell it, even the right to post it on my own website.

More, it sure was nice while it lasted. Maybe we’ll meet again.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Victoria Klassen permalink
    November 18, 2009 11:17 am

    How disheartening to see stories like this, and know that some writers out of desperation or ignorance will indeed sign their rights away.

    I’m involved with a new web publication – Life As A Human – launching in February 2010 that aims to be content-focused and writer-friendly. Check out our holding pages at http://www.lifeasahuman.com and if you are interested in writing for us, please get in touch!

    Believe me, our contract looks *nothing* like Transcontinental’s!

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  1. Why I won’t sign the Transcontinental contract: Ann Douglas « Bad Writing Contracts in Canada

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