Ann Douglas is the author of 28 books, many of which focus on pregnancy and parenting. She is a columnist for Conceive Magazine, Yahoo! Canada, and The Toronto Star’s ParentCentral.ca. Her byline has appeared in Chatelaine, Canadian Living, Homemakers, Today’s Parent, Canadian Family, Parents Canada, The Globe and Mail, and other publications, both print and online. She refuses to sign the new Transcontinental contract. Here’s why.
I feel like Canadian Living has been part of my writing life forever.
Canadian Living was one of the very first magazines to carry my byline.
I’ve written feature-length and short articles for Canadian Living magazine and its website. I’ve appeared on Canadian Living Television. And I’ve been featured as an expert in many articles written by other writers.
Canadian Living was also one of the first publications to rally behind me when I starting writing pregnancy and parenting books. Shortly after The Mother of All Baby Books was published in 2001, Canadian Living named it one of the top ten reference books every Canadian household should own. And, more recently, Canadian Living ran excerpts of Sleep Solutions for Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler on its website.
I’ve been proud to be able to contribute to Canadian Living over the years because the magazine celebrates Canada and Canadians. It has also made a point of welcoming and nurturing new writers. (Every writer is a new writer at some point, after all.)
Recently, I had to turn down my first interview with Canadian Living. It’s not because I didn’t have a lot to say about the topic. In fact, the interview was on one of my favorite subjects and, because I have been doing a lot of new research in that area, I had a lot of information I was eager to pass along. Nor was I too busy to do the interview. I always make time for Canadian Living because I feel it has a unique place in the hearts and minds of Canadians. I had to turn down the interview because I felt it would be wrong to do it while Canadian Living’s parent-company, Transcontinental, is insisting that all Canadian Living writers agree to sign a contract that would erode their traditional rights as freelance magazine writers, and that could set dangerous precedents for the industry.
I hated having to do this, given my long-standing relationship with the magazine and the writers and editors I have come to know and greatly respect at Canadian Living.
I also hate not being able to pitch story ideas to Canadian Living – story ideas that, I feel, would be a great fit for the magazine. I want to tell them about the woman I know who has dedicated her life to a particular cause – and who has proven that there’s almost nothing that one woman can’t do if she puts her mind to it, including transforming attitudes in her own community. I also want so share some very personal stories about my journey as a mother in recent years. But I can’t erode the rights of writers by signing my name to the contract that is currently on offer – a contract that would be binding forevermore.
I hope the powers that be at Transcontinental — the company that owns Canadian Living and many other highly respected Canadian magazines — will decide to do the ethical thing by treating writers as true partners in a mutually beneficial working relationship. This would mean including writers in contract discussions affecting their livelihoods, as opposed to simply announcing contract terms after the fact. Failing to do so ignores the decades-long relationships built up between writers and editors, and the fact that readers also have strong relationships with the writers who contribute to a particular magazine. These facts may not show up on the numbers that are crunched by lawyers and accountants when contracts are drafted, but they ultimately determine which magazines thrive.
As always, the readers will have their final say.
P.S. I just finished ordering magazine subscriptions for family members – a holiday shopping ritual for me. I hope these contract issues will be behind us by this time next year so that I’ll be able to give the gift of Canadian Living and other Transcontinental publications next year.
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.
Kim Pittaway is a magazine writer and editor. She has been a frequent contributor to Transcontinental magazines, including More and Homemaker’s, and has garnered six National Magazine Award Foundation nominations, three of them for articles published by Transcontinental. She is the past editor-in-chief and managing editor of Chatelaine magazine, past president of the National Magazine Award Foundation and an in-demand seminar leader on topics related to writing, editing and online journalism. She refuses to sign the new Transcontinental contract. Here’s why.
I’ve had great working relationships with editors at More and Homemaker’s, and know and respect many others who work for Transcontinental–which is why I was so deeply disappointed by this new contract, one which conveys a fundamental disrespect for the creators who contribute so much to the success of Transcon’s publications.
Why does this contract seem disrespectful to me?
- Because it grabs a whole bundle of new rights with little or no additional fee. I know that print publications are struggling to find new revenue streams. I get that the media mix is shifting. And I’m eager to work with editors and publishers to find new ways to reach readers. But publishers already get a bargain on the print rights they purchase from copyright holders–those rates haven’t gone up in over 30 years. And to now say you’re taking a whole whack of new rights for the same bargain-basement rate is simply unfair. I own those rights on my work. And I choose not to sell them to you at that low rate.
- Because it was imposed with no consultation with writers. One day, I had a great working relationship with my editors, was juggling three or four assignments, and all was right with the world. Oh–and I’d just garnered Transcon mags two National Magazine Award nominations. The next day, I was told that if I didn’t sign the contract as is, no changes, that I wouldn’t be working for them any longer.
- Because it is a sign-once, live-with-it-forever contract. This contract applies to my work with Transcon in perpetuity and applies to all work for all Transcon properties. So Transcon is locking in the rights they want at a point when suppliers are vulnerable because of the current economic situation, and preventing writers from renegotiating the contract at any point in the future. Who in their right mind signs a contract that applies forever?
I’m mystified by this contract–perhaps because I have difficulty believing that the good folks I know at Transcon actually intended to send such a negative message with it. Maybe they’re getting bad legal advice. I hope that’s the reason. But even more than that, I hope we’re able to engage in a constructive conversation to change it. Because a bad contract is bad for writers, it’s tough on editors and it’s ultimately bad for magazines and their readers. And that’s a shame, for all of us.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Canadian Writers Launch BadWritingContracts.ca to Educate Writers and Public About Unfair Transcontinental Media contract
(November 4, 2009) A coalition of more than a dozen Canadian writers’ organizations today launched a new website, http://www.BadWritingContracts.ca, to raise awareness about the unfair and damaging freelance contract from Transcontinental Media. This follows a September 30 announcement by the coalition that called on Canadian writers to not write for Transcontinental publications.
BadWritingContracts.ca offers the latest news and information about the campaign against Transcontinental Media, one of the country’s largest publishers of magazines and newspapers. The website provides:
- A clear dissection of the Transcontinental contract, outlining why it’s a bad deal for writers.
- A list of Transcontinental publications to avoid, as well as access to a free, confidential consultation service for writers. Anyone considering pitching a Transcontinental publication can visit the website and contact an industry expert who will help suggest alternative markets for their story.
- A page that fact checks statements made by Transcontinental executives.
- A list of ways for writers and members of the public to get involved and show their support for a compromise solution to this dispute.
- A regularly-updated blog.
The website is being launched in conjunction with a Facebook group and Twitter account (http://www.twitter.com/badcontracts) to help spread information and awareness about Transcontinental’s contract, and the company’s refusal to engage in negotiation with writers.
Background: A Refusal to Negotiate
Earlier this summer, Transcontinental Media began sending a new freelance contract – which it calls a “Master Author Agreement” – to the many writers who contribute to its stable of publications, including Canadian Living, More, Elle Canada, Homemakers, and Vancouver Magazine.
In June, the country’s largest writing organizations, in cooperation with major literary agencies, approached Transcontinental in the hope of reaching a compromise. The coalition raised four primary concerns with the contract:
- Transcontinental’s new contract was muddying the copyright waters. The Master Author Agreement grants copyright of each work to the author but then undercuts this copyright by licensing the following extraordinary rights: “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.”
- The agreement is permanent. Once signed, it covers all future work for Transcontinental publications.
- Transcontinental has no intention of compensating freelancers for the many additional uses of their work. In essence, the company wants to continue paying what it’s been paying for decades for basic first publication rights but now get unlimited rights to writers’ work.
- The Master Agreement is one-sided. It makes no mention of payment terms, kill fees, provisions for libel suits, and other important issues that are part of any balanced contributor’s agreement.
Since meeting with representatives from the coalition, the company has stated that it has no intention of altering the contract. It has also instructed its editors to not offer any assignments unless a writer has signed the controversial contract.
An Unprecedented Coalition
The coalition consists of 14 groups, which together represent thousands of Canadian writers:
- Anne McDermid & Associates
- Association des journalistes indépendants du Québec
- Canadian Authors Association
- Canadian Freelance Union
- Canadian Writers Group
- The Cooke Agency
- Federation of BC Writers
- Professional Writers Association of Canada
- Quebec Writers Federation
- Toronto Writers’ Centre
- Saskatchewan Writers Guild
- Westwood Creative Artists
- Writers Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador
- The Writers’ Union of Canada
For Additional Information
Canadian Writers Group
President, Professional Writers Association of Canada
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
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.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Canadian writers unite in opposition to Transcontinental Media
(Toronto – September 30, 2009) In an unprecedented coalition, more than a dozen Canadian writers’ organizations are calling on the thousands of writers they represent to not write for any publications owned by Transcontinental Media, effective immediately. This act of protest is directed at the company’s new contract for freelance contributors, which these groups, including the Professional Writers Association of Canada and the Canadian Writers Group, believe to be abusive of writers’ rights.
Earlier this summer, Transcontinental Media began sending a new freelance contract – which it calls a “Master Author Agreement” – to the many writers who contribute to its stable of publications, including Canadian Living, More, Elle Canada, Homemakers, and Vancouver Magazine. When this Master Author Agreement was unveiled, respected magazine industry consultant D.B. Scott referred to it as a “take it or leave it” rights grab that, “in effect, indentures the writer and their work to Transcon.”
In mid-June, Derek Finkle, of the Canadian Writers Group, and the executive director of the Professional Writers Association of Canada, sent a letter to Jacqueline Howe, Transcontinental Media’s group publisher and vice president for English Canada, requesting a meeting to discuss their concerns about the new Master Author Agreement. This letter was co-signed by many provincial and national organizations, including the following:
• Canadian Freelance Union
• Canadian Writers Group
• The Cooke Agency
• Federation of BC Writers
• Professional Writers Association of Canada
• Quebec Writers Federation
• Westwood Creative Artists
• Writers Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador
• The Writers’ Union of Canada