• Finance

Should Freelancers Get Royalties?

A few weeks ago, I received a looong contract for a prospective article. One of the many clauses said that the magazine might repackage and resell my work, and unless my share of the extra cash was over $200, they weren't going to pay it. My editor wouldn't negotiate on this, saying they didn't have the "manpower to track that stuff." So I was interested to read on San Francisco's BeyondChron that oral arguments were recently heard in Manhattan on an appeal to a huge copyright infringment class action case involving freelance writers getting cut out of the revenue from repackaging. The article's (freelance) author, Irvin Muchnick, is also the lead plaintiff in the case, which he blogs about at Freelance Rights. (and told the whole story of here.) Apparently, a 2001 Supreme Court decision found that freelancers have the right to a percentage of profits from the repackaging of their work, for example through TimesSelect. The original class-action case offered a one-time settlement of $12 million to a mass of writers whose work was offered on LexisNexis and other paid databases. Muchnick and co. want something better: a long-term royalty or residual agreement for writers whose work is made available online. This idea is bound to start a debate at your next creative-workers gathering. As revenue models change and online access to information gets more ubiquitous, just what is your intellectual property worth? I felt that I was taking a risk by dickering over my own contract, but I think it's important to at least ask the question.

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