Friday, November 30, 2007

Poor freelancers

With the writer's strike in full swing - a fight worth fighting, doing wonders for that heroine Tina Fey in terms of PR admittedly - I was interested in this NY Times story by Richard Perez-Pena (pardon the lack of accents, don't know how to do on blogspot), linked through Shelf Awareness, regarding freelancers getting compensated for electronic distribution of their work.

It seems a federal appeals court has thrown out a settlement made between publishers - the list includes the New York Times Company, the Tribune Company, and Thomson Corp - and journalists, presumably represented by the National Writers Union, led currently by Gerard Colby. The settlement would have compensated the freelancers to some extent, with a cap for the publishers of $18 million - which, quite frankly, doesn't seem like a ton of money on the whole. But the judge decided that a federal court should not have jurisdiction to allow for such a settlement since most of the writers did not register the material in question for copyright, seeing as they were articles done before 2001. Judge Chester J. Straub claimed the lower court had erred in accepting the settlement.

The internet is still, it seems, the Wild West, and corporations are desperately trying to eke every last cent out of it regardless of whom they have to trample to do it. While the internet offers great promise, it seems vital to note this other side of it, the opportunity it provides for corporations to take the ball and run with it, giving no credit to the quarterback who threw the pass. (Did I just make an awkward football analogy? wtf?)

I of course think of authors who are thrilled to have a division of Random House, say, acquire their proposal, but then watch as their book disappears into the maze. They don't know the cover design, phonecalls aren't returned, the pub date may have changed - why does the catalogue say December? Why isn't my book in this catalogue? Where did that image come from? PAPERBACK?! But it was never in hardcover!

Some agents do a fine job protecting clients from such abuse by publishers, but offering content to a giant corporation is still a scarey endeavor. I feel for these authors. When it's a complete book, authors often say it's like their baby. In this court case, it's not quite the same, but we should all imagine our words and our names going up online without fair compensation, without our permission. It's fundamentally unfair.

I enjoyed this rant about writer compensation for dvds from writer/director Harlan Ellison - not safe for work - that was taken from the film, "Dreams with Sharp Teeth."

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