The Boston T-1 Party

Times Co. to Freelancers: Sign, or Else!

If the company isn't trying to line its coffers, Scherer questions why management wants to own retroactive rights to every photo it ever bought from him, and to own them for the lifetime of his copyright—which extends 70 years after his death. And while the cover letter fails to note the contract's infinity, it makes one time limit crystal clear: "Starting July 1, 2000, we will not accept work by anyone who has not signed."

Gulla insists "nobody is putting a gun to anybody's head to sign this." But the contract's "take it or leave it" tone sufficiently offended the American Society of Media Photographers that they are preparing to challenge it in court. In a written analysis, the ASMP's general counsel invoked "the labor practices of the great Robber Barons" and deemed the contract "an unconscionable and thinly veiled attempt to grab additional rights on a wholesale basis, while giving nothing in exchange."

Scherer, who sits on ASMP's national board, sees the contract as a dangerous "trendsetter for other publications," under the theory that "if certain things become standard practice at one level of the market, they rapidly spread to other markets."

The National Writers Union may join the ASMP lawsuit. In the meantime, Tasini urges writers to bear the consequences in mind. "If the outright theft does not stop," he warns, "in five years, no individual authors will control their copyright."

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