Scotsman Publications has made clear to Scottish freelance photographers that if they do not sign a revised copyright contract, which started on 1 March, they will not be used again.
The company, which insists it is not trying to make a copyright grab, is considering taking on about another six staff photographers to get around the problem. Photographers who have worked regular shifts at the papers have been told there is no more work and equipment on loan to them has been taken back.
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By the end of last week, only one or two freelances had signed the controversial contract, out of 45 sent out. The rest, members of Snap, the Scottish freelance photographers’ association, were being supported by other photographers and picture agencies throughout Scotland, to the chagrin of Scotsman Publications, which produces The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Edinburgh Evening News.
"If the people in Snap want to kill off the golden goose, its entirely up to them," said SP editorial director John McGurk.
Snap, supported by the NUJ, has been in negotiation with the newspapers since last year, claiming the new contracts would deprive them of reproduction fees and copyright over any of their pictures used by the three papers.
A spokesman for the photographers said: "There have been areas of progress but there continue to be some areas that are deeply unacceptable to the photographers."
Reproduction fees now being offered are a reduction on what are currently paid. Snap members also object to the internet and syndication clauses in the contract.
They also object to other clauses, such as one requiring them to do nothing that is "offensive to religion". Snap believes agreement is close but hopes for more flexibility from the newspapers.
McGurk insists that Scotsman Publications has come a very long way towards a "fair and balanced deal" for a licence agreement. He told Press Gazette: "If they do not sign, we will never use them again."
The company has now offered a flat reproduction fee of £40 for the two broadsheet titles and £20 for the tabloid Evening News, and negotiation on each picture reproduced in the papers’ magazines.
First usage and additional usage for work offered would be subject to negotiation while the photographers "will be allowed to continue to syndicate their own material". McGurk said: "We have done all that against a background of raising their shift rates dramatically to £135 for The Scotsman and SoS and up to £120 for the Evening News."
The company was asking the photographers to agree to these terms for an initial period of six months to see how it worked. McGurk believes that if pictures have been commissioned by the papers, putting them on the net is an extension of that usage.
By Jean Morgan