Unfair contracts: new laws

THE EUROPEAN Union looks likely to introduce at least some measures to combat the imposition of unfair contracts on journalists and other creators. At a Creators' Conference in Brussels on 31 May, EU Commissioner Andrus Ansip said: "this is not negotiation between equal partners: some partners are too powerful - we have to change this situation to protect the weaker partner". The event was organised by the European Federation of Journalists with composers', directors' and fiction writers' organisations. NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet spoke, and was asked: "What one thing helps against unfair creators' contracts?" She replied, to applause: "Collective bargaining for freelances!"

The European Commission is due to produce proposals in the autumn. Mike Holderness had a round of meetings around the event, which produced other encouraging statements from officials and MEPs. Of course, whether this has a direct effect on the UK depends on what happens in the referendum on 23 June. Not annoying newspaper publishers just now may be important.

The Creators' Rights Alliance (of which Mike Holderness is chair) has met the UK minister, Baroness Lucy Neville-Rolfe. She heard the arguments about why unfair contracts need to be dealt with and gave the impression that this was a matter for the European Union to take on.

Meanwhile several countries in Europe have new laws or proposals on unfair contracts. In Germany the government has put forward a limited version of an earlier draft law. Collective agreements now include minimum payments, while unions can bring collective actions if these are violated. But industry lobbying watered down a clause improving the right to end a contract if a publisher is not actively promoting a work, and get more from another. This now only covers authors paid a flat rate, excluding authors who get royalties - which is most.

A law that passed the French Senate on 25 May would mean some improvements in contracts for musicians and contributors to films. It also includes a fee for thumbnail images on search engines, distributed to photographers through a collecting society. Even the Freelance's Dutch-speaking editor's still trying to understand a new law guaranteeing fair payment for freelances in the Netherlands. "Fair" isn't defined and it appears to be in practice unenforceable. The effect on Dutch freelance journalists of a new tax law- to stop companies firing everyone and hiring them again as self-employed - seems negligible.

Last modified: 13 Jun 2016 - © 2016 contributors
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