In a letter sent to the Ottawa Citizen, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) is asking CanWest to reconsider the terms of the freelance agreement it is requiring its writers to sign.
CAUT says in the letter that they "believe very strongly in the critical role played by the press and other media in a free and democratic society, and in particular their crucial role in informing a vibrant public sphere with a diversity of opinions," and that the “Freelance Writer Agreement” being used by CanWest "undermines this important role."
The contract which has been presented by the Ottawa Citizen and other CanWest papers to their freelance writers, requires them to relinquish their copyright interests including
their economic and moral rights in their works. It has already generated quite a bit of controversy as several authors have not been willing to sign it . CanWest has also received letters in opposition to the new agreement from the Canadian Media Guild and the Travel Media Association of Canada (to which CanWest responded here )
The Canadian Media Guild makes the point that:
The most troubling demand is that freelance authors waive their moral rights in the work
they provide. Moral rights give the author creative ownership over their work and ensure
they get credit when that work is used or re-used. It is the most fundamental right a writer
has, and it is simply unacceptable to expect freelancers to surrender it outright. A media
organization does not need to hold moral rights to be able to subject a piece to the normal
editing process. In our view, the only reason a company would need to hold the moral rights would be to have the unfettered right to modify an item beyond its original meaning.
Moral rights waivers are indeed troubling. While sections 14 and 28.2 of the Canadian Copyright Act provide authors with a bundle of moral rights separate and apart from the economic rights in a work, and while these rights are not assignable, they are waivable.
Especially where there is a disparity in the bargaining power between the parties, demands for relinquishments of moral rights can be oppressive and unfair to the author. While the CanWest situation is certainly an strong example of disparate bargaining power, moral rights waivers arise in a variety of contexts.
CAUT had included the limitaton of moral rights waivers as part of its overall copyright position published last month:
In addition to the economic rights in copyright, authors in Canada hold moral rights in their works. Moral rights are an extension of the persona of the creator and include the rights to ensure the integrity of the work, a right to be associated with the work as its author by name or under a pseudonym, and the right to remain anonymous.
In Canada, moral rights cannot be assigned, but they can be waived in whole or in part. Corporations, government agencies, and other institutions often demand a contractual waiver of moral rights. Many creative artists and researchers feel they should be able to maintain the control over the integrity of their work provided by moral rights even in situations where they are assigning away the economic copyright interests in their work. Examples include visual artists who do not wish to see their works altere in a way that undermines its essence or professors who object to being named as an author of a report whose conclusions the contracting agency fundamentally changed.
To avoid these problems the Copyright Act should be amended to protect holders of moral rights either by recognizing them as non-waivable and inalienable personal rights, or by considering further limitations and conditions on such waivers.
Tags: CAUT moral rights Freelance Writers