Is this Newspaper Trying to Pull a Fast One?

I get your ezine every week and really enjoy what I read and have learned a tremendous amount. I’ve written you on occasion and thought you’d be a good one to bounce this situation off of…

I started writing professionally about four years ago, at age 41, starting with a small weekly newspaper that has grown from about 8000 copies to about 21,000 copies now. I write all sorts of feature stories and news writing and sometimes take my own photos.

When I began writing, of course I didn’t know anything about not writing for free or contracts. I pitched an article to the editor and offered to write the first one for free so she could see I was worth having as a freelancer. The editor, who seems to be very upstanding, paid me for that first article.

A flat fee of $25 payment was the arrangement through email, for the articles, which continued for some time until I started taking photos to go with them. I would often get checks with more money than I had put on my invoice and she’d tell me that it was for the photos. We finally came to an agreement of $35 flat fee for articles with or without photos. Been working out fine for some time.

About two years ago, the newspaper started making their writers sign contracts. Now, I don’t mind signing a contract. I’ve done it on several occasions now.

When the contract came, I was mostly signing for my freelance writing as my partner, who was a full-time employee of the newspaper in the administrative office, would often accompany me on story adventures and take photos for me. She was also given a contract to sign. She did photos for me prior to becoming an employee, and after, but it happened that all freelancers were given contracts after her hiring.

The original contract stated the following:

Photos – start at $25 per assignment. Add’l photos used for publication are paid at an individually negotiated rate…..

Internet Sales – the [publication] makes photos available to the public for purchase. Contributor will be paid $2.00 for each photograph that is purchased via the Internet.

Photos are sold to the public when copies are requested for 4×5 – $15, 5×7 – $20 and an 8×10 – $25. Hmmmmm. Who’s making out here?

For nearly a year, my partner was paid $25 for the first photo and then her negotiated rate was $10 for each additional photo. Then they made a change.

Today the contract reads:

Photos- start at $25 per assignment, which includes one or two photos. Add’l photos used for publication are paid at an individually negotiated rate……

If you only submit one photo you get $25, but for two it’s only $12.50 a photo.

This is a no-brainer.

I find it odd that the details are not more specified in subsequent contracts; as a friend of mine now does some freelancing photography and writing for the newspaper and has asked me questions about these contract details.

Funny thing, when I signed my contract, the publisher never signed my contract.

Now, my friend is asking about her photos… when we take them, sometimes they are put on the newspaper’s website with the PDF of the article and don’t necessarily appear in the print version. Sometimes they don’t publish the article online at all and the photos still make it on the website to be sold.

Since there is no specification of publication on the web or in the print version where the newspaper publishes, I would think that if they use our photos, they ought to be charged for them. Do you think I’m correct in this assumption?

It only just dawned on me that the photos are on the website and not in print about two weeks ago when I went online to look at one of my stories, saw a photo with it and then saw the print version that didn’t have a photo. I charged for it and got paid, but it was only one photo, not several.

I’ve never really bothered to look to see if they are in the section of the website for sale, but it seems they don’t have the intention of paying their freelancers for them, or at least not the ones who keep their mouths shut.

So, I’m wondering what you think about the situation?

-Name not published

First, you should know that selling photos to the casual reader online is likely not a lucrative business for them. Be that as it may, it still does not give them license to post and sell your photos without payment. I would definitely request they put more detail about the rights/payment in their contract.

One thing that you seem mistaken about is “publication.” If they are putting photos on a website, they are PUBLISHING those photos. Unless the contract specifically states “print publication”, they owe you and your friend payment for all the photos that were put online. You can’t put a photo online and start selling it, yet not pay the photographer/writer for that photo by claiming it was not “published.” The photo is on their website for all the world to see. It is definitely published.

If you sign a contract, you must abide by the terms (even if they don’t sign it). While some may disagree with me, if they don’t sign it, they don’t have to abide by the terms (they can claim they never got a copy of the final contract). I would remind them that you’re still waiting for your copy of the contract. I would also make a list of all the photos published (take screen-shots for proof) without pay and send them an invoice.