Guidelines drawn up to protect journalists’ copyright on ideas for programmes have been adopted by BBC Radio – two years after the television industry signed up to them.
The code, from the Alliance for the Protection of Copyright, was adopted by the BBC, the ITV network, Channel 4 and Channel 5, along with other organisations, including the Director’s Guild, in 1999.
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The BBC’s director of radio, Jenny Abramsky, has now agreed to extend the code, which sets out procedures for the handling of creative material, to the whole of BBC Radio from 1 September.
The code contains a complaints procedure over the ownership of creative material, including formats, treatments, outlines and development documents and sets out guidelines for compensation. In the event of a dispute over ownership, journalists can be represented by NUJ officials.
John Sealey, chair of the Alliance, said that he had dealt with more than 300 complaints about ideas being stolen since the guidelines were adopted by TV companies, but only 10 of those had any basis for complaint.
"Often it can be just a coincidence, particularly if there is a public debate going on and a lot of people make the same link," said Sealey. "But sometimes there is no question that an original proposal has been used unfairly. Hopefully this code will enable us to deal with issues before lawyers get involved and things get out of hand." Properly formulated proposals which are clearly set out would help prevent difficulties over ownership arising, he claimed.
"Many people just don’t know how to put together a proper submission," said Sealey, adding that the Alliance was considering drawing up guidelines for writing submissions.
Paul McLaughlin, national broadcasting organiser for the NUJ, said the adoption of the code by BBC Radio was a "significant development".
"It will help safeguard the interests of our members who submit programme ideas to broadcasters and I hope they will make good use of the code," he said.
By Julie Tomlin