Scotsman's photograph talks in disarray

Having staff photographers is the way ahead to be totally safe on copyrightJohn McGurk

Talks between Scotsman Publications and the National Union of Journalists over a new contract for freelance photographers have ended in disarray.

The company has issued yet another contract – the fourth, which contains better shift and reproduction payments but insists on retaining copyright over the freelances’ photographs.

The NUJ Scottish organiser, Paul Holleran, has said the union could neither endorse nor recommend it but that members would not be criticised if they signed the contract.

But many of the 40-plus photographers, who formed themselves into Snap, the Scottish Newspapers’ Association of Photographers, to fight what they considered to be a copyright grab, are still not signing.

Some are saying they will never work for The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday or the Edinburgh Evening News again. Others are taking legal advice on breach of copyright if Scotsman Publications continues to use their archive pictures without payment.

The photographers stopped working for the titles last month and persuaded many picture agencies and individual photographers in Scotland to support them by not supplying the three newspapers.

Yet the company’s editorial director, John McGurk, said that half a dozen had signed and, added to those who had signed previous contracts, there were now 12 ready to work.

He claimed oppressive peer pressure scared off many who wanted to work from signing by the deadline on Monday.

The company is to take on three staff photographers, one for each title, and stop using freelances for desk shifts.

There would be no rethink on the copyright issue, McGurk said, adding: "We have learned quite a lot of lessons from this situation: we don’t need as many photographers as we were using; that having staff photographers is the way ahead to be totally safe on copyright and that we are saving money."

Holleran told Press Gazette he thought the contract was deeply flawed without the major problem of copyright being addressed.

"Some of the photographers will find the contract unacceptable and will not sign it," he said. "On the other hand there are others who will accept that this a basis for a return to work. If they want the contract to be accepted en masse there needs to be more movement."

McGurk said he had made it clear to the NUJ that he would not send out the contract unless they were happy that the majority of the photographers would sign it.

The NUJ is hoping to conclude a house agreement with the company by the end of May after a ballot among journalists, held under new employment regulations, revealed that 100 per cent at the Edinburgh Evening News and Scotland on Sunday and 98 per cent at The Scotsman were in favour of being represented by the union.

By Jean Morgan

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