Some freelance journalists are having serious trouble with Fairfax because of the latest version of the Fairfax Contributor Agreement, which was released earlier this month.

Regular readers of this blog will know that for some time, Fairfax has been demanding that freelancers sign contracts which effectively restrict them from working for other organisations if they have more than a small number of pieces published by Fairfax. I have asked the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to comment on whether this is an illegal restraint of trade, but have yet to get a clear answer. I’ll stay on it.

The new contract contains some minor changes that might be designed to get around any ACCC concerns, including a statement that Fairfax will not unreasonably withhold permission for freelancers to place work elsewhere. 

But the new problem seems to be that whereas the old contract was not really enforced (I have in the past ruled thruogh the obnoxious bits before signing, and have not had anyone object) this one is being imposed with an iron fist by management.

I have heard two stories of freelancers who have been told that if they don’t sign by the end of this month, they will not be paid what they are already owed. This is, to say the least, outrageous. At what stage should we call for a freelance boycott of Fairfax? While other publishers, such as Pacific Publications, are trying similar tricks, Fairfax remains in the vanguard of evil doers so far as freelancers are concerned. THere are of course exceptions: good editors who do what they can. But they are being increasingly squeezed by management.

The Media Alliance sums up the  obnoxious clauses in the new contract: 

Provisions in the contract continue to place an unreasonable restraint of trade upon freelancers, despite the mention in clause 2.1 that “Fairfax will not unreasonably withhold its approval” for external work.

The contract still places unreasonable restrictions upon freelancers, with no mention of possible remuneration to compensate for the loss of income that will occur if freelancers adhere to the provisions in the contract. Clause 1.3 says a freelancer will “grant to Fairfax a worldwide, irrevocable, exclusive licence to reproduce and deal with Fairfax Work by all means whatsoever”. 

This is further clarified by Clause 1.4-1.6 which means that a freelancer is banned from on-selling work published by Fairfax in to any Fairfax publication (which includes online publication) in Australia and New Zealand, or any Australian “competitor”. Competitors are a list which includes every major media organisation in the country. 

Freelancers are still required to waive their moral rights, which means your work can be altered without your permission (Clause 6).

You are also required to indemnify Fairfax against any loss (Clause 7.2), but there is some comfort in the following clause (7.3) as Fairfax agrees to indemnify the freelancer for any claim upon you for alleged defamation or injurious falsehood in a work published by the company.

I want to keep following this story. Freelancers with stories to tell, please email me at [email protected] Confidentiality will be maintained.

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