The growing trend among media organisations to use right-grabbing contracts has become a matter of great concern for the International and the European Federation of Journalists (IFJ/EFJ).

What is a right-grabbing contract? A contract where a media employer asks you to sign away all your authors' rights/copyright for an unlimited time, in any media, or on any platform, for a single payment - usually just the fee you are paid for writing the original story.

This means that you will not get any extra remuneration if your article, photograph or broadcast is reproduced or sold elsewhere (e.g. to a database, other media in the same media group or externally).

In addition, your contract may also insist that you waive your moral rights and thus prevent you from the right to be named as the author or to oppose any modification that threatens the integrity of your work. This can also imply that you are allowing your employer to sell your story to another media which you may not approve of.

As a result, the IFJ/EFJ have launched a worldwide campaign against right-grabbing contracts and to demand fair payments to journalists.

How to enforce journalists’ authors’ rights:

I. Inform journalists about their rights

The authors’ rights of journalists are protected by international treaties and national laws. These rights not only include the economic rights (the right to earn money from a creative work) of authors but also their moral rights. Moral rights are guaranteed in national laws.

The national legal frameworks in most European countries recognise unwaivable moral rights of authors. The exceptions are the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands where moral rights can be waived – and publishers therefore frequently demand this.

Moral rights are defined in international treaties and national laws. Article 6b of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works stipulates that: "...the author shall have the right to claim authorship of the work and to object to any distortion, mutilation or other modification of, or other derogatory action in relation to, the said work, which would be prejudicial to his honour or reputation."

II. Say “NO” to right-grabbing contracts, advocate collective agreements. Journalists should never sign right-grabbing contracts.

Journalists who sign the right-grabbing contracts not only lose the right to use their works autonomously, but also the (moral) right to protect the integrity of their works. The IFJ/EFJ encourage member unions to advocate for collective agreements or model contracts that include an authors’ rights clause. The clause shall stipulate that:

  1. All authors’ rights in the work shall remain with authors who will retain their exclusive rights. The licence granted to publish or broadcast the work will be limited to the first publication/broadcast only. Unless there is express written agreement to the contrary, the licence shall expire within a certain period as permitted by national law after the delivery date. The publisher/broadcaster shall not make the copies available without the permission of the author after the licence expires.
  2. Any modification of the work shall be subject to prior authorisation by the author.
  3. Publisher/broadcasting company agrees that the following credit line (name of the author, date) shall accompany every publication or broadcast of the material. 

What is a rights-grabbing contract?

Contrary to international and national laws, right-grabbing contracts often demand journalists sign away their authors’ rights, including both economic and moral rights.

These contracts demand that journalists shall:

  • assign to the publisher a worldwide, exclusive right to use, reproduce, display, modify and distribute his/her work in all types of platform, known or future;
  • allow the publisher to transfer his/her works to third parties without additional payment to the author and exploit his/her works in any way the publisher deems necessary.

 What do unfair contracts look like?

See the sample contracts here:

Sample Iis from an international news organisation based in the US.

Sample IIis from a news agency in Madrid, Spain.

Sample IIIis from a news magazine in Madrid, Spain.

Sample IV is from a German publishing house.

Sample V is from a German scientific magazine