Writers and Bostonians: Beware the Globe!

Below is a commentary my friend Jules Older wrote for Vermont Public Radio. My family met Jules through his wife, Effin, who is a photographer and was working for the Globe at the time. It’s not mundane or pointless, but just a special alert to freelancers. Below is Jules’s commentary, which he forwarded to all of us and encouraged us to send and forward to as many people as possible. Euty and Uncle, feel free to send this to the Pit if you guys think it belongs there.

When Writers Fight

Announcer: When writers fight with publishers, they not only fight with words, they fight about words. They¹re fighting now, and Jules Older is about to tell us all about it.

The streets of Boston are running red with blood.
Well, that¹s how a fiction writer might describe it, but it would be more accurate to say the newspapers and websites of Boston, not the streets. And maybe black with pixels and ink, not red with blood.
Whatever. There’s a writer¹s fight going down in old Boston town that has echoes of the tea party held there so long ago. This time, it¹s not between the British and a scruffy bunch of rebels; it¹s between the Boston Globe and a scruffy bunch of freelance writers, shooters and illustrators.
The earlier fight was about taxation without representation. This one¹s about hmmmŠ this one¹s about the rich stealing from the poor. Oh, maybe that¹s not fair. The Globe (and more particularly, its parent company, the New York Times), sees it as an opportunity to “stay nimble” in the electronic age.
Whatever. Whatever you call it, the Globe is trying to impose a new contract on its freelance writers, photographers and graphic artists, all groups not exactly known for resplendent living. The contract demands virtually all rights for pictures and stories yet unpublished and retroactively grabs those same rights for stuff they¹ve published over the past 20 years or more.
What that means for writers is this: If you¹ve, say, written, a column for the Globe and some big movie company decides to make a film of it, the Globe collects the $200,000 and gets to pass Go. The writer getsŠ nothing. Nada. Zip.
But like the Montgomery bus strike, like the Stonewall riot, like the Women¹s March on Washington, this time the writers and photographers and artists aren’t taking it lying down. They aren’t taking it at all. Many of them are refusing to sign away their rights. They won’t write and shoot and draw on Maggie¹s Farm no more.
And they¹ve gone one more step. They’re suing. Here¹s how they describe their action:
The lawsuit was filed after the Globe attempted to coerce writers, illustrators and photographers into signing an unfair contract which demands all rights in all mediums to all past, present, and future creative works by freelance contributors.  The Globe informed freelancers that they would never be hired again unless they agreed to the paper’s demands, which include granting the Globe rights to re-publish in all mediums–including the Internet–articles, photographs and illustrations that were previously sold to the paper, for no additional compensation.
   One of the Globe¹s best-known essayists is Lisa Weltner, whose column, “Be It Ever So Humble,” has run for nearly 20 years. No longer. Here’s Lisa Weltner on why.
I refused to sign a contract which demanded that I hand over to the Globe - for no compensation whatsoever - all rights to 20 years of my columns so that they could be reprinted or sold by the Globe. The newspaper therefore informed freelancers that none of us would continue to work for the Globe unless we signed.
Gandhi said the basic principle of non-violent resistance is not to participate in one’s own subjugation. The Globe wants freelancers to consent to the legal theft of their intellectual property and my conscience simply refused to go along. I would love to continue my ongoing conversation with my readers, but the price was too high.

That was Lisa Weltner. As for me, I haven’t written for the Globe for years, but I too agreed not to sign their contract. If I’m gonna go broke, it¹s gonna be on my terms, not while making the already rich even richer. No taxation without representation. No helping the rich steal from the poor. No participation in my own subjugation.
Break out the tea, gang. There¹s another party goin¹ down in Boston town.

This is Jules Older in Albany town, the Soul of the Kingdom.

ANNOUNCER: Jules Older’s latest kid’s book is TELLING TIME.


I’m surprised I haven’t heard about this before now. You’d think the Phoenix would have written something – but maybe I just missed it. I’ll have to check it, and the Herald.

Considering this, maybe conservative op-ed writer Jeff Jacoby is lucky to be out of it for now – although what he’ll do when he comes back I don’t know.

I was wondering about all those people downtown with the “Will Write For Food” signs. Thanks.

I also heard about a recent flap at the Globe where they suspended one of their columnists (described in the blurb I read as sort of a token conservative) for a July 4th column he wrote. He was debunking the facts in a widely circulated e-mail about the fates of the signers of the Declaration of Inependence, and he didn’t make the source quite clear enough. I can scrounge around for more details if anyone’s interested.

Sorry if that’s a bit off the topic. We now return you to “Boston Globe Screws Writers”, already in progress…

Robot Arm:

The conservative you refer to is the Jeff Jacoby that I refer to. His not working right now is NOT his idea. But there have been a few articles about is situation in the Boston Phoenix and elsewhere, and even in the Globe. This other deal, about the freelancers, I hadn’t heard.

This is the wave of the future, near as I can tell. (Insert frowny face here, I haven’t figured out how to work this thing yet…)

The Detroit Free Press has been doing the same thing for years. I had an essay published in their Sunday supplement a few years back, which I sent them under an offer for one-time print rights exclusive to their circulation area. That used to be a very standard copyright arrangement for newspaper publishing. About six months after the essay appeared, I got a form letter from them notifying all would-be freelance writers for the DFP to sign away all rights to all works in all media, past and future, without additional compensation; otherwise don’t bother to submit your work.

I crossed them off my list immediately (not that I have much of a list, anyway). But decent paying markets for personal essays and columns and the like are getting vanishingly small. I’m glad to see the writers are doing something about it.

I was writing my reply when you posted yours. Then when I previewed mine, I saw your comments and figured it was probably the same guy. From what I read, it sounds like the case for suspending him is pretty borderline. But if the Globe was being particularly harsh with him, it wasn’t clear if it was because of his conservative views or just because the Globe has been stung by this a couple times recently.

As far as writers having to sign away all potential rights to a story, do the people actually involved in a news story retain any rights to the events of their own lives? Maybe it’s less of an issue with freelancers than with the paper’s own staff, but what kind of reporting would there be if everybody insisted on a cut of the profits before granting an interview? I agree that the Globe’s demands seem more than a little extreme, but the writers don’t exist in a vacuum either.

<hijack> The Globe was not being especially harsh on Jacoby…he plagairized a significant portion of the theme/content.style of a circulating Internet story (much of it untrue)…in most places that would be a firing offense, instead of a 4 month suspension…and he doesn’t even have the cajones to own up to it

see http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?threadid=30252

Jacoby also apparently used to e-mail his column - before it was printed in the Globe - to a mailing list of about 200. Hello?! He says he didn’t know it was against policy. (I believe these were columns that were approved and definitely going to be printed, not just ideas he had.)

I am surprised he only got a 4-month suspension, considering that Mike Barnicle and Patricia Smith (I think that was her name) were both fired for plagiarism.

Jacoby said that since he used some of his own material and research in his article, it wasn’t “true” plagiarism. Yeah, right. I wish I could get away with that at work.

Ok, I’ll be the one to say it:

Yeah? So?

If they don’t like the terms that the Globe (or any other paper) demands then they don’t have to write for them. Obviously, though, any sort of retroactive grab without permission is unacceptable.

But otherwise I don’t really see where anybody has any reason to bitch. If you don’t like the terms go elsewhere, if you don’t like anybody’s terms, starve.

Thanks for posting the link, beagledave. Don’t know how I missed it first time around.

I didn’t read Jacoby’s original column, but from what I’ve heard his whole point was to refute the widespread misconceptions about the signers of the D of I. If that was the case, then it doesn’t sound like he was trying to pass off those facts as his own work. What rules of attribution should apply in a case like this, considering how hard it is to trace an e-mail virus back to its source?

Ideally he would have said: “the basis for this column was something I saw floating around on the internet. I liked the spirit, and I’ve tried to correct some of the more glaring mistakes.”

Which is pretty much what he said when he emailed it to all of his friends prior to its publication. If he had inserted those lines he wouldn’t have had a problem.

<continuing hijack…sorry Swiddles>

  1. If you read his PRINTED column (not the one supposedly sent to friends)…there is no mention that any of his writing is derivative of another source…at least Ann Landers said that she did not know the origins of the bit. If he WAS trying to improve on the original, not only did he not SAY so in print…but he failed at that task as well…printing items that are factually incorrect. The thread I posted earlier lists links to sites that have disected the original bit pretty well, so I’m not going to go into any detail into this already hijacked post.

2)One of the arguments from Jacoby and his ilk, is that the original source is “in the public domain”…so no attribution is needed.
Actually…it’s questionable whether it IS public domain…but even so, public domain has nothing to do with PLAGIARISM (but a lot to do with copyright infringement, which Jacoby is probably NOT guilty of). Plagiarism is lying…it’s saying that the theme/content/style of a bylined piece is YOURS unless otherwise mentioned…pure and simple. Jacoby, in his PRINTED column, plagiarized…so he should have been shit canned for good.

The episode IS different from the Barnicle case, because Barnicle used copyrighted bits (I think from George Carlin and Mike Royko)…it still is plagiarism…it still is lazy…and it STILL has nothing to do with his ideology


The trend Swimming Riddles decries in her OP is happening to Canadian writers too.

IIRC, The Ryerson Review of Journalism recently did a feature on it.