The Guardian has written to contributors imposing revised terms:
Re. Change to terms and conditions for commissioned photography
You will no doubt be aware that we, like every other media outlet in the UK, are experiencing very difficult trading conditions brought about by declining circulations and falling advertising revenues.
As a result we have been compelled to review all of our costs across the company, including the terms and conditions under which we trade with news and picture agencies and freelances.
We are writing to inform you that GNM will cease paying reuse fees in respect of photography it commissions from 01 September 2009. What this means is that from this date GNM's standard terms for commissioned photography shall include a non-exclusive, perpetual licence to re-use commissioned photography in its products and services without further payment.
For your reassurance, copyright ownership of the pictures you supply to GNM remains with you; stock photography and photography commissioned prior to 01 September 2009 are unaffected and will continue to attract our standard space rates; and our standard syndication terms remain unchanged.
Our Freelance Charter ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardian/article/0,,409883,00.html) and the notifications you receive from GNM when you are commissioned will be updated accordingly.
Should you have any queries regarding the change to our terms and conditions, please contact email@example.com.
The Guardian's policy and the manner of its introduction is bound to cause trouble and damage, not least to the Guardian's image as an ethical newspaper of liberal left-wing conscience aimed at a Fair Trade audience.
In fact negotiations had been dragging on for over 2 years surrounded by claims from the Guardian that new terms met NUJ approval and NUJ insistence that they fell far short. Meetings stopped over a year ago after the Guardian failed to confirm that they would not penalise those seeking different terms as permitted by their own freelance charter.
Newspaper rates are pitiful throughout the industry, having stuck somewhere around 1995 when payment was for first use in a single publication, with space rates and subsequent use forming an important additional income stream. In 1995 the Guardian was paying £150, just £5 per job less than now, according to freelances.
So newspaper photography was on life support long before the recession thanks to publishers paying less for more, even whilst titles were profitable. Bit by bit publishers have awarded themselves expanded rights over the work of freelances, cutting out post-production and wiring fees and expenses, and insisting on free use in subsidiary titles and media, and exclusive syndication rights. Now that conditions are tough the loss of reuse fees and space rates are a substantial reduction which will undoubtedly drive many photographers from the business and limit the coverage many others are able to provide.
The Guardian has in the past wished to be seen as a beacon of 'best practice' where things were least worst. Other publishers will now take the Guardian's lead as a sign that terms and conditions may safely be still further degraded.
Additionally the newspaper has placed itself at the leading edge of adaptation to new media, and appeared to be one publisher who was managing to extract profit from the smoke and mirrors web economy. The admission that contributors' pay now has to be cut despite this alleged success is bad news for the survival of newspapers. All that newspapers have going for them is the excellence of their content, and that now looks unsustainable. The Guardian's previous best offer for web use of commissioned material was only 5% and is now nothing.
NUJ photographers asked to work under this new imposed 'agreement' should now contact John Toner, the NUJ Freelance Organiser.