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Former employer selling stories they got for free

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by canucklehead, May 14, 2013.

  1. canucklehead

    canucklehead Member

    Looking for thoughts on this:

    My former employer, who laid me and others off two years ago, is now attempting to sell for $50 each pieces I wrote last winter (post-layoff) for a university that employed me to write stories for their athletic department and conference.
    The newspaper did not pay me or the university for the stories. I was paid by the university, who was thrilled to get in the paper since they were ignored for years.
    I've asked the newspaper to stop but haven't received a response yet.
    I did not sign a freelance agreement with the newspaper and did not know they were going to try and make money from the stories.
  2. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    Were you employed by them or a freelancer?

    If you were employed, I would suspect they can do whatever they want with your stories.

    If you were a freelancer and you didn't sign an agreement, you may have a case, but if you were a freelancer, the paper couldn't lay you off.
  3. Cigar56

    Cigar56 Member

    Sounds complicated. There isn't much you can do here except ask them to stop, which you already have. The next step would be a phone call, and then a letter from an attorney.

    You can find an attorney licensed in your state on Elance who will write a simple cease-and-desist letter and that shouldn't cost you much.

    However, there isn't enough money here for you to actually sue, and there appears to be a gray area on who actually owns the content you wrote.

    One more idea: Since the newspaper has identified a market for selling these stories, why don't you do the same?
  4. Cigar56

    Cigar56 Member

    Also, as Ace notes, all bets are probably off if you were an employee of the paper when you wrote the articles.

    Good luck.
  5. Canucklehead wasn't an employee of the newspaper (he/she had already been laid off when writing these stories). I'm guessing Canucklehead's work was taken by the newspaper because it was a press release of sorts from the university. My guess is that he/she doesn't have rights over the work because the university gives that stuff away for newspapers to run.
  6. da man

    da man Well-Known Member

    Our Canadian friend will have to clarify, but it sounds like he was working for the university, probably as a freelancer but perhaps full-time, when he wrote the stories. If so, it's pretty likely the university owns the rights to the stories (though he might want to check his agreement with the university, such as a freelance contract, to be sure), in which case the school can do whatever it wants with them. If that is the case, if this sale arrangement is OK with the university as rights holder, you're out of luck.

    If you own the rights, or if the university owns the rights and has not signed off on the newspaper's sales deal, that's a whole different issue.
  7. KJIM

    KJIM Well-Known Member

    The stories belong to the university, which paid you for them.

    Do they have an issue with the situation? It's their call.
  8. Johnny Dangerously

    Johnny Dangerously Active Member

    I have to ask ...

    What stories written last winter would a newspaper find a buyer for in May? This is not to question the original poster's writing ability, but it's the norm for stories to be considered outdated six hours after publication. Were these stories ever on the university's website? Could I find them for free? If so, who is going to pay for them?

    If they were never posted online, I'm guessing the potential selling point is they were evergreen features or enterprise pieces, but it would be interesting to know more, if possible. It just seems a little optimistic on the paper's part to expect to be able to sell stories published last winter.
  9. da man

    da man Well-Known Member

    And for 50 bucks! Must be damn good work.
  10. toledojoe

    toledojoe New Member

    BoundforBoston has this right. This is a "work-for-hire" situation in which the university would be the owner of the article/articles. Your beef would be with the university. If the university gave it to the newspaper to do what it wants with it, it's a waste of time chirping to the newspaper. If the university is unhappy about it, then it's the university's call.
  11. Mark2010

    Mark2010 Active Member

    Yeah, true. University SID offices often allow papers to publish their stuff for free. Now, whether the paper has the right to turn around and sell it --- to WHO? --- is a separate matter.

    I've always taken the approach that when I contract to write something, once the person hiring me has paid they have all-inclusive rights. Hey, I did my work and got my money, I don't care if the story ran one time or 100 times.
  12. I've only signed contracts that assigned non-exclusive, non-transferable rights to the paper.
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