You must be able to negotiate collectively, alongside other creators, to protect your rights and gain a fair share of profits from your work.At present, UK law forbids you as a freelance creator from getting together with others to negotiate as a group with those who use your work. Creators’ groups are even forbidden, throughout Europe, from publishing recommendations to their members setting out fair terms or payments – only surveys of what terms have been offered and achieved are permitted. For example, musicians’ groups cannot make an agreement with a record label that sets out basic standards for terms that will it will offer to composers and performers.
This is because the law in the UK treats each individual self-employed creator as if they were a large corporation. It is obviously wrong if salt manufacturers get together to fix prices – cartels work against consumers’ interests. But, if they are doing their job properly, salt manufacturers’ products are identical – pure salt is just what it says it is, and the manufacturers are competing on price alone. It is right that the law forbids this. It is wrong that the law treats creators as if they were a conspiracy of salt-makers, or a would-be supermarkets’ cartel.
Why? It is in the nature of creativity that you compete with other creators to get your work seen or heard, whether for money or not. You compete on the basis of what is unique about your work – your vision, imagination, analytical skills, original expressive power, whatever.
You compete, that is, on quality. The law that pretends you compete on price alone makes a self-fulfilling prophecy – it encourages broadcasters, publishers and other users to go for the lowest price. It is the enemy of quality.
The effect on the public is that work by dedicated professionals can be pushed out of the market by work done as a sideline. The National Union of Journalists, for example, has reports of editors explicitly refusing to offer enhanced rates for specially challenging, independent reporting, arguing that such work benefits the journalist as a ‘showcase’ and that is reward enough for the extra work involved.
This thinking has pushed rates for junior work in local newspapers so low that only people living off their parents can afford to do it and eat. This is against the public interest in that it weakens our democracy by reducing independent scrutiny by journalists who are most representative of the public.
5: You must be able to negotiate: what is needed