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Letters

Vol. 21 No. 6 · 18 March 1999

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Who owns John Sutherland?

It is kind of John Sutherland (LRB, 7 January) to draw your readers’ attention to the TLS electronic archive, which, of course, includes his own copious and distinguished work as well as that of Duncan Wu and many contributors to the LRB. So do the back numbers of the TLS which you can find bound in any decent library, so does the microfiche edition of the TLS which has been separately available for several decades, so does the audio edition prepared for the blind. Does he think these other uses breach his copyright too? When the new electronic version became a technical possibility, naturally our copyright lawyers, like everyone else’s, did their best to be certain that we would be legally in the right in treating electronic and other derivative versions of the TLS as part of the first use of the material (‘first use’, not ‘first serial rights’, as Sutherland hazards). And we then notified all the contributors we could contact that this was our intention. I am sorry if Sutherland’s letter went astray. Moreover, we – again like other publishers – are convinced that we are morally in the right too. Shorn of all the fancy language, the archive is simply yet another way of making back numbers more easily available. And publishers have always sold back numbers.

As for Duncan Wu’s complaint (Letters, 18 February) that the Leverhulme Trust ought not to be subsidising the Murdoch empire, either the preparation of the fascinating TLS contributors’ index by two first-rate scholars is a worthwhile scholarly enterprise, or it isn’t. And if it is, which is hard to deny, then it is a proper use of the Leverhulme Trust’s money – at least as proper as the subsidy for so long paid by the Arts Council to support another commercial organisation, the London Review of Books.

Ferdinand Mount
Editor, TLS London E1

I suppose I should be chuffed to be told by Deborah McVea and Jeremy Treglown (Letters, 4 March) that, as someone who published unsigned reviews in the TLS during the twilight years of anonymity, I am to be ‘given back’ my work by being identified as its author in their upcoming contributors’ index. On thinking about it, however, I find I am not chuffed. I entered willingly into the arrangement of those years whereby what I wrote would be published without my name on it, and I have no sense of having been, in McVea and Treglown’s extraordinary and misleading word, ‘deprived’ of it. Any of us who were asked to contribute to the TLS under that arrangement could have refused to do so, as some people did, not because the foreknowledge of their cruel deprivation was simply too much for them but because they disagreed with the principle of anonymity, seeing it as a temptation to irresponsibility on the part of the anonymous reviewer – a reasonable view, though not one I shared.

The indexers’ presumption seems to be that all authors, even of TLS reviews, are so vain that they can but welcome being delivered up as hostages to future cultural historians, for whom the index appears to be destined, unless it is to be offered on bargain terms to us, the surviving victims of anonymity, so that we can sun ourselves belatedly in the public knowledge of our authorship. A second reason not to feel chuffed is the prospect of being compulsorily ‘outed’, forced from the closet in rough, Tatchellite fashion, without first being asked whether I have an objection. I presume that if I was asked, and said that I did indeed object, that I did not wish to have any of my anonymous reviews attributed to me, that objection would be overridden, if only because, were the boat being generously fitted out thanks to the Leverhulme Trust – and I notice that McVea and Treglown say nothing in answer to Duncan Wu’s question why any money but Murdoch’s is needed to fund this work – to be rocked by conscientious objectors, the index would be defective, and have gaps where it shouldn’t. Since the indexers are as yet only somewhere in the Twenties, and it’s hard to believe that any anonymous reviewers survive from then, the ethical question remains dormant, any possible scruples felt by the dead having no doubt died with them. There will be a fair number of survivors from the Fifties and Sixties, however, and I shall be interested to find out how many of them feel as I do that pieces of work contracted for on the understanding that their authorship would not be revealed should remain anonymous.

John Sturrock
Lindfield, West Sussex

I agree wholeheartedly that the copyright issues concerning the TLS archive have no bearing on the valuable work proposed by Jeremy Treglown and Deborah McVea. I am pleased to stand corrected by them and wish them the very best of luck with their labours.

Duncan Wu
University of Glasgow

Deborah McVea and Jeremy Treglown write that in the years 1902-74 contributors to the TLS ‘explicitly assigned their copyrights to the Times and its supplements’. It is true that all cheques were endorsed in this style, but members of the Society of Authors were advised to cross out this printed formula and substitute the words ‘First British Serial Rights’ when signing their names. This I always did before banking my cheque. So what is my legal position now?

Michael Holroyd
London W10

John Sutherland highlights the reasonable concerns writers have about the existing copyright arrangements of newspapers and publishers and whether they offer adequate protection in an increasingly electronic age. Freelances understandably suspect that newspaper managements are now making – or will in the future make – huge profits from repackaging or reusing material initially bought for the newspaper. Managements, for their part, are concerned to ensure that their businesses remain healthy: newspapers closing down or losing huge sums are bad news for all journalists. It is also a commonplace that – currently and for the foreseeable future – there is no money being made from on-line electronic publishing. Indeed, large sums of money are being lost. Professor Sutherland appears to acknowledge this general point. Talking of the Guardian’s CD-Rom archive, he writes: ‘If the newspaper had been required to get permission from thousands of freelance contributors, the archive would never have got off the ground.’

The debate has become clouded by unrealistic guesses at the amount of money publishers must be making out of freelances’ work. Sutherland, for example, draws attention to the Guardian’s CD-Rom archive, which, he says, costs £415 a year – or £1.15 a day, as opposed to the Guardian’s cover price of 45p. He says of his own contributions that they must amount to a ‘small-volume’s worth on that archive’. The implication is that he should be sharing in the considerable profits of this electronic storage system. In fact, the Guardian CD-Rom is sold for different prices, depending on whether it is going to a university or a business. In any event, the Guardian only gets 27.5 per cent of the royalties. The true figure is thus no more than 31p a day.

The clear majority of work on any CD-Rom would have been generated by staff writers on the Guardian – about 78 per cent. During 1998 Sutherland wrote four pieces for the Guardian – a total of 4281 words. There is, of course, no way of assessing whether a particular piece by him, or anyone else, on CD-Rom has been ‘hit’. It is difficult, if not impossible, to work out rationally what the additional archiving of the four pieces is worth in the context of the hundreds of thousands of pieces published in the Guardian in any given year. A word on the CD-Rom is, we calculate, worth a tiny fraction of a penny in terms of royalties received. The cost of identifying and compensating freelances would be far greater than any earnings due.

Much the same can be said of our syndication service. There have been some colourful estimates of the amount the Guardian earns from syndicating freelance articles. In fact the freelance portion of all Guardian profits from second or third use of identifiable sales comes to not much more than £60,000 in a full year, and half of that is now returned to freelances as their share.

Our overall syndication operation does make a profit. But with the exception of spot sales it is difficult, if not impossible, given the technology currently in use, to identify sums ‘earned’ by individual freelances. Traditional forms of what is now called ‘re-purposing’, including the subscription services and spot sales, don’t make much money. Some of the new electronic forms lose quite considerable sums. Guardian Unlimited – the Guardian on-line form – is set to cost three times more than its income in the coming year. Its losses dwarf the profits from the Guardian and Observer’s gross revenue from syndication, of which the vast majority of the material syndicated is generated by staff members.

The Guardian (currently one of only two national newspapers even to talk to the NUJ) reached an agreement over copyright with the union in 1990 which stated: ‘In the absence of written agreement to the contrary the company shall hold world-wide copyright in the work as it appeared in the Guardian.’ It is fair to say that the NUJ was not particularly happy about the deal. I, too, have come to recognise that it is unsuitable and unfair. Some months ago I therefore suggested that together we establish an independent tribunal to reach a new agreement on copyright.

That committee, under the chairmanship of Professor Jon Clark, has now met and reported. Among its recommendations are that in future freelances will retain ownership of copyright, but will license Guardian Newspapers Limited to publish the work. The standard licence will not include ‘all rights’ but will be wide-ranging enough to allow GNL to carry out all its normal functions. The fee will distinguish between a basic sum to cover paper forms and a portion which covers electronic, syndication and photocopying rights. Spot sales will be split 50/50 between the freelance and GNL. The full text of the new agreement – which has been accepted by both the Guardian management and the NUJ at a national level – is available on the Guardian website (www.guardian.co.uk).

Alan Rusbridger
Editor, the Guardian
London EC1

There is now a definitive answer to who owns John Sutherland – at least when he writes in the Guardian and Observer. He does. A saga over copyright ownership at GNL has resulted in a landmark victory for the freelance writers who were determined to assert that they were the legal owners of their work. Clark’s report says that writers for GNL will ‘keep their copyright; keep their moral rights; be paid for extra uses of their work made by the paper’s syndication department’. Alan Rusbridger had claimed, over two years of stalemate, that two thousand writers for the paper had signed away their rights ‘without a murmur of protest’. These people can now get their copyright back under the new contract.

Carol Lee
Copyright Co-ordinator, NUJ
London WC1

A Susceptible Man

Ian Sansom’s reference to T.S. Eliot’s enigmatic remark about cheese (LRB, 4 March) reminded me of Auden’s contribution to a group of travel articles published in American Vogue in 1954. Entitled ‘Six Unexpected Days in the Pennines’, it suggests an alternative route from London to Scotland for American motorists. The latter half of the journey is devoted to the North Pennines of Durham and Northumberland, the setting for many of Auden’s early poems and plays, but on Day Three the driver is still in Yorkshire: ‘Wensley Dale is famous for its blue cheese, highly prized, incidentally, by Mr T.S. Eliot. However, the tourist must beware. Finding himself in the Dale, a friend of mine bought a cheese as a present for the Master, who took one glance at it and pronounced – “This is a store cheese."’

Alan Myers
Hitchin, Herts

Sisters at War

Rakiya Omaar and Rachel Sevenzo (LRB, 18 February) take a brave stand in the face of worldwide concern about the female victims of war, and its almost universal focus on sexual abuse – a consequence, as they point out, of the revelations of the mass rape of Bosnian women. The contention that mass rape was a conscious and organised strategy of war in Bosnia sold a lot of newspapers. I was surprised then, on arriving in Sarajevo six months after the end of the war, and in the three years I have spent in Bosnia since then, to find that this defining characteristic of the war is never mentioned: no international programmes of any size target the problem and the expected flood of abandoned babies has not materialised.

The first accounts of mass rape appeared during the Croatian war, with Serb forces accused of systematic targeting of Croat women in Eastern Slavonia. This was a bit of off-the-cuff propaganda from Franjo Tudjman’s Government in Zagreb, but it was instantly seized on by the international press and the feminist movement. And it wasn’t very difficult to find women who had been raped to back it up. The following year, the beleaguered Bosnian Government repeated the exercise to even greater effect, as part of the further demonisation of the Serbs (as if their real activities weren’t enough), and again rape victims were easily found.

But there is no evidence of systematic or strategically targeted mass rape. Despite this, the ‘phenomenon’ spawned untold numbers of press reports, several books and a proliferation of seminars. The objective of the mass-rape campaign, as reported, was to alter the ‘ethnic’ balance through the propagation of little Serbs. Since there is no ethnic difference between the Serb aggressors and the rape victims, such a campaign would have led merely to the propagation of little Croats or little Muslims. This is not to say that rape on a large scale did not happen. It always does in war, particularly in this kind of civil war. But it was not the strategy it was made out to be.

Robert Bell
Sarajevo

Moderation or Death

The issue of journalists’ homophobia raised by Mark Lilly (Letters, 18 February) ties in closely with Valentine Cunningham’s British Writers of the Thirties (1988). LRB contributors seem to assume that queer-bashing has disappeared from literary criticism: a glance at Cunningham’s book will disabuse them. Auden and Isherwood’s love affair is ‘perverse’; Cunningham does not wish to ‘deplore homosexual writing in all its manifestations’ but ‘one must declare a worry … that the going homosexuality was not just a symptom of the youthies’ current immaturity but a factor that helped stabilise that immaturity, helped keep the youthies juvenile.’ Homosexuality ‘helped entrench some immaturely lopsided views’. The ‘youthies’ are ‘bourgeois buggers’. Auden’s marriage to Erika Mann (so that she could leave Nazi Germany with a proper passport) is ‘typical of the Old Boys’ relish for the practical joke’.

Jeffrey Meyers takes a different tack, claiming, in Homosexuality and Literature, 1890-1930 and elsewhere, that angst-ridden, closeted writers produced works far superior to those of modern ‘liberated’ gay writers. Thus he says of Thom Gunn’s sexually explicit poems that they ‘are not nearly as good as his early work, written when he was in the closet’. The Meyers-Cunningham binary is a literary equivalent of the saloon-bar ideas – sometimes held by one person at the same moment – that gay people are inherently secretive and that we flaunt our sexuality.

A second type of homophobia is just to pretend that there aren’t any homosexuals, or any gay-specific approaches to literature. Terry Eagleton can write a supposedly comprehensive survey of modern criticism (Literary Theory: An Introduction, 1983) and not mention gay studies at all. Then, when he updates it 13 years later, he can still avoid mentioning it.

Tony Oujangwe
Paris

The Benes Problem

There are contradictions in Brendan Simms’s piece about Edvard Benes (LRB, 18 February): surely it would have been odd if Benes had not changed his opinion of Germany between 1908 and 1916, or if he had continued armed intervention in the Soviet Union in order not to infuriate Czech conservatives. What I criticise most sharply, though, is his lack of understanding of the role Germany, and particularly Sudeten Germans, played during the war. ‘Eight hundred years of German civilisation’ did not come to an end ‘at a single blow’ when the Sudeten were expelled in 1945: they had come to an end in 1938 when Konrad Henlein used them as the catalyst for Hitler to start his war against the Czechs, the Slavs and indeed against Europe. Simms does not know how it felt to live in a German-occupied country. I do, and as someone who at a very early age was involved in the Dutch resistance, I can vouch for the acceptance as a cruel yet unavoidable rule that the resistance was not to be stymied by German retaliations: it would have been unthinkable not to have killed Heydrich for fear of the obvious repercussions.

Hans Koning
Fairfield, Connecticut

Am I alone in finding faintly nauseating Brendan Simms’s reference to the via dolorosa of the Sudeten Germans? The historian Liam Kennedy has written of the MOPE (‘Most Oppressed People Ever’) syndrome in Irish nationalist polemics. Dr Simms appears to have applied the syndrome to the Sudeten Germans.

Colin Armstrong
Belfast

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