World Federation of Science Journalists

Associations of science journalists tap photocopy fees

October 27, 2008

Science journalists worldwide could be forgiven their envy as they watch photocopy funds flow to their colleagues’ associations in the United States and Finland.

In 2008, for the first time, thanks to an additional $100,000 from the photocopy fund, the U.S. based National Association of Science Writers (NASW) has created travel grants for science writers to attend conferences and do other reporting that requires expensive travel. It can now commission experts to write and speak on issues of importance to writers - like income taxes, copyright, etc. -- for its newsletter, website and conferences.

It gathers and makes available information on market conditions and payment policies of numerous publications and markets. The NASW breakthrough in 2008 was made possible when the association became a member of a more generalized organization, the Authors Coalition of America, which is its gateway to photocopy money.

FASEJ & NASW logos
In Europe, the Finnish Association of Science Editors and Journalists (FASEJ) has had access to the photocopy funds since its creation in 1985. It distributes grants to promote the professional competence of scientific editors and journalists and has organized study trips, so far to all Scandinavian and Baltic countries, Russia, France, England, Germany, Scotland, Hungary, Japan, the U.S., Chile and Australia.

The Finns get their grants directly from their Reproduction Rights Organization (RRO), known as Kopiosto and by year-end will have distributed more than 260,000 euros to its members.

In the U.S., writers’ organizations survey their members annually and tell the Coalition how many it has in each category (novelists, garden writers, science journalists, etc.). When photocopying payment cheques arrive, let’s say they total X dollars for authors of non-academic nonfiction books. That amount is divided by the number of people who answered surveys saying they did that kind of writing. If there are 10,000 such people in Coalition organizations overall, and 500 of them belong to NASW, then NASW gets five per cent of that total amount.

In most countries, there is no such pot of gold yet for science journalists, but most countries have laid the groundwork for one.

The consensus of people involved in copyright issues suggests that the first step for an association interested in the copyright money is to go online and find your national RRO, and then find whether there’s an umbrella association of writers in general (not just science journalists) already in place in your country. Then start knocking on those two doors.

Here’s why.

Countries have set up agencies to collect fees when individuals, schoolteachers, students and photocopy or otherwise reproduce copyrighted material for private or educational use. This money flows steadily, through a bewildering array of mechanisms, back to individual creators of that content, but not often to organizations representing them.

And there is no barrier in custom or law to associations of science journalists getting at some of this money.

The man on top of the whole question of fees for copyrighted material, Olav Stokkmo, head of IFRRO, the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations, says “collective distribution” is straightforward. National RROs would “transfer the money available for distribution nationally to the rightsholders associations.” Then it would be up to the members of those associations (science journalists, for example) “to decide how to spend the money.”

He says that Nordic countries with the exception of Denmark “all do collective distribution for the reprographic reproduction of text. Authors associations in Norway, Sweden and Iceland could therefore potentially have systems” to allow association members to apply for funding. Though some of this money is used collectively, the major portion is distributed to individual rights holders.

Like so much else in this complex area, the question of whether associations, rather than individuals, can get some of these funds is either fuzzy or ignored. When Canada’s RRO, called Access Copyright, appointed Professor Martin L. Friedland, an emeritus professor of law at the University of Toronto, to examine its methods of distributing money, his report had little to say about how organizations can apply for funds.

But Maureen Cavan, the Access Copyright executive director, agrees that there are no legal barriers to organizations receiving the money and then distributing it to their members in one form or another. This kind of operation is rare in Canada, where only CARFAC, Canadian Artists Representation/Le front des artistes canadiens, gets payments which it redirects to its members.

There is no barrier in theory to science journalism associations worldwide applying to their national RROs or to their authors’ associations for a cut of photocopy fees. What will happen in practice is an unknown.

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