L.A. Times Guild pushes back against proposed intellectual property policy

Feb. 15, 2019 – Journalists at the Los Angeles Times are pushing back against a sweeping company proposal on intellectual property rights that would mark an unprecedented low for the media industry.

The L.A. Times Guild has been bargaining for a first contract with the company since June, and although disagreements remain, both sides are eager to reach a deal, the Guild said in a Feb. 13 press release.

Late in negotiations, however, management proposed a disturbing policy on books and other creative projects that would go far beyond the standards of U.S. copyright law and relicensing practices historically allowed by The L.A. Times.

The company’s proposal would, as a condition of employment, give management enormous discretion over whether it could control any journalism-related book deals or similar creative work that employees don’t typically perform as part of their day-to-day work. It would also give management the right to negotiate regarding the use of their employees’ byline, biography and likeness. No other unionized news organization has contract language as all-encompassing as the company’s proposal, the statement said.

“Los Angeles Times journalists have a proud history of writing books, and now the company wants the power to claim ownership over those books if they are somehow related to journalism we’ve done for The Times,” said Matt Pearce, a national reporter and a vice chair of the Guild unit. “None of our peers have a clause like this in their contracts. It would be a huge step backward.”

In an open letter to management, more than 300 staffers called on the company to change course. The proposed policy, the letter says, would pose a threat to the company’s recruitment and retention efforts and would lower standards for intellectual property rights across the industry.

The Los Angeles Times Guild, which represents more than 400 newsroom staffers, continues to negotiate with the company over this and other key issues, the statement says. “The Times is in the midst of an exciting new chapter for journalism under Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong’s ownership. In this era of revitalization, the union urges the company to find a way to work with its journalists toward a contract that benefits everyone.”