The Professional Writers Association of Canada (formerly the Periodical Writers Association of Canada) represents professional freelance writers working in Canada's magazine, newspaper, corporate writing, government writing and book publishing industries. For more information about PWAC, including how to join, please visit To find a Canadian writer, please visit

Friday, September 22, 2006

status of the artist

NB: This posting is primarily about Ontario, though the broad concepts apply to PWAC members in all provinces.

PWAC Treasurer Sandy Crawley and Executive Director John Degen attended a meeting last evening with Ontario MPP Rosario Marchese (NDP, Trinity-Spadina) to discuss potential Status of the Artist legislation from the Ontario Liberal government.

A little background:

The NDP government of Ontario, with Mr. Marchese as Culture Minister, began looking at Status of the Artist concepts in the early 1990's, but there has been little progress on the file during two successive Conservative governments. When the Liberals took power under Dalton McGuinty, they promised to deliver a bill on Status of the Artist in the first two years of their mandate. This October will mark three years without a bill despite much consultation. Mr. Marchese called yesterday's meeting to deliver this message -- if the cultural sector does not increase its pressure on the current government to draft S of A legislation, we will not see a bill before the next election.

PWAC has long advocated for provincial status legislation in all provinces, as we believe it would have a direct positive impact on the lives and careers of Canada's freelance writers. We have participated in and appreciated the current Ontario government's consultations on the legislation.

For those unfamiliar with the Status of the Artist concept,the best description can be found in the original 1980 Belgrade Recommendation to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, available as a PDF download on the UNESCO site.

Here are two key components in the Recommendation:

Member States, recognizing the essential role of art in the life and development of the individual and of society, accordingly have a duty to protect, defend and assist artists and their freedom of creation. For this purpose, they should take all necessary steps to stimulate artistic creativity and the flowering of talent, in particular by adopting measures to secure greater freedom for artists, without which they cannot fulfil their mission, and to improve their status by acknowledging their right to enjoy the fruits of their work.

Member States should ensure, through appropriate legislative means when necessary, that artists have the freedom and the right to establish trade unions and professional organizations of their choosing and to become members of such organizations, if they SO wish, and should make it possible for organizations representing artists to participate in the formulation of cultural policies and employment policies, including the professional training of artists, and in the determination of artists’ conditions of work.

PWAC has been engaged for decades on the question of bringing clout to the contract negotiations between writers and their larger clients. An effective Status bill in Ontario would be a big step toward that clout, considering the concentration of media in that province. That said, many at the meeting last night worried Ontario may water down any legislation, stopping short of giving artists official designation as workers (and therefore not allowing them to form bargaining units).

Although Canada already has a federal Status of the Artist Act, it is imperative that provinces also pass legislation because contract law is a provincial matter. As PWAC discovered in its recent Professional Canadian Writers Survey, writers’ incomes have actually dropped in the last ten years, and we feel this is in large part due to the difficulty freelance cultural business people have in negotiating reasonable compensation.

If you live in Ontario, and are concerned that a Status of the Artist bill with bargaining provisions be presented sooner rather than later, you can contact your Member of Provincial Parliament directly to tell them so. It is recommended that any letter you send be marked Personal and Confidential to make sure it reaches the Member in good time, and that you try to actually meet the Member at the constituency office during Friday constituency hours.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

alternative to all-rights

At the risk of creating a snake eating its own tail, we now link to a blog linking to our own blog.

The Canadian Magazines blog, edited by industry experts D.B. Scott and Jon Spencer has picked up yesterday's PWAC posting about the Boing Boing Digital Emporium and their plans to sell electronic texts with iTunes-like pricing and ease of use.

What's interesting about this to Canadian freelance writers is to witness Canadian magazine industry insiders speculating about a future with this and similar services available to writers:

"One could see a situation in which freelance writers would sell one-time rights, say to a magazine, retain all other rights, post their work through a service such as this and be paid (albeit in thousands of tiny fees) for access to it. If the magazine wanted to buy secondary or archiving rights, that would certainly continue to be possible."

Brave new world?

Vancouver 2007

Plan now to experience Vancouver in May 2007!

PWAC's National Conference & AGM 2007 will take place next May 24-27th in spectacular Vancouver, British Columbia. The PWAC National Conference Committee is working closely with the Vancouver Chapter and their Local Conference Committee to create a relatively inexpensive and memorable conference experience.

Block bookings have been reserved at the Vancouver Downtown YWCA Hotel, which will provide accommodations between $52 and $105 per night. Attendees interested in a more traditional hotel experience will be able to book rooms at the nearby Delta Vancouver, though these will be understandably more expensive. Most of the plenary and professional development sessions will take place on the downtown campus of Simon Fraser University Harbour Centre, which is handily located near both lodgings.

Work on schedule planning is well underway, and members will receive full notice of the 2007 National Conference & AGM, including the registration fee and delegate subsidy info according to the regular timeline. Look for updates on this blog, and a revamped Conference web page when the details are set.

In the meantime, mark your calendars, and prepare to spend a memorable spring weekend with your writing friends and compatriots on the left coast!

BTW, work is also underway for the 2008 National Conference & AGM, which will take place in beautiful Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Monday, September 18, 2006

iTexts (?)

The daily blog Boing Boing is known for its advocacy of file sharing, and for theorizing about fresh business models for creators -- models that tend to keep interaction with intermediaries like publishers at a minimum (please see previous post).

Today Boing Boing is putting the marketplace's money where its mouth is, and has launched the Boing Boing Digital Emporium, which offers (so far) a small number of electronic texts (in PDF format) for sale at the Apple iTunes established flat rate of about a buck per download.

An emporium sale is a simple PayPal-mediated transaction with, as they put it, the majority of the proceeds going to creators. This is a bold and intriguing venture. It will be interesting to see the range of electronic texts they offer for sale, and some hard numbers over time.

in praise of the middle

The word from some quarters is that the Internet is producing a much-longed for democratization of the arts, wherein the various middlefolk -- the producers, publishers, record labels and even prize juries -- lose their monopolistic influence on public taste, and are replaced by a sampling, discovering, hugely eclectic open marketplace, a fabulous and seemingly endless bazaar of sights and sounds. This is the kind of thinking that has led to our understanding of the "long tail" for cultural products. It's all out there, and a simple search will bring it right to your doorstep.

On the other hand, opinions vary as to the overall effect of this change on the quality of the art produced, and whether or not so grand a change is occurring. Today's Guardian features an opinion piece by Mark Ravenhill, questioning the actual cultural impact of all those aspiring rock stars on Here's a sample:

"A democracy of taste is a great thing to aim for in the arts. But the kind of mob hysteria of the Fringe, MySpace and Pop Idol is an altogether different - and less healthy - phenomenon. Publishers, managers, funders, critics, investors: we should keep questioning who they are, why they are there and whether they are hindering or helping a genuine cultural democracy. But used well, they provide a better structure for discovering talent than group hysteria. When it comes to art, the mob are rarely right."

Having your work downloaded for free and shared between thousands of people certainly seems to indicate a popularity value in what you produce. And there are numbers out there suggesting that which is most popularly shared and downloaded is often also bought in satisfying numbers. Certainly the idea that old-school prizes and bestseller lists have lost their influence might be very seductive to the up and coming writer whose book has recently been passed over for a short list (or even a long list).

Many writers bemoan the idea that awards tend to go to fairly predictable titles, suggesting an "awards-style" exists and you'd best write to it if you want to go to a swanky dinner someday. But will the awards-style be replaced by a mob-style? In which case, is it really the middlefolk who are responsible for the homogeneity of our cultural products?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

cash grab?

A story in today's Globe & Mail illustrates the continuing dispute between original creators, and those who use and profit from their work. Visual artists have organized a licensing collective to recover long-lost usage fees for having their work appear in museum and dealer catalogues (among other places). Art dealers and museum administrators are uncomfortable with the concept. While sympathetic to the 'idea' that an artist should be compensated for their work, they feel their side of the industry is too cash poor to participate.

The President of the Art Dealers Association of Canada is quoted as saying,"If a corporation is using an image on a Christmas card, artists should get their fair share. But [the same fee being required of dealers] is so counterproductive it defies the imagination." One Toronto art dealer accuses the licensing collective, the Society for Reproduction Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers in Canada, of perpetrating a cash grab.

As working writers and small business people, we all understand the concept of paying certain 'costs of doing business.' When fair compensation for artists, the very backbone of the art dealer's industry, is not considered a cost of doing business, there is something very wrong. I can't imagine a working artist interested in bankrupting their own means of distribution and sale, so I'll assume the licensing fees requested by the collective are reasonable within the reality of the industry. On the other hand, artists seeking compensation being compared to "a Nigerian oil scam" does not indicate a high level of respect for original creators.

I'd be interested to examine the average artist/dealer or artist/public gallery contract in a couple of years time and see what rights are being bought with a flat fee.

Thanks to the Creator's Copyright Coalition website for the tip on this story.


Here's the info on the Art Gallery of Ontario's web page concerning the economic benefit of their multi-million dollar expansion and Frank Gehry redesign:

Major economic benefits:

Increased tourism in Ontario
Job creation throughout hospitality and consumer sectors
Heightened appeal of region as a location for new businesses and other investments

Specific economic benefits*:

2,058 person years of employment generated by the construction project
$96 million in new labour income generated from the construction project
One-time addition of $100 million to Toronto economy for expansion project
$54 million in provincial and federal tax revenues generated by the construction project
245 permanent new jobs generated throughout the province
$3.8 million generated annually in tax revenues
$12.7 million in new tourism revenues throughout the province

* Prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers, April 2001 for AGO’s SuperBuild application

What's missing?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

August achievements

As we head into the writer's new year (post Labour Day), here's a selection of summer achievements from PWAC members:

Charlottetown, PEI member, Julie Watson, has turned her attention to writing for the web and as part of the process launched a new website for marketing her books at This site is to support her move into more self-publishing projects through her small publishing house, Seacroft. She will be launching the first books through Seacroft for the Christmas market. Julie, along with partner Debbie Gamble-Arsenault launch an income earning web site, this spring. "We have made as much profit from the web version than the printed directory, but don't get as much traffic and interest as we did with the printed version," says Julie Watson. "This is a comparison test to see if the web can come up to the printed version."

Toronto member, Michelle Ponto has recently accepted a position with CBS Memphis as their live web reporter and writer/producer for all new media broadcasts including video segments for the web and mobile phones. This particular station is the flagship TV station for the NY Times and Michelle will have the opportunity to work as a consultant with the other NY Times stations —a dream come true. Before taking on this position, Michelle worked as a writer/producer for Discovery Channel. She’s also written a number of TV pilots and has two feature films currently in production.

Victoria member, Katherine Gibson's follow-up book to Unclutter Your Life, is out this fall. During October, she will be touring Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, and Toronto with Pause: Putting the Brakes on a Runaway Life. Do take a few minutes to say hello when she comes to town. Dates and more information on Pause at her new website:

As well as new features in Muskoka Magazine, Beyond The City, Kawartha Life, and Timeless Spirit, Toronto member Martin Avery's new book with BookLand Press is a biography of Canada's golden Commonwealth Games champion, called Alexandra Orlando: Pursuit of Victory. The launch is planned for October at the Pickering Public Library, where he is Writer In Residence.

And the full Member Achievement Bulletin can be found here.

a geist says what?

Michael Geist speaks out against -- that's against -- a proposed educational exception to copyright.

Now, if we can get Cory Doctorow to stop saying mean things about Access Copyright (at least I think that's who he means when he says Access Canada), we're on our way to that Internet utopia we've all been promised.

I'll just point to Geist's fourth objection, in which he makes a point I've heard from many writers who do not want to see their work hidden behind paywalls:

...rather than improving access, the exception will actually encourage people to take content offline or to erect barriers that limit access. Many website owners who may be entirely comfortable with non-commercial or limited educational use of their materials, may object to a new law that grants the education community unfettered (and uncompensated) usage rights. Accordingly, many sites may opt out of the exception by making their work unavailable to everyone.

As for Doctorow's assertion that Access Copyright wants to be paid every time a Canadian student turns on a web-browser, I'm hoping this conference in Toronto at the end of the month, which many an AC affiliate will be attending, will help to finally put ridiculous claims like this to rest. Cory Doctorow is an example to all Canadian writers about how to use the Internet in building and sustaining a writing career. His unmitigated animosity towards AC is a bit of a mystery to some of us.