The dragonfly’s visit — and what it meant

By Caitlin Kelly

The other day, a dragonfly got trapped in our small dining room, where I work on my laptop. He buzzed and banged against the window but couldn’t get out. I opened the balcony door but he didn’t budge.

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It was not a great day.

After feeling triumphant over winning a Big Women’s Magazine as a new client and getting nice feedback on my work, I received their all-rights contract, the now-normal land-grab that means they own everything in a story.

Given that most of my stories only earn between $1,000 and $2,000 apiece, that’s a lot of territory to claim for very little money. There are a few ways to make good money in freelance journalism:

1) earn $5,000+ per story on every story, (tough to do)

2) re-sell your material, in various iterations, to as many places for as much money as often as you can.

3) crank out a ton of copy asfastasyoupossiblycan.

An all-rights contract, in my view, is restraint of trade and a PITA way to limit my income. The serious cash  comes from better-paid media — re-use by television or film options or rights and/or books; I earned $5,000 from CBS’ television option for a possible sitcom derived from “Malled”, my book about retail.

With little stomach for the email argument with my editor, (and their legal department) that followed, I requested a different contract, knowing that many publishers have them, but will only offer one if pushed to do so.

They agreed, noting the exception. (Which means more such arguments probably lie ahead.)

It is wearying, every day, year after year, to defend the value of your ideas, trying to win the highest possible market valuation for them.

Publishers are increasingly greedy and their legal departments strong-armed. Many editors won’t fight for you, but simply drop you for someone who never fights back in order to protect their intellectual property.

The publisher for “Malled” has also passed on my new book proposal, which was disappointing.

The whole week felt like one long, exhausting argument with the world, over money, over revisions, over what to do next, over how to do it better — or whether I should even be doing it at all.

My lovely husband came home to find me in tears, an extremely rare occurrence in our 13 years together.

He looked up this website, which explains the significance and symbolism of the dragonfly:

To the Japanese, it symbolizes summer and autumn, admired and respected all over, so much so that the Samurai use it as a symbol of power, agility and best of all, victory.

In China, people associate the dragonfly with prosperity, harmony and as a good luck charm. Amongst Native Americans, it is a sign of happiness, speed and purity

And then there’s this:

Maturity and a Depth of character The dragonfly, in almost every part of the world symbolizes change and change in the perspective of self realization; and the kind of change that has its source in mental and emotional maturity and the understanding of the deeper meaning of life.

  • Power and Poise
    The dragonfly’s agile flight and its ability to move in all six directions exude a sense of power and poise – something that comes only with age and maturity.
    The dragonfly can move at an amazing 45 miles an hour,  hover like a helicopter fly backwards like a hummingbird, fly straight up, down and on either side. The awe inspiring aspect is how the dragonfly accomplishes its objectives with utmost simplicity, effectiveness…with 20 times as much power in each of its wing strokes when compared to the other insects.
  • Defeat of Self Created Illusions
    The dragonfly exhibits iridescence both on its wings as well as on its body…the end of one’s self created illusions and a clear vision into the realities of life…self discovery and removal of inhibitions.
  • Focus on living ‘IN’ the moment The dragonfly normally lives most of its life as a nymph or an immature. It flies only for a fraction of its life and usually not more than a few months. By living in the moment you are aware of who you are, where you are, what you are doing, what you want, what you don’t and make informed choices on a moment-to-moment basis.

Gently, using a newspaper and a strainer, he captured the dragonfly and safely released him on the balcony.

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Message delivered.

Writers Finally Win Million-Dollar Settlements In Canada And U.S. For Copyright Infringement

SAN FRANCISCO - MAY 14:  A man holds money tha...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Writers are finally getting redress.

From The New York Times:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday resurrected a possible settlement in a class-action lawsuit brought by freelance writers who said that newspapers and magazines had committed copyright infringement by making their contributions available on electronic databases.

The proposed settlement was prompted by a 2001 decision from the Supreme Court in favor of six freelance authors claiming copyright infringement in The New York Times Company v. Tasini. After the Tasini decision, many freelance works were removed from online databases. Most publishers now require freelance writers to sign contracts granting both print and online rights.

After the decision, the authors, publishers and database companies who were parties to several class-action lawsuits negotiated a global settlement that would pay the plaintiffs up to $18 million.

The publishers in the suit included Reed Elsevier, The New York Times Company, the Thomson Reuters Corporation, Dow Jones & Company, now owned by the News Corporation, and Knight Ridder, which the McClatchy Company bought in 2006.

The suits involved two groups of authors — those who had registered copyrights in their works and those who had not. The second group was by far the more numerous. But the federal copyright law allows suits claiming copyright infringement only after works are registered.

I’ll be filing my more than 100 claims in Canada this month for my work that was used there, unpaid, in similar fashion. The judgement, made in May 2009, gave us a total of $11 million; $5.5 remains after legal fees and the deadline for filing is March 30. Each writer there can win as much as $55,000, the monies awarded on a point system by an administrator.

It will, if it actually happens, be pleasant indeed to receive full payment for my works’ re-use after decades of such easy abuse at the hands of the few corporations who now control information distribution.

This is huge.

Writers live, literally, by their wits. The consistent use of them, selling our ideas and the skills with which to execute them, earns the cash that fills our fridges and gas tanks. It’s what buys our kids’ clothes and shoes and diapers and piano lessons. For the most successful, it puts those kids those through private school and college. It pays for — we pray — a retirement and decently-funded savings, short and long-term.

We have been ripped off for decades. The fees we are paid for our freelance work have remained stagnant for 30 years for many, many outlets or have recently been reduced. Many of us have left the industry, and/or write corporate stuff, teach, write books, do whatever combines to make enough income to make writing for a living worth doing.

Freelance writers work also alone, no matter how many groups or organizations we join. Every single time we call or email an editor  with an idea (or they contact us), we’re entering into a financial and intellectual property negotiation fraught with issues: pay, expenses, length, editing demands, kill fee (they “kill” it and pay us pennies for our time). Not fun.

And every editor knows it’s a mano-a-mano game, one the writer almost always loses. The editor has a job and a paycheck. The writer, until s/he has an assignment, does not.

It takes guts to step forward and take a stand, to fight long and hard for the rights of others.

Thanks, in the U.S., to Jim Morrison, past president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and in Canada to Heather Robertson. Both were seasoned veterans when they decided to step up.

Every writer owes them.