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Although I offer the Freelancer's FAQ information free of charge, I'm finding that the costs of operating a web site are steadily increasing. If you find this information useful, a donation would be gladly appreciated.
Anne W.

Anne Wallingford, WordSmith


Freelancer's FAQ

Contract Caveats

In August of 1996, the well-known New York Times revised several of their policies. Other newspapers and magazines, such as the Chicago Tribune, have also incorporated these contractual changes. Even publishers, agencies, and development houses are trying to insert certain of the clauses, such as the indemnity clause. Overall, these changes can have a devastating effect on the unsuspecting freelancer.

Some of these policy changes include:

- Writers must sign work-for-hire contracts. This means the article belongs to the publisher. The publisher holds the copyright, and for legal purposes, the publisher is the author of the article, not you. You lose all rights to the story and cannot even make photocopies of your own article, legally, without permission. Nor can you do rewrites of the material and submit it to other markets.

In comparison, work done by staff writers is also done as work-for-hire, but staff writers also get such perks as salaries, paid vacations, use of office equipment, insurance .... You get the picture.

- The contract remains in force in perpetuity. All work done for the publisher, not just a specific article, becomes the property of the publisher for your entire life.

- There will be no negotiation. If you do not sign their contract, you do not write for the newspaper/magazine.

- Most of these contracts now require writers to indemnify the publisher against legal action. If someone sues over something you wrote, the publisher will not only NOT back you, you have to pay for their legal costs and penalties as well as your own!

As an independent, what happens to others affects me. I am already seeing contracts that pick up some, if not all, of the changes begun by the Times. Face it, we freelancers need work. But at what cost? If I sign one of these contracts, and there is a lawsuit, the income I've earned from the article won't even begin to pay for court costs. Also, many independents count on being able to resubmit articles to other sources; the types of rights being sold are important.

Is it tempting to sign one of these contracts? Of course it is. We need the income. We want to be able to add more credentials to our resumes. But this is a major decision.

Only by standing together can we hope to be heard. Long-term writers for some of these newspapers have refused to sign the new contracts. And yes, they were terminated. Now the newspapers are advertising heavily for new writers.

If you are talking to a prospective client, and are faced with one of these new contracts, what will you do? Do you need help in understanding the contract terms and how seriously they effect you?

Before you sign a contract, be sure you understand what you are signing and what you are giving away. Any contract is a business matter, not a personal matter. Don't sign until you absolutely must. Join a professional organization such as the National Writers Union (NWU), the Author's Guild, or the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and get the latest information they have available. Ask the client why you are getting this contract version and explain to the editor that this contract is detrimental to you. Talk to an intellectual properties lawyer. Try negotiation. Certainly don't sign the contract if there is no assignment pending.

No one can make the decision for you, but there are times when sticking together makes a lot of sense. This is one of those times. I'm not a militant. It's not my nature. But I also know that folks just starting out as freelancers can get caught in something serious because of a lack of knowledge. Writing for a living isn't a game; it's for real.

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© 1999 Anne Wallingford

Friday, August 10, 2007