BEACON FLASH #21 - July 2007
Freelance contracts are undergoing change. I belong to the Professional Writers' Association of Canada (PWAC) and, for the past couple of weeks, the discussion group has been grappling with magazine, newspaper, and other media contracts that members have been receiving recently.
The issue is not the usual rights grab, which is often in contracts, but the clause(s) that deals with indemnification (liability). Suddenly the publishers are expecting freelancers to carry full liability and financial responsibility if the publisher is sued over a freelancer's article. In the past, this burden was most often shared between publisher and freelancer. For a writer to insure for this eventuality can cost thousands of dollars per year, and many cannot afford to take this precaution (to find out why, see June 8th post). Many writers who make their living freelancing have attempted to change these clauses before signing the contracts, but some publishers are refusing to allow negotiation of these clauses. In this event, most of the writers have chosen to turn down the opportunity to write for these publishers, which include major daily newspapers, top magazines, and a national broadcaster in Canada, as well as similar publishers in the US. (For example, CanWest and CBC.)
One change a freelancer can try to negotiate for these clauses is: "in no case will the writer's liability exceed the value of the contract." Sometimes this works.
PWAC is so concerned about this situation that its Board of Directors has discussed it and is issuing a media release. Their executive director called the contract demands, "Outrageous!"
All freelancers, in any country, should be aware of this trend and should read the fine print with extra diligence before signing any contract. More info for Canadians can be found at http://timperrin.com/ by clicking on the links on the left side of the first page.
If you find similar clauses popping up in your freelance contracts, report the publisher to your national association, such as PWAC (www.pwac.ca), the Canadian Freelance Union (www.cfunion.ca/), or, if your client is American, the US National Writers Union at: www.nwu.org/. If you can afford it, you might want to consult a lawyer too; if you can't, decline the contract and tell the publisher your reason. Either way, the writer loses income. :(