Self-billing bling thing

MANY freelances are unhappy with the way publishers apply "self-billing" - that is, when the publisher works out how much is owed to each contributor, instead of the freelance sending his or her own invoice.

Freelances often feel that self-billing weakens their control over the terms on which they carry out work, and places too much power in the hands of publishers. They fear that publishers can use the procedure to decide at their own discretion how much they are going to pay for work submitted and/or to impose other terms to which they have not agreed such as rights grabs.

On the bright side, just occasionally editors mark up a story or a photo for more than was agreed at commission, because they liked it or because it was used more prominently than expected. And photographers in particular sometimes get self-billed payments for re-uses of their pictures, without having to rely on their Aunt Sheila in Melbourne spotting them.

Points to watch out for when self-billing applies include:

  • Ensure that the terms and conditions are clear when work is commissioned from you, and do not wait until you are paid less than expected to protest. (Self-billing is just the payment procedure, not the means whereby the terms of the commission are set.)
  • If the organisation for which you are working publishes standard terms for freelance contributions, read these carefully, and make sure that you have a copy of the current version.
  • If you manage to negotiate better terms than the standard ones, ensure this is recorded.
  • If work is commisioned from you by a commissioning editor that you have never worked with before, make sure at the outset that he/she is fully aware of the terms on which you work for the publication.
  • If an organisation fails to issue its self-billing invoice and to pay, it is in breach of its contract with you. Accordingly, you can put in your own invoice for the amount due to you.

If you receive a payment for less than you agreed, you should:

  • Send an invoice stating the amount agreed, the date of the agreement and with whom is was made, subtracting the amount paid and noting the amount remaining due.
  • Keep two printed copies yourself, one for the Freelance Office to use if the publisher does not cough up.

The NUJ Freelance Industrial Council (FIC) has drawn up more detailed guidelines on self-billing: see the link below.

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