Counter-contract cunning

THE UNION'S policy-making conference - its Delegate Meeting - brings together activists (and semi-activists) from all over the UK and Ireland, and many from continental Europe, too: see a report here (a shorter version's here if you're in a hurry.) For freelances, the opportunity to meet and compare notes with others who spend large amounts of their working lives working alone is especially rewarding - made the more so by the special Freelance Sector Conference that takes place before the main meeting begins.

Phil Sutcliffe; copyright Matt Salusbury

Phil Sutcliffe addresses the contract question (not actually at the sector conference itself, but at the Delegate Meeting soon afterwards).

This year's conference was mostly about contracts. Freelance organiser John Toner kicked off with a discussion of what does or does not constitute one. It doesn't have to be written, but it helps - and the key points are:

  • what's needed
  • when it's needed
  • how much you will be paid.

It's important to be clear on all these points - especially if there are likely to be conditions you don't want to agree to. Some journalists - including many photographers - include their terms and conditions (especially important when it comes to not giving up copyright) on their websites, but it's a good idea to remind the client before you start work. You can't assume they've been read - and challenging a client at the point of invoicing is too late.

NEC member Phil Sutcliffe went on to look at several existing contracts with more or less (mostly less) acceptable terms - and pointed out things to be wary of. These include the inevitable attempts at copyright grabs and the (erroneous) belief among publishers that writers must sign away their moral rights (to be acknowledged as author, and not to have your copy given "derogatory treatment" - such as being distorted or made inaccurate).

Watch out, too, he said, for anything that involves "undertaking", "warranting" or in any similar way asking you to carry all the costs of any court case - anything from libel to copyright infringement - that arises from your work. Some clients ask you to guarantee that you haven't broken any law of any kind anywhere in the world. Think about it.

Phil advises negotiating - asking what the client really wants: many commissioning editors have no idea why their standards contracts make the demands they do, and you can sometimes get less onerous conditions. If they want more than one use, or they want more work than they originally asked for - ask for more money and more time. Then there's the growing phenomenon of being asked to work for free and material being "stolen" for other uses, such as a website. (Invoice for this!)

Freelances are rarely in a negotiating position that's as strong as a media company - but should still try to get the best deal possible. There are links to more detailed advice online on contracts here.

Last modified: 05 May 2014 - © 2014 contributors
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