Mark Loundy
Common Cents

Freelancer on the Lam

(Note to editor: Please excuse the torn and dirty paper, I've been sleeping in abandoned barns and moving only at night...)

If I'd only known that I was committing a crime I never would have mentioned freelance rates in that E-mail. Now I'm on the lam, without a friend in the world.

Did you know that it's a crime for freelancers to share pricing information? The feds call it "price fixing"— a term usually reserved for the illegal behavior of large corporations.

Unfortunately, for the purposes of anti-trust law, freelancers fall into the same legal category as Exxon or Ford. We can't legally discuss specific rates on the Editorial Photographers discussion list, for example. Don't even think about forming a guild or union.

God forbid the Justice Department should raid the Common Cents international headquarters. My wife and kids would be breaking rocks in Leavenworth.

I'm all out of breath. All this hiding from police cruisers is getting old.

One of the primary reasons that publications are able to make onerous contracts stick is that freelancers cannot, by law, get together and bargain as a group. Even asking somebody how much he or she charged for a particular job is technically a violation. Moderators of online discussion groups are careful not to let discussions stray into "dangerous" territory.

If the National Press Photographers Association had been constituted as a union, it would legally have had to exclude freelance members from coverage under any collective bargaining agreements.

Got to keep moving... Lt. Gerard getting closer... They'll never take me alive...

Enter U.S. Representative John Conyers, Jr. and HR 4643 aka the Freelance Writers and Artists Protection Act of 2002. Conyers' bill may be the only thing that will get me back on the right side of the law. It will grant writers and artists (and photographers) an anti-trust exemption and permit us to bargain collectively. The measure is supported by a number of professional organizations, including the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Graphic Artists Guild and Editorial Photographers.

If you want to level the negotiating playing field for freelancers or if you just want me to see my family again, now is the time to write to your congressional representative. Use the links in the left column and send a note off today.

I hear a helicopter. Are those bloodhounds? Geez, I hope I get a sympathetic cellmate.

The Good: Yankee Magazine for listening to reason and agreeing (when asked) to remove the indemnification clause in their boilerplate contract. They also negotiate for additional compensation for online usage.
The Bad: New Choices for its two-year exclusive rights and no-payment-for-reprints contract.
The Ugly: The Dallas Morning News for its new all-rights contract and new no-expenses policy. To add deficit to injury, the contract grandfathers pictures shot before the contract. All this for 100 bucks an assignment.

Please let me know of any particularly good, bad or ugly dealings that you have had with clients recently. I will use the client's name, but I won't use your name if you don't want me to. Anonymous submissions will not be considered. Please include contact information for yourself and for the client.

Many publications make a lot of money by selling reprints to advertisers and to companies that are the subjects of their stories. Remember that such re-use is not editorial use and should be billed more like advertising. Even for a medium-sized magazine, this can run into thousands of dollars for cover use. The Editorial Photographers Estimator is a great resource to help determine the right price. I'll discuss some other pricing tools in a future column.

The Boston Globe Freelancers Association has been fighting the good fight against that New York Times-owned daily for the past few years. You might want to drop by their Web site and see the latest from that front.

© 2002 Mark Loundy

Mark Loundy is a visual journalist, writer and media consultant based in San Jose, California.

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