How to Contend with Copyright as a Freelance Writer
Because your writing is your livelihood, you are justified in wanting to protect your intellectual property from theft and misuse. Should you come across stolen work, you have three primary options:
- Sending a polite note to the copyright infringer
- File a DMCA complaint
- Publicly shame the content thief
Often a polite note asking a copyright infringer to take down, buy, or properly attribute content is all it takes. Many people misuse copyrighted content without realizing they have done something wrong and are happy to mend the error in their ways.
Should you like to take the DMCA route, visit our guides to protecting and defending your content from theft and sending DMCA complaints. Publicly shaming others for stealing your content only works if you have a large, engaged audience.
Keep in mind that DMCA complaints are only the beginning of what may escalate to formal litigation (while many content thieves respond promptly to DMCA complaints, others do not). Should you decide to take a copyright dispute to court, you will first have to register your work with the United States Copyright Office. Most freelance writers do not choose litigation, as typical legal fees are typically several magnitudes higher than financial losses caused by copyright infringement.
How to Handle Contracts as a Freelance Writer
Helpful Contract Tools
In our lesson covering tools for freelance writers, we covered several tools for managing contracts, which include:
- Docracy: A helpful website featuring open legal documents that can be customized, collaboratively edited during negotiations, and electronically signed
- The Editorial Freelancers Assocation's Sample Letters of Agreement: A sample letter and contract you may customize or use as an example to follow
- The National Writers Union's guide to negotiating contracts over the phone: Helpful tips and tricks for phone-facilitated negotiations
- The Freelancers Union Contract Creator Tool: A tool that enables you to create a freelance contract by filling out forms regarding your billing and contact information, the scope of the work in question, and your desired conditions and approach to dispute resolution
Important Contract Considations
As a freelance writer, there are certain contract-specific issues of which you should be particularly aware:
- Descriptions of the work to be done: Make sure descriptions of work ensure that there is no discrepancy between the work you expect to produce and the work your client expects to receive
- Requirements regarding where the work is to be done: If you intend to work remotely, make sure that condition is specified in your contract; some clients expect writers to show up for meetings or be present while completing specified tasks
- Deadlines and time allotment: Clearly establish how long the contract will last, when work will be completed, and when payment will be delivered
- Copyrightable contributions made by an editor: Whether working with an editor or providing edits to another person's writing, you should have a clear, shared understanding of who maintains the right to copyrightable contributions made during the editing process (if you do not want significantly-edited work to become co-authored, be sure to hire editors using work made for hire agreements)
- Grounds for termination: Establish clear grounds on which you and your client will be permitted to terminate the contract early
- Dispute resolution: Establish whether or not a mediator will be used to resolve disputes and where court hearings might take place should there be any litigation
Legal Danger Zones to Avoid
To steer clear of legal trouble as a freelance writer, avoid:
- Violating others' copyright
- Invasion of privacy
- Violation of publicity rights
- Negligent publishing
Respect others' intellectual property. Do your own research, don't cut corners, and never, ever plagiarize. If you use images in your work, only use those which you have permission to use. Should you be short on photos of your own and not have a budget for images, make use of Public Domain and Creative Commons images online- just be sure to properly attribute content creators and licenses. Consider giving back to the online community by applying a Creative Commons license to some of your own work as well.
Inform yourself about defamation by visiting the Electronic Frontier Foundation's guide to online defamation law. Avoid issues regarding the invasion of privacy by reviewing the Digital Media Law Project's materials on gathering private information. Stop by the Electronic Frontier Foundation's wiki for jumping off points regarding publicity rights. To learn more about about negligent publication, read Lloyd R. Rich's article on the subject.
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