For the first couple of years I was freelancing, I just signed on the dotted line when it came to contracts. I didn’t want to read the fine print because, frankly, I needed the money. It was depressing enough that virtually every contract granted copyrights to my work in any and all forms in existence now or ever to be invented in the future, throughout the universe.
But curiosity and concern finally won out, so now I’m reading the contracts more carefully. I’m alarmed at what I find in some of them:
The writer pays for the lawyers: This clause specifies that I agree to indemnify the publisher from damages, costs and expenses that the publisher incurs because of copyright infringement or even the claim of copyright infringement. Some contracts specifically state that I am to protect and defend the publisher against such lawsuits at my own expense. I have never been accused of infringement in 25 years as a journalist and will gladly promise that my work does not infringe. But editors change wording, sometimes in major ways. It’s not fair to hold me responsible for a mistake an editor introduced into the article. And what if some kook out there falsely accuses me and the publisher of infringement?
The writer sells her soul: A contract I recently declined not only asked me to indemnify the company – a multi-billion-dollar corporation that is a household name – against any claim of infringement, it also wanted rights to use my name, voice, likeness and biography to promote its website in whatever way it wanted. This was for an initial story paying $400.
The writer stops freelancing: Last year I was presented with a contract to work with a custom publishing firm to produce a corporate magazine, again for a Fortune 500 client. It was no surprise that the contract had a section covering confidential information. Routinely, the contractor promises not to divulge or use any confidential information from the client for any other purpose other than that expressed in the agreement. But this contract stipulated that I could not, ever, disclose or use any information not only about this particular client but any client of the custom publisher. It wasn’t limited to trade secrets or even to information obtained during the course of producing the magazine. It was any information, forever, about any client. And I didn’t even know who the other clients were.
Most publishers are reasonable when I call their attention to these inequitable clauses. They are willing to work with me to make changes that satisfy both our needs, even though they sometimes say I’m the only writer who’s ever raised such questions. Although I have lost some business from a couple of inflexible publishers, so far I’ve been able to afford to do that. I hope that luxury lasts.