How editors can give freelancers a fair go

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How Editors Can Give Freelancers a Fair Go

Don't ask for copyright

Never ask a freelancer to assign copyright. Good practice is where a contributor keeps copyright and licenses uses of her or his material. Copyright is the cornerstone of a creative society, the only means by which those who create original material can be fairly compensated for their work. Freelancers don't get holiday pay, sick leave, superannuation, health benefits, or even the employer-supplied computer on which you are probably reading this now. The ONLY way they can make a living is to retain their copyright.

No copyright in ideas

Commissioning written work does not give the commissioning editor the copyright. There is no copyright in ideas, so even if you ask a freelancer to write something that is your idea, the copyright in the final product rests with the writer. Copyright resides in the original expression of the idea, not the idea itself.

Be clear about rights you need

Be upfront about what rights you want to pay for. If you receive payments from a copyright collecting agency like PMCA, you should negotiate with the contributor over reprographic rights. If you are onselling your stories to a database, you need to negotiate for database rights with the contributor. You need to be willing to pay for the rights you use; forcing writers into a work-for-hire contract is unfair.

Discuss syndication

Allow for the fact that not all contributors may want you to syndicate their material for them (and we are assuming that you would pay them something if they agreed to you syndicating their work). Some can strike better deals on their own.

Put terms in writing

Wherever possible, set out the agreed terms in writing. A written agreement or email should include confirmation of the length and topic of the article, whether you will pay for words commissioned or words published, what rights you wish to license and for what length of time, what and when you will pay for these rights, what you will pay for photos.

Pay on time

Work commissioned or accepted should be paid for at a date agreed at the time of commissioning or acceptance. The ideal is payment on acceptance, but best practice is no more than one month after you have received the article.

Avoid kill fees

Rates are so low in New Zealand that there really is no excuse for a kill fee. If you commissioned the article and it fulfills the brief that you gave the writer, then you should pay the writer the agreed fee, whether you use it or not.

Consider your rates

Please take the time to consider the rates you pay freelancers. Last year for the first time the advertising spend in New Zealand topped $2 billion, the economy is growing at 4.8 pct, but at the same time, with the unemployment rate a mere 3.9 pct, there are fewer people around to fill staff journalist positions. You need freelancers and without them, many New Zealand publications would be nothing but a series of advertisements. Your 'going rate' should reflect this.


Most freelancers will want to strike a deal provided the terms are right. Be prepared to negotiate extra payments for extra rights, beyond basic first use of the material. If you can't pay much, then ask for only what you actually need. You can't expect worldwide rights until Doomsday for 40 cents a word.

This page has been based, with permission, on the NUJ's Rate for the Job website. See for more