covid-19: see advice in the Freelance

Rates and terms still vary hugely, often depending on whether the client originated in book or magazine or newspaper publishing, broadcasting, public relations, or as a new media start-up.

The instant worldwide availability of the web means that traditional "territorial" licences - such as "First British Serial" rights - make no sense. The practical equivalent for original material commissioned for the web would be "First world-wide web rights".

First publication online

Rates for first publication on the internet ought to be at least as much as the comparable traditional media plus 50 per cent to cover instant global availability. This is an incentive to negotiate more than a statement of what you are likely to achieve.

The work may also be more complex than straight copy, with a hierarchy of information and links to be researched, written and marked up. For all work in the digital media relevant specialist areas of knowledge, such as science or medicine, attract premium charges.

The initial fee should be for a licence restricting usage to specific digital media. Clients may need to be introduced gently to the idea that re-use on a different website, even one of theirs, requires a new licence and a new fee. If the agreement includes exclusivity, this should be for a set, short period, and should attract a premium - especially if the article will remain online after that, depressing the market for secondary sales.

Licensing re-use online

Publishers regularly demand all rights from freelance journalists, often because they want to be free to use the material on their websites as well as selling it - often for high prices - through databases. Clients are often reluctant to pay freelances for this extra usage, saying there is little money to be made from digital re-use. It is not the freelance's fault, however, if they have signed a dodgy deal with a database provider. We suspect, however, that a major reason for clients wanting assignment of all rights is to avoid thinking - so it is often the freelance's responsibility to think about exactly what is actually needed. See our notes on negotiating for online use.

Freelances should secure the best possible payment for licensing their work for web use - especially as the web version is, unlike a paper version, instantly available all over the world.

Freelances should ensure that the amount paid for purchase of any specified right is listed separately from the basic fee on any commissioning form or contract where the publisher wants to re-use the material in electronic or digital form.

Keeping track of the work

Journalists frequently discover their work being used on websites without their knowledge or permission. One of the best ways of tracking re-use remains the use of original phrasing, so that you can use a search engine to find all instances and only instances of your article online. It is not necessary to go as far as the member who endeavoured to get a different newly-coined word into print in every article.

Copyright on the web

Copyright applies to the web just as much as it does anywhere else: under the Berne Convention, each signatory country agrees to provide the same protection to nationals of other countries as it does to its own citizens. NUJ members whose copyright has been infringed overseas should contact the NUJ Freelance Office for advice.

More advice and links...
* Uploaded 15/08/2222: if you have a printout, check the current version at
* Rates for the Job good, bad and ugly
* Join the NUJ to get individual advice & representation

Text © Mike Holderness & previous contributors; Moral rights asserted. The collection (database right) © National Union of Journalists. Comments to please. You may find the glossary helpful.

The National Union of Journalists must not, can not and would not wish to dictate rates or terms of engagement to members or to editors. The information presented here is for guidance and as an aid to equitable negotiation only.

Suggestions apply to contracts governed by UK law only. In any event, nothing here should be construed as legal advice.