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Freelance Fees Guide
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Uploaded 2011-09-18 00:00:00; for current version see http://www.londonfreelance.org/feesguide/print.php?§ion=General

This guide is to help freelances - self-employed journalists - negotiate the best rates and conditions possible for the various kinds of work that NUJ members undertake.

Being a freelance offers freedom to those who choose it - but also responsibility for tasks that employed journalists can leave to their employers, from negotiating contracts to dealing (eventually) with government bureaucracies.

The sections listed below offer advice on these matters.

General contents:

What freelances need to charge and why

Non-journalists may think that some of the numbers in this guide represent a lot of money for what sometimes seems from outside like little work. Staff journalists often look at freelance day rates, divide their salary by 365 and mutter about "freelances having it easy". No, we do not. That arithmetic is wrong and entirely misunderstands the economics.

Charging for shifts

The simplest point to make is this: the total direct cost to a company of employing someone, not counting office costs, is about one-and-a-half times their gross salary. The company has to pay employer's National Insurance contributions and pension contributions. Other incidental costs of employment mount up. (We did not believe how much they did either, until we did the accounts for a charity - and re-did them in disbelief.)

And that is before you factor in the sheer convenience to a company of engaging a freelance, who is only there when they are needed. Sometimes it seems to freelances that companies think that, when they cannot see us, we exist in a state of suspended animation, waking for five seconds every hour to check for email from them. This is not the case. Even a freelance who is doing five sub-editing shifts this week must budget to be able to eat next week, when some (or all) of those shifts may have ceased. They would be foolish to budget for more than 180 paid days per year.

Out of their fees, freelances have to pay tax and two chunks of National Insurance, and arrange their own pension. These days, even those who mostly do shifts in clients' offices must maintain a computer and internet connection, if only to find out about those shifts.

The point freelances make to staff journalists, as economic beings and as trades unionists, is this: if you engage a freelance at less than 160 per cent of the equivalent staffer's daily gross pay, then you are undercutting a staff job. Unfortunately, even some of the suggested rates in this Guide do undercut staff in this way, since they spring from reports of actual market rates. That does not mean that the NUJ condones this practice.

Charging for writing and reporting

To non-journalists we say this: the high rates you have heard about (up to hundreds of thousands a year!) are paid to columnists and presenters for major papers and channels. Those rates are agreed by hard-headed publishers' and broadcasters' accountants on the basis of their expected contribution to profits. They are in effect part of the marketing budget.

Journalists who produce news and features have to work harder - for considerably less money. Consider the 2011/12 agreed minimum rate at the Guardian of £301.63 per 1000 words (including 6.5 per cent uplift for digital rights). If a 500-word news story took fifty hours' work, that would bring the hourly rate down to the then UK minimum wage of £5.93 an hour. Not all stories take that long, of course. But really interesting stories - the ones that justify this whole journalism business - can easily take much longer.

At these rates it is simply uneconomic for a freelance to do intensive, investigative, independent reporting - again, the kind that makes the whole business worthwhile and is supposed to be what freelances are for. A diet of fluff is the inevitable result of the way that bean-counters are exercising their control over the publishing and broadcasting industries.

Photographers

On top of all these arguments, photographers face huge equipment costs and need to charge £100 a day or more before they receive any actual income at all. See the link below.

What your client saves by engaging a freelance

NUJ member Andrew Bibby has produced a ready reckoner that works out the daily rate equivalent to the total cost of employing someone on a given salary. It does not suggest that these rates are attainable right now. It should be a powerful negotiating tool, especially when - as usual - you can point out to a staff member commissioning you how much the rate they're offering you is undercutting their own job.

§ See: Journalists are all overpaid, right? Freelance <http://www.londonfreelance.org/fl/0507hoc.html>

§ See: Photographers' day and base rates

§ See: Negotiating fees advice

§ See: The day rate ready reckoner by Andrew Bibby <http://www.andrewbibby.com/reckoner.html>

Negotiating fees

A client will always have a budget for a job, but they might not always want to share it with the freelance. So when a client asks "What do you charge?" or simply states "We pay this rate", the freelance needs to start negotiating.

Advice to freelances

Rule One in negotiating is: always get the client to put their offer first. It may well be higher than you would have asked for - but then always ask for more. If you ask for more you might get it. If you don't, you won't. If you jump at the first sum on offer or try to guess something appropriate, you will often end up with too low a figure, thus undercutting colleagues and limiting your room for manoeuvre on the next job for that client. Little is worse than mentioning a figure and having it accepted instantly, demonstrating that more, possibly much more, was available.

Learn to negotiate

A minute's amiable bargaining regularly secures improvements of anything from five to 100 per cent and beyond. All you are doing is pushing the client to the limit of what they are prepared to pay. And why not?

You might find that you are being offered a rate that will not be altered. In this case, if you agree to accept the work at this rate, find arguments for an increase in the future ("Now you know I do good work..."; "I've done three jobs for you..."; "You've been paying me the same rate for a year now...").

The NUJ runs regular day courses on negotiating, entitled "Pitch & Deal". These are open to non-members, but much cheaper to members. For dates and booking, see the NUJ Training Department website, linked below.

One of the key points of these courses, which you can absorb for free right now, is this: to negotiate and negotiate hard is a sign that you are a professional. Any editors who take offence at it should be left among the amateurs they deserve, then quite soon flip burgers themselves.

Why you charge what you charge

Your fees should be designed to compensate for insecurity, lack of various employment benefits such as paid sick leave and employee pension schemes, the costs involved in working from home or renting office space, the time you will spend on routine administration and keeping necessary hardware and software up to date. Photographers' overheads can absorb 50 per cent or more of their gross income. See "What freelances need to charge and why" (linked below).

So whether you are offering work or responding to a client's request, start negotiating with a reasonable fee in mind (while, as above, leaving the process open so that you can encourage and accept an offer that's more than reasonable).

If a commissioner calls catching you unprepared, or you need to think about what the job entails, break off negotiations so that you can work out a reasonable fee before continuing the discussion. The skill-specific sections in this booklet are designed to provide guidance.

Remember you can charge more - sometimes many times more - for exclusive or unusual material.

Pitch for a firm commission

If you are approaching an editor with an idea, work out the details of the commission with them first. You are not ready to make that call until you can say what the piece is about in 25 words or fewer. Listen to their suggestions for making it suit their section. Listen to their suggestions of, for example, extra people you could talk to. When the commission has shaped up: "So, what are you offering for this?"

There are rare occasions when it may be worth doing a piece without a firm commission - for example when it's the first time you've worked on the subject area in question. But, in general, working "on spec" is daft.

Be aware that many editors simply ignore work that is submitted unsolicited.

Once you have settled on the specification and the basic fee for first use of the work in one edition, there are other questions to ask the editor:

See "Commissions and contracts" (linked below) for a more extensive checklist.

Negotiating for extra uses

Negotiating extra fees for any extra uses the client wants to make of your work should always be part of this process. Apart from anything else, this provides an opportunity to reopen the question of the total fee, even after a blanket refusal to pay more for First British Serial rights. Remember, it is usually down to the freelance to do the thinking for the editor: "OK, what do you need? The weekly edition - and use on the web for a year - how about 30% extra?" Editors are trying to think about the content and want not to think about copyright at the same time, so you do it.

The Creators' Copyright Coalition Commission/Confirmation of Sale form (available from the Freelance Office and www.londonfreelance.org/forms) lists a range of rights you might license to a client. Ticking the appropriate boxes on the form will make it clear to you and your client just what you have agreed.

Suggested rates

This guide suggests minimum rates for a range of skills used throughout the media industry. Examples of rates actually paid are reported in the "Rate for the Job" section of the Freelance and on this London Freelance Branch website at www.londonfreelance.org.uk/rates. But beware - some rates there are lower than the NUJ considers acceptable - pay attention to the "XXX" tags. Some, too, were achieved by a "name" and/or an able negotiator.

Union freelance agreements

The NUJ has some agreements with media companies on minimum rates for freelances. More are likely to be negotiated, eventually, following successful ballots for staff-side union recognition. The union's Freelance Industrial Council has drawn up model claims for a range of media. Where there is an NUJ agreement, do not accept less than any minimum it sets out - but negotiate more if you can.

§ See: NUJ training - including courses on negotiating <http://www.londonfreelance.org/nujlinks.html#Training>

§ See: Rights and why they are important advice

§ See: Negotiating rates and rights specifically for photographers

§ See: Commissions and contracts advice

§ See: Playing a win-win game old but sound article <http://www.londonfreelance.org/fl/9605barg.html>

§ See: On negotiating from the Rate for the Job <http://www.londonfreelance.org/rates/negotiat.html>

§ See: What freelances need to charge and why advice

§ See: Suggested schedule of cancellation fees for shifts

§ See: Kill fees for commissioned articles

Rights and why they are important

Freelance journalists own whatever they create, whether they have been commissioned or whether they have offered work "on spec" or from stock. Freelances have two kinds of rights in their work: copyright and moral rights.

Copyright

Under UK law, and specifically the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (see the link below), copyright is the intellectual property right that authors have in the work they have created. "Authors" in this case includes photographers, cartoonists, illustrators and other creators as well as writers. Copyright protects against the use of the work without the author's permission and entitles the author to benefit from that work.

Under UK law employees do not own copyright (see also shift payments and copyright).

Copyright applies just as much to the internet as anywhere else.

Freelances - hold on to your rights

Copyright is a valuable asset. If you own the rights in your work you are in a position to make money from it through, for example, syndication - for the rest of your life (and your heirs can benefit from it for a further 70 years).

In general it is a good idea to have a discussion of what rights you will licence when you are commissioned, as part of your negotiation over fees: see "Negotiating fees" (linked below).

The Creators' Copyright Coalition Commission/Confirmation of Sale form (available from the Freelance Office and www.londonfreelance.org/forms) lists a range of rights you might license to a client. Ticking the appropriate boxes on the form will make it clear to you and your client just what you have agreed.

If you actually agree to assign all rights, the price should be high - more than four times the fee for a normal licence, and much more if you already have reason to suspect your work will be sold on. The man (not a journalist) who sold video of suspected bombers being arrested in London in July 2005 to ITN and the Daily Mail for £60,000 thought it was a good price - until he realised how much they had made from syndicating it. He is now a convert to retaining rights.

Instead of assigning rights, a freelance is generally recommended to accept a basic fee for the first use (for example in a magazine or newspaper) and sell the publisher additional licences for other specific uses for agreed fees or percentages for each medium. Each constitutes a separate usage of the work.

Resisting rights grabs

Media companies often ask freelances to "assign" (hand over) all their rights, usually citing as a reason the advent of electronic media. Their aim is to acquire 100 per cent of any on-sales, in traditional media as well as electronic, so your work can be sold to other publications without any reference (or payment) to you.

Some publishers issue "weasel" contracts that acknowledge you own your copyright, but go on to demand an all-encompassing range of licensed rights, for little or no extra payment. This is like them saying "We were asking for the freehold to your house for the price of a month's rent, but now we just want a 999-year lease - for the price of a month's rent."

Try to resist either of these types of grab. Many freelances, individually or in groups, have successfully done so. Retaining copyright is more than just a principle - material may be sold on to other publications or electronic media, sometimes for fees that are far greater than the original commission. See "Show me the money" (linked below).

Retaining rights can also be important to a freelance in maintaining their reputation - and without a reputation a freelance has no work and no sources. Anyone who has assigned all rights in their work may find it showing up in places that harm their reputation. A freelance may have promised a band that their interview will not appear in a particular tabloid. They may want to maintain a reputation for independence by stopping their work appearing in PR material. All will want to respect the NUJ Code of Conduct, which commits members not to allow work to be used in advertising: specifically not to

...by way of statement, voice or appearance endorse by advertisement any commercial product or service save for the promotion of her/his own work or of the medium by which she/he is employed

Respect must be mutual

Freelances, like staff, should ensure that they do not breach the rights of other authors (including illustrators and cartoonists and photographers). Remember too that software, including fonts, is subject to copyright. Even free software is issued under a copyright licence which specifies how you may copy it. Politely resist any suggestion from commissioners (who may know no better) that you breach these conditions.

Photocopying etc

Writers and photographers are entitled to extra money from companies and organisations that photocopy the work. To be sure of receiving this, and other payments for such "secondary uses" UK freelances need to register with ALCS (for book and magazine writers) and/or DACS (for photographers, illustrators, etc). See the links below. How these payments generally work is that libraries, press offices and others who do bulk copying pay a licence fee to the collecting society. This arranges a survey of a sample of licensees, to work out statistically how to distribute it. Efforts continue to deliver the share of this money due to newspapers' contributors.

These "collecting societies" also distribute money collected for secondary uses in other countries - including, for example, Public Lending Right (see below) from Germany and the Netherlands.

DACS assumes a licence to collect and distributes certain payments to photographers, illustrators and cartoonists who are NUJ members, unless they opt out. Any who want to do so should contact the Freelance Office.

Public Lending Right

Book authors, illustrators and translators are also entitled to payments for lending of their work by libraries. UK law says you are entitled to Public Lending Right payments because you are the author. PLR is quite separate from copyright. The payments are calculated from a survey of selected libraries, extrapolated statistically. To be sure of receiving this money, authors should register with Public Lending Right UK (see the link below).

Fair dealing

UK law defines a strictly limited number of ways that works can be used without the author's permission or payment to them, such as including them in exam questions. These uses are called "fair dealing" - the equivalent exceptions in US law are called "fair use". See the consolidated version of the Act (linked below) for details.

Finding out more about copyright

For more information on copyright and how the NUJ has been tackling this thorny problem, see the NUJ publication Battling for Copyright, free to NUJ members from the Freelance Office. Training on copyright is now available from the NUJ Training Department, with input from Thompsons' copyright lawyer and examination of several interesting case studies.

§ See: Specific advice on copyright for photographers

§ See: Show me the money from the Freelance <http://www.londonfreelance.org/fl/themoney.html>

§ See: Tracking down pirates and getting them to pay

§ See: ALCS - Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society <http://www.alcs.co.uk/>

§ See: DACS - Design and Artists Copyright Society <http://www.dacs.org.uk/>

§ See: Public Lending Right UK <http://www.plr.uk.com/>

§ See: Copyright etc Act 1988 as amended unofficial (900k PDF) <http://www.ipo.gov.uk/cdpact1988.pdf>

§ See: Copyright etc Act 1988 HTML from legislation.gov.uk <http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1988/48>

Moral rights

The important moral rights are the right to object if your work is distorted - to defend its "integrity" - and the right to an accurate credit. These are obviously important to protecting and spreading your reputation - and without your reputation you have no work.

The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (see the link below) made moral rights explicit for the first time in UK law. The exact rights are:

In plain English, freelances have the rights to a credit; to prevent anyone else claiming authorship; and to protect the authenticity of their work. This last is particularly important now that computer technology makes digital manipulation so easy and so hard to detect.

But there are (of course) exceptions to the above.

Clients using laundry-list contracts often demand that freelances "waive" their moral rights, even where the law already rules them out for the uses that the freelance is licensing. Such pressure needs to be resisted. The point of it, in so far as there is one beyond grabbing everything the lawyer can think of and most things they can not, is to create the impression that waiving moral rights is normal business practice.

Clients sometimes argue that they need a waiver of the moral right of integrity so that they can edit freelances' work. This is a false argument, even without considering the gap in the law for newspapers and magazines (unless the editor intend to change the work so that it is "contrary to the honour or reputation" of the journalist). It is good practice for editors to send the edited version to the journalist to check that the subs have not clarified it to say something that's not true. Email makes it possible to do this even on a daily paper. We suggest that the moral right applies to the integrity of the agreed published version, and allows the journalist to defend that against changes by others.

(Of course in the case of photographs, publishing a picture that has been altered in any way beyond correcting colour balance and so forth is wrong - unless it is clearly labelled as manipulated and therefore an illustration, not reportage. The NUJ Code of Conduct, linked below, implicitly forbids this with the requirement that a journalist "ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair".)

And another thing (mostly for picture editors)

Journalists who work as picture editors or who may be asked to collect "pick-up" photographs - for example family photos of someone in the news - need to know about the little-known fourth moral right. This forbids publishing, broadcasting or exhibiting photos taken for "private domestic" clients, unless the person who "commissioned" them gives permission. It appears to mean that it is illegal to publish a "pick-up" photo unless you have the explicit permission of the person who "commissioned" it as well as the holder of the copyright, and as well as permission to borrow the physical photo.

But remember, you own copyright

Some freelances are confused by our complaints about the exclusion of moral rights in work done for newspapers and magazines. Remember: you own copyright - the economic rights - in every article you write, every design you produce and every picture you take, as a freelance, until and unless you assign it to someone else.

§ See: Some things you should know about copyright in 800 words <http://www.londonfreelance.org/c-basics.html>

§ See: NUJ Code of Conduct <http://www.nuj.org.uk/innerPagenuj.html?docid=174>

Responding to rights grabs

As long as you have signed nothing, you retain copyright in your material. If, however, you receive a communication from a publisher requiring all rights, and you want to retain your rights as the NUJ advises, you must write back and refuse. Silence may legally be regarded as agreement. The Freelance Office can provide NUJ members with standard letters to help with drafting a response to these copyright grabs.

Some publishers issue "weasel" contracts that acknowledge you own your copyright, but go on to demand an all-encompassing range of licensed rights, for little or no extra payment. This is like them saying "We were asking for the freehold to your house for the price of a month's rent, but now we just want a 999-year lease - for the price of a month's rent."

Respond to such contracts, in writing. State that you do not wish to sign this contract and ask which rights the publisher actually wants and needs, immediately. Discuss how much will be paid for anything more than first use in the publication that commissioned you (that is, if it's in the UK, First British Serial Rights). Leave open the opportunity to renegotiate should further licences be required.

We would welcome reports of successful challenges to rights-grabs to help us expand this section.

Syndication and spin-off rights

Where freelance writers agree to license the original publisher to conduct on-sales of their material to other print publications (traditional syndication), the industry's custom and practice has been to split the gross revenue 50-50 between the writer and the publisher.

The problem with this system is that few magazines have dedicated sales staff to conduct a pro-active syndication service, so they may, in effect, be offering you 50 per cent of nothing.

Independent syndication agencies that handle words (most deal in pictures only) also usually offer 50-50 splits, but have a greater incentive to sell material as their whole business depends on actively selling the work of their clients (mainly freelances).

Freelances handling their own re-sales collect all the syndication proceeds - so it is a good idea if you have time and the breadth of contacts to do a professional job.

If you use a syndication service, be careful to check the original contract for each piece of work to ensure you retain all the rights you plan to syndicate.

We would welcome reports of successful syndication tactics, to help us expand this section.

Shift payments and copyright

Who owns the work of someone paid by the day? The Copyright Act is clear that the exclusion of employees from copyright applies to "work done in the course of their employment" - which would seem to mean an actual job, with a right to redundancy pay and everything else that goes with it.

It is clearly accepted that photographers paid by the day own their pictures.

Clients would probably argue that custom and practice grants them a wide licence in work done by, for example, someone paid to do a day writing news shorts.

We know of no directly relevant case law. The much-quoted case Beloff -v- Pressdram does not concern normal authorial copyright: the judgement was that the columnist Nora Beloff could not sue Pressdram Ltd (owners of Private Eye) for printing a memo she wrote, because it belonged to the paper in whose office she wrote it, the Observer.

§ See: Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 (as passed) <http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts1988/Ukpga_19880048_en_1.htm>

Commissions and contracts

A commission to carry out and deliver a piece of work often starts informally with a telephone call from the client to a freelance or vice versa. It is important to be completely professional from the first contact.

Any freelance offered work needs to be sure the person doing the offering has the authority to do so.

It is best to confirm all oral agreements promptly in writing, either by fax or email: these days an email counts as "in writing" so you do not have to hunt down a fax machine. An oral agreement is a contract - so long as it includes the necessary legal elements of: offer and acceptance; intention to make an agreement; and a promise of "consideration" (that is, exchange of any things of material value, including money). The difficulty with oral contracts lies in proving what was agreed, if anything.

As soon as a freelance has agreed to carry out a piece of work and has agreed the terms and fee, they have a contract with the client. No matter how rushed the job, you must establish the details: confirm the brief, the agreed fees and expenses, the agreed delivery date, and the rights licensed to the client to use the work.

Often, it is best for the freelance to take the initiative in writing up what has been agreed and sending it to the editor. In general, editors reasonably want to concentrate on content and things go best if the freelance does the thinking about the contract. The Confirmation of Commission form can be useful (see below).

Work submitted "on spec"

Anyone offering work "on spec" must make sure that the client is in no doubt that terms of use have to be agreed before it can be used. (It may be reasonable for freelances to submit articles to a publication they haven't worked for before on the basis that they will be paid if it is used. Otherwise, we advise against submitting work "on spec", and particularly against accepting "on spec" terms instead of a commission - see Negotiating fees.)

Checklist for negotiating a commission

  1. What is the name and position of the person commissioning you?
  2. What have you agreed to do or supply?
  3. When is the deadline?
  4. In what form must the work be delivered - by email, on disk, or even hard copy? What file format does the client want - plain text, Word, RTF or TIFF, JPEG?
  5. What rights are you licensing, for how much?
  6. How many hours or days are you being commissioned for, if you're working on that basis?
  7. What expenses will be paid?
  8. When will you be paid?
  9. Should you, the freelance, invoice? When? To whom? Or will the client make a "self billing" payment?
  10. Do you need to quote a purchase order number or other reference to get paid?
  11. Have you dealt with all relevant insurance issues?
  12. If you are supplying materials such as transparencies, when will they be returned to you?
  13. Are you being asked to "indemnify" your client?

Confirmation of Commission form

The Creators' Copyright Coalition Commission/Confirmation of Sale form (available from the Freelance Office and www.londonfreelance.org/forms) lists a range of rights you might license to a client. Ticking the appropriate boxes on the form will make it clear to you and your client just what you have agreed.

§ See: Negotiating fees advice

§ See: Terms that should alert freelances to problems with a contract a glossary <http://www.londonfreelance.org/fl/1108glos.html>

Indemnities - challenge them and get insurance

Honourable publishers and broadcasters will back freelances if lawsuits arise from work that they have published or broadcast. Some, however, want to offload as much risk as they can, regardless (or perhaps because) of freelances being particularly vulnerable financially.

It is increasingly common for contracts to include clauses that require the journalist to provide "warranties" and indemnities". This has been common in book publishing for a long time.

A warranty clause typically begins "the Author warrants the work will not contain anything defamatory, libellous, indecent or obscene ...."

An indemnity clause typically begins "The Author will indemnify the Publisher against all costs, expenses, damages, etc arising from a breach of the Warranty."

These clauses combined mean that if a freelance agrees to them, and turns out to have breached the warranty, they are liable for fronting the costs of defending any legal action, plus any damages awarded, and both side's legal costs if they lose. This could prove financially ruinous.

The more pernicious contracts combine a warranty, an indemnity and a waiver of the moral right to protect the freelance's work. (You can always tell there's something up when you need four technical glossary entries in one short sentence.)

The effect of such contracts is that the publisher or broadcaster reserves the right to change the work without asking, and then expects the freelance to bear the cost of legal action arising from the resulting mangled version. No freelance should have to bear this risk. In general, publishers and broadcasters are responsible for the editing of work - that's what they're for - and they should bear the liability.

Getting the contract changed

Freelances should, obviously, agree to take all necessary care. As with copyright, it's very often down to the freelance to do the thinking for the editor, who reasonably wants to concentrate on the content, not the details of the contract provided by their firm's legal department.

The freelance may be able simply to score through unacceptable terms before returning the signed contract on paper. Editors will often be more reassured, however, if the freelance provides an acceptable alternative form of words. The freelance must remember to initial each change they make as well as signing at the bottom.

One large publisher, for example, agreed to change its contract wording to:

all statements in the Work purporting to be factual are true to the best of the Author's knowledge having undertaken proper and diligent research with respect hereto

NUJ members under pressure to sign can get advice on alternative wording, including a lawyer-generated alternative form of words, from the Freelance Office.

Insurance

Of course, legal risks can arise regardless of such contracts. Getting an indemnity clause changed does not protect the freelance against the possibility that a strange litigant will decide to sue them instead of the publisher, for example. The NUJ has negotiated an insurance policy for members that covers costs of defending cases brought against freelances for libel and slander, infringement of copyright, breach of confidentiality, negligence, and liability to the public. It covers all work produced since the freelance joined the NUJ and, subject to EU law, wherever in the world the work is published or distributed. See the link below.

Freelances who handle original artwork or transparencies or permissions for the use of these should check that their client has adequate insurance to cover loss, damage or inadvertent copyright infringement.

Freelances commissioned to carry out dangerous work must check that the client will insure them against personal injury and damage to equipment. See the roundup of Safety at work articles.

§ See: Terms that should alert freelances to problems with a contract a glossary <http://www.londonfreelance.org/fl/1108glos.html>

§ See: Professional Indemnity insurance for NUJ members <http://www.imaginginsurance.co.uk/writers.html>

§ See: Case study on needing insurance from the Freelance <http://www.londonfreelance.org/fl/0708libe.html>

Getting your money

When a freelance gets paid is something to sort out in initial negotiation over a job. Many companies have a particular date each month on which they send out payments, and freelances should be paid on the first such date after publication or (depending on what was agreed with the client) after delivery of the work, or after receipt of your invoice.

Fundamental advice to freelances: invoicing

Unless the client you work for operates a system of "self-billing" (see below), invoice promptly for work done. Without an invoice, a client may not even know that payment is due, let alone pay you. On your side, efficient invoicing makes record-keeping easier.

Invoices may be sent to the publication along with delivered work, or at some other point agreed with the client. Remember that any invoice must include at least:

Freelances may choose to use invoice numbers if these help them track who owes what.

Invoice early and invoice often. If the client is late paying, you are likely entitled to at least £40 compensation on each invoice.

The freelance should state on invoices when they expect to be paid (within 30 days, unless otherwise and fairly agreed) and be prepared to remind the client as soon as payment seems to be late. Make it clear that late payment will incur interest and compensation. The UK government suggests this form of words on invoices:

We understand and will exercise our statutory right to interest and compensation for debt recovery costs under the late payment legislation if we are not paid according to agreed credit terms.

See Late payment for advice on what to do if the client ignores this.

Some organisations, or departments within them, allocate order numbers to jobs and will only pay on invoices that quote them. So if necessary make sure you get an order or purchase number and quote it.

Many organisations will ask you for your bank details so that payment can be made straight into your account through the BACS system. It's quicker than a cheque and you will be notified when the money is coming in.

If a job is spread over a long period (this is common in the book trade, for example) try to arrange a system of regular invoicing, either at fixed intervals, such as every month, or at different stages of production, such as a third up front on agreement, a third half-way through, and a third on completion.

Self-billing

Many publications operate a "self-billing" system, in which they pay without needing an invoice. The disadvantage of this system is that it makes it much easier for the client to set the rate for the job if you have not made a clear agreement in advance. If you are paid in this way, be sure to keep a clear record of every piece of work done and the agreed rate, including what rights you licensed to the client.

Some companies that operate self-billing helpfully send freelances itemised accounts, showing what has been paid for each contribution. Freelance contributors should check these against their own records and, if necessary, make sure any mistakes are rectified.

Statements

Some freelances find it helpful to send a statement to a client at the end of the month indicating what they are owed and for what: that is, a list of invoices still due, giving for each:

and at the bottom the total of the amounts due and/or overdue on the date of the statement.

The freelance can then use the statement as a basis for sorting out any under-payment. This practice is especially useful where there are several payments due for different items.

Payment on publication

Where long lead times before publication are involved (for example in books and some monthly magazines) or where the date of publication is left uncertain, freelances should secure payment within a month of delivery of the work.

It may, sometimes, be reasonable for someone starting out in journalism or in a new field to agree to do one article on the basis that it will be used and paid for if it is suitable. Some well-known writers may choose to write first and hawk the result around, specifying "if you are interested in using this, please contact me within seven days to discuss terms".

In other cases, working without a commission is daft.

§ See: BACS to basics - no more excuses from the Freelance <http://www.londonfreelance.org/fl/0702bacs.html>

§ See: Late and problem payments advice

§ See: Negotiating rates + rights advice

Kill fees for commissioned articles

You have a contract, and you fulfil your side of it when you deliver the work. The NUJ recommends that any work commissioned and delivered on time and to specification should be paid for in full, whatever happens to it after that.

Editors who have over-commissioned, changed their minds, or (especially) taken over a previous commissioning editor's job often offer a "kill fee", typically half the agreed fee, instead of the full amount.

The freelance still has to decide whether to press the issue.

If it seems that an editor may be unprofessional enough to find personal animosity in this simple contractual matter, the freelance has to make a judgement on whether they want to work again for such a client.

As always: Negotiate!. As always: to negotiate calmly and reasonably is a sign of professionalism, not of awkwardness.

How much time you put into this may depend, however, on whether the article is time-limited and what other outlets exist. It may be worth reminding the editor that, while Marks and Spencer are famed for a flexible policy on customers returning goods which they bought but later changed their mind about, they don't take sandwiches back and they don't take underwear back.

Late and problem payments

If payment seems to be delayed, do not hesitate to chase it up. Telephone or email a reminder, or both. Late payment is at least as likely to be the result of inefficiency as deliberate procrastination and if you do not remind a client, it can disappear into a pile of paperwork or computer files.

Check with the accounts department whether your payment is under way and, if necessary, contact the person who commissioned you and ask them to hurry things up.

The more you delay the less likely you are to be paid. Do not get into the position of the freelance who continued to work for a client on the promise of payment and of more work - until they were owed £14,000. (They were lucky and were eventually paid, with the help of the NUJ's Freelance Office.)

Freelances who suspect clients are having financial problems should strive to get their money as soon as possible. Companies that are having financial problems do not always tell the whole truth.

Basic steps to collect overdue payments

Accounts departments often react to a "statement" - that is, a dated document headed "statement of account" that simply lists each invoice:

and at the bottom the total of the amounts due on the date of the statement. (Yes, you add up all one invoices if there is only one. This makes the accountants feel you speak their language.)

If they cannot pay

If a client cannot pay you - that is, if the company goes into liquidation - you become a creditor, with the banks, the staff and the Inland Revenue ahead of you in the queue for whatever money is available. Although there is often little chance of a freelance receiving substantial payment, make sure the liquidator or administrator has your details as well as comprehensive details of your claim. Make sure the liquidator acknowledges your claim as a valid one.

You can check the status of a UK company, and get the address of the liquidator if one has indeed been appointed, at the Companies House website (see the link below). Once you have found the right company, look for "Liquidation creditors"

But most importantly, NUJ members should contact the Freelance Office for advice if they have reason to suspect that a client may be in financial trouble.

Late payment

Clients who pay late must by law pay compensation and penalty interest.

The Late Payment of Commercial Debt (Interest) Act (1988) was amended in 2002 to include fixed penalties in addition to interest. For debt of less than £1000 the penalty is £40, rising to £70 for debts up to £9,999.99 and £100 above that. Interest is payable at 8 per cent over Bank of England base rate. The penalties and interest now apply to all businesses regardless of size.

The payment clock starts ticking when you deliver the work, or on the day when your client has notice of the amount they owe you, whichever is the later. The client then has 30 days to pay - unless the freelance and the client agree on a reasonable alternative period. Clients must not pressure freelances or attempt to impose unreasonable payment terms.

Be clear when you invoice for work that "payment is due within 30 days".

The UK government suggests this form of words on invoices:

We understand and will exercise our statutory right to interest and compensation for debt recovery costs under the late payment legislation if we are not paid according to agreed credit terms.
but the law applies whether or not you mention it on an invoice.

Copies of the official guide should be available from the government and industry website www.payontime.co.uk (see link below) and the Freelance Office has a full guide for NUJ members on using late payment legislation

How freelances can chase up late payers

  1. Invoice for the work done - include the above form of words if you have any doubt about the client paying on time. Print and file a copy of the invoice.
  2. Especially if you have any doubts, invoice early and invoice often. If the client is late paying, you are likely entitled to £40 compensation on each invoice. So invoice separately for each piece of work!
  3. Issue a statement as above if payment has not arrived on the due date (usually 30 days after the invoice can reasonably be taken to have arrived). Definitely mention the Late Payment of Commercial Debts Act on this. Print and file a copy of the statement.
  4. You could legally add the compensation at that point. But you may want to give the client a grace period. You may want to telephone or email the editor to remind them nicely. But if you speak to them, immediately after the call write down what you said and what they said, with their name and the time and date, just in case.
  5. If you have received nothing, say, two weeks later, issue a second invoice for the compensation and for interest (even if it is only a few pounds). See the interest calculator. With this invoice send a second statement, listing the original invoice and this new one and adding them up. Send both of these directly to the accounts department, not to an editor who may be tempted to put them in a drawer. From this point on it is best that you communicate about the late payment in question only in writing, on paper, keeping a printed copy of everything.
  6. Most accounts departments pay up at this stage. But if there is still no response, the next stage is to send a letter using the Royal Mail Signed For service (previously known Recorded Delivery: see link below), giving 14 days' notice of your intention to go to court.

NUJ members who have provided a late payer with a statement setting out the interest and compensation due on the late payment, and still had no response, may now decide to hand the case over to the union. The Freelance Office has been very successful in retrieving debts by a simple exchange of letters or telephone calls. The Collect-o-Matic form makes the process much more efficient.

Collect-o-Matic

London Freelance Branch has launched an online service to help the Freelance Office help NUJ members claim from clients who still do not pay after being invoiced and statemented. The Collect-o-Matic form is designed to proofread the details before you send them, to save to-ing and fro-ing - find it at www.londonfreelance.org/collect.html. The full details you provide allow the NUJ to send a stiff letter on a member's behalf. If that does not work, the union can help members pursue clients in court - though this is not difficult to do yourself. Members who deal with claims themselves should keep the NUJ informed as they may need its advice or support later.

The small claims court

If you start court proceedings, for sums under £5000 you will end up in the Small Claims Court. The first step is to issue a summons, for which you have to pay a fee, which varies according to the size of the debt - in September 2011 it started at £35 for debts up to £300 and was £80 for debts up to £1000 (see the links below). You can now issue claims online at MoneyClaim - see link below - with a fee of £70 for claims up to £1000.

The Freelance Office will send NUJ members leaflets about taking a case through the Small Claims Court and will give you advice to guide you through what is, in fact, a very simple procedure.

Note, though, that members who are claiming for copyright abuse, rather than late payment for an agreed use, are strongly advised to seek extra help from the NUJ.

The union can represent you at the hearing and provide expert witnesses, should you need them - for example where the value of lost transparencies has to be established.

Protect yourself

Chasing payments is time-consuming, and if your client collapses financially you may never be paid. So do not let clients run up large bills. If someone fails to pay, and seems to be in trouble, or simply to be unscrupulous, there is no point in continuing to work for them, hoping to gain favour and eventually payment. The chances are you will simply end up with an even bigger debt due to you.

Remember:

You will find the occasional Attention! items run by the Freelance useful - see the link below.

The hard cases

Of course, a Small Claims judgement merely confirms what is owed: the money still has to be collected. This is the stage where you really want the power of the union behind you. The NUJ has, for example, successfully used the threat of putting a publisher through liquidation proceedings to enforce a claim - a step that would be rather less credible coming from an individual (and, to be sure, one that only works on a publisher that wants to continue trading). It can also apply for liquidation to be delayed if it seems that offers a better chance of members being paid.

And a word of warning: about the worst defamation you can make of a company is to say that it is insolvent when no liquidation order has been made. So in public discussion you must restrict yourself to the documented facts: what you invoiced for and how long ago.

§ See: Companies House online checks, now 24 hours <http://wck2.companieshouse.gov.uk/>

§ See: Interest and penalty calculator for freelances <http://www.londonfreelance.org/interest.html>

§ See: Collect-o-Matic checks the details needed - for NUJ members <http://www.londonfreelance.org/collect.html>

§ See: www.payontime.co.uk guidance <http://www.payontime.co.uk>

§ See: www.moneyclaim.gov.uk enter a claim online <http://www.moneyclaim.gov.uk/>

§ See: Making a court claim for money including Small Claims & fees <https://www.gov.uk/make-court-claim-for-money/overview>

§ See: Court information links to current Small Claims fees <http://hmctscourtfinder.justice.gov.uk/HMCTS/GetLeaflet.do?court_leaflets_id=264>

§ See: Royal Mail Signed For service <http://www.royalmail.com/parcel-despatch-low/uk-delivery/royal-mail-signed-1st-class>

§ See: Getting your money basic advice

§ See: Negotiating fees basic advice

§ See: Attention! items from the Freelance <http://www.londonfreelance.org/fl/attn.html>

Shift payments - tax and time off

Some freelances working shifts have found themselves "taxed at source" - that is, Income Tax and National Insurance is deducted from their fees as if they were employed staff.

A major advantage of self-employed status is that business expenses can be claimed as costs against gross income, reducing taxable income and therefore increasing after-tax income. Another advantage is simply that self-employed status means the freelance pays the tax later - which is considerably less burdensome if they are getting started, or in general if their income is increasing. And dealing with a mixture of gross and net payments can make the bad dream that is an Income Tax return a nightmare.

Maintaining self-employed status may also have implications for copyright ownership: see Rights and why they are important.

Broadly speaking, freelances who work for several clients in the course of each year usually meet the definition of self-employment and are entitled to be paid the full fee for each shift, settling up Income Tax and National Insurance later. See Employment status for a slightly more detailed discussion of when you are employed and when you are self-employed.

Periodically, however, the Inland Revenue visits publishers and broadcasters to encourage them to put everyone on Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE). This means the Revenue gets the money much earlier, and they seem to believe it will save them collection costs. The Revenue threatens companies that if they engage someone as self-employed when they should have been on PAYE, the company may be liable for retroactive tax payments. Frequently, however, a patient explanation after such a visit can get freelances who work shifts, and should be treated as self-employed, back to being paid gross.

Some clients claim that their computer systems simply refuse to recognise the existence of freelances. Public educational institutions seem to be particularly fond of this. Remind them that if they can manage to pay plumbers and buy tea, they can pay you.

Freelance journalists who wish to argue that they are independent providers of services can appeal against Income Tax and National Insurance being deducted from their payments on a PAYE basis. The NUJ Freelance Office has a model letter for NUJ members, adaptable to individual circumstances, to be sent to the relevant tax office.

Paid time off

The thrust of European Union labour rights law is to grant rights to "workers" regardless of their formal employment status. The major practical effect of this in the UK - so far - is that every freelance who works shifts is entitled to paid time off. This is not, strictly, "holiday pay". It comes under EU Health and Safety legislation intended to insure that all workers do in fact take time off - and get paid for it.

All workers are entitled to 28 days' paid time off per year when they work a five-day week, and pro rata. So if a freelance works one day a week for a particular client, that client must pay them for 5.6 days off per year.

Many publishers and broadcasters have now made this routine and automatically pay up, for example at the end of the year. Some pay it at the same time as they pay for days worked; this is legal so long as the paid time off is clearly itemised.

Any freelance NUJ member who has difficulty getting this paid time off should contact the Freelance office.

There’s more...

The regulations also give all workers the right to a rest period during a shift. They stipulate a minimum rest period between the end of one shift and the beginning of the next.

There is a campaign to get benefits such as paid parental leave extended to all workers. It has not yet borne fruit.

And there’s less...

Some freelances believe that if they work daily shifts on a casual basis they acquire the right to be offered a staff job after a year's service. This is an urban legend. It is false. It appears, however, to be an urban legend that is believed by some clients, which make a point of dropping such "casuals" after 51 weeks. Someone who works in this way may acquire protection from unfair dismissal or the the possibility of negotiating compensation for "redundancy" - but neither is at all the same thing as being offered a job.

Incorporation and partnerships

Some freelance journalists have "incorporated" - formed limited companies - or set up partnerships. (See Setting up a company.) Doing so does not necessarily imply that they should be paid gross: the Inland Revenue obtained the notorious "IR35" rule to ensure that they can charge such companies income tax.

Contrariwise, at least one trade union researcher (not working for the NUJ) believes that such companies are entitled to paid time off. We are not aware, however, that this has yet been tested.

§ See: Rights and why they are important advice

§ See: Setting up a company advice

§ See: Employment status how the theory works

§ See: Your rights as a worker from the Freelance <http://www.londonfreelance.org/fl/0307work.html>

§ See: Employed, self-employed and kippered by an accountant <http://www.londonfreelance.org/fl/0207tax.html>

Employment status

It would seem at first glance that a freelance is by definition not "employed". But unfortunately there are details to get to grips with. These details have important consequences - they affect how much a freelance gets paid for doing a shift or other work paid by the day, deductions at source and whether they are entitled to paid time off. See Shift payments - tax and time off for a practical guide to those questions. Since so many freelances and clients ask about the principles, this section discusses them.

Employed or self-employed?

Freelance journalists, whether earning money by selling licences to reproduce articles, photographs, audio interviews or films, or selling their time by working shifts as a reporter or subeditor, have historically enjoyed self-employed status. Some freelances working shifts or under short-term contracts, however, have found themselves "taxed at source" - that is, Income Tax and National Insurance is deducted from their fees as if they were employed staff.

This may have wide-ranging implications for the freelance in terms of their tax liability. An advantage of self-employment is that business expenses can be claimed as costs against gross income, reducing taxable income. However, the self-employed have no entitlement to sick leave, maternity pay, or company pension provision.

It may also have implications for copyright ownership: see Rights and why they are important.

So what makes you "self-employed"?

Being primarily self-employed does not necessarily mean you will be classed as self-employed for the purposes of any particular job you take on. Each job will be considered on its merit.

The Inland Revenue publishes guidelines, for Income Tax, but they do not cover every situation. There can even be variations among the ways that individual tax offices interpret the legislation. Factors that make it more likely that a freelance will be accepted as self-employed include:

No one factor is decisive.

In the legal jargon an employee is bound by a contract of service and a freelance is engaged under a contract for service. Consider the case of a car mechanic. If you hire them to fix cars in general, on your premises, and tell them how to do it, it is rather likely that you have employed them. If you take your car to them and merely require that it be returned fixed, that is clearly a contract for service (in both senses of "service"...)

So there's no single answer?

No, there is not. Trickily, it is possible for the Inland Revenue, National Insurance and Employment Tribunals all to take different views of a worker's employment status with respect to a particular job.

For example, an Employment Appeal Tribunal ruling published in January 2006 held that someone who was engaged to do marketing for three years - but not instructed to do any task in particular - was entitled to claim unfair dismissal. This would not, however, bind the tax authorities either way. Some freelances contracted to write columns, for example, have negotiated compensatory payments when the contracts have been terminated, though these are not strictly redundancy payments.

A person can be self-employed while doing one job and employed while doing another, even in relation to the same company. Many employers/client companies are struggling with these concepts, as is the Inland Revenue.

If you are unclear on your status, you should seek advice from the NUJ Freelance Office (having first joined the NUJ if you have not done so already).

Part-time workers

The general thrust of European Union legislation is to grant certain rights to "workers" regardless of their employment status. One practical outcome of this is that all freelances who work shifts are entitled to paid time off. While a freelance is being paid to license reproduction of a piece of work, rather than paid by the hour or the day, they do not generally qualify as a "worker". See the links below.

Representation

All workers, whether employed or contracted as freelances, are entitled to be accompanied at a disciplinary or grievance hearing by a companion of their choice. This includes a union rep or full-time official, even where the company does not recognise the union. This is yet another reason for joining the NUJ.

§ See: Shift payments - tax and time off practical advice

§ See: Employed, self-employed and kippered by an accountant <http://www.londonfreelance.org/fl/0207tax.html>

§ See: Rights and why they are important advice

§ See: Your rights as a worker from the Freelance <http://www.londonfreelance.org/fl/0307work.html>

Tax and National Insurance

As a self-employed freelance journalist you are responsible for paying your own Income Tax and National Insurance.

Income Tax

When you start trading as a freelance journalist, you should register as self-employed with the tax office. Complete the registration form - see the link below. .

Self-assessment

Self-assessment tax returns are sent out every April, and must be returned by the end of October or, if you or your accountant are happy to do all the tax computations and you file online, by the end of the following January (along with the payment!).

Under the Self-Assessment scheme, freelances must keep full records of income and expenditure - and preserve them for five years and ten months after the end of the tax year to which they relate. "Full records" include all payment vouchers, P60 forms issued at the year end by any clients that deduct tax at source, and receipts for all expenditure.

Freelances have to make payments of the tax due in two half-yearly chunks, in January and July. Under the Self-Assessment scheme, tax payments are estimated amounts paid on account with a refund or surcharge made the following year once the actual figures are known.

Under Self-Assessment everyone has a tax reference number. Make sure you know yours: it can be helpful in proving to clients that you are properly registered as self-employed with the Inland Revenue. It does not, however, give you the right to be considered self-employed with respect to work which the Inland Revenue decides should be taxed as employment. See Employment status.

National Insurance

National Insurance payments for self-employed people fall into two categories:

If some of your work is taxed at source you will also be paying Class 1 National Insurance - the "employee's contribution". If this is the case you may end up paying more National Insurance than is required from one person, in which case you should be entitled to a rebate. Discuss this with your local National Insurance office.

Tax credits

Any freelance aged 25 or over who works at least 30 hours per week and whose income after expenses and so on falls below a certain level can claim Working Tax Credit. Those over 16 who have children can claim Child Tax Credit.

When the Freelance tried the site out in September 2011, it said that a single person under 50 with a no children and a taxable income of £12,000 - working more than 30 hours a week - was (at that time) entitled to £233 a year, and those with lower taxable incomes progressively more - up to £1489. There is more for people over 50 returning to work and for people with disabilities.

"Taxable income" is what is left after you subtract business expenses, pension payments and so on from your turnover but before paying Income Tax and National Insurance.

§ See: Tax credits from HM Revenue & Customs <http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/taxcredits/>

§ See: Money from the government the Freelance on tax credits <http://www.londonfreelance.org/fl/0307tax.html>

§ See: Employed, self-employed and kippered by an accountant <http://www.londonfreelance.org/fl/0207tax.html>

§ See: Tax returns for the self-employed from HM Revenue and Customs - incl. registration <http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/sa/self-emp.htm>

§ See: VAT (Value Added Tax)

§ See: Employment status advice

§ See: HM Revenue and Customs (ex Inland Revenue) <http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/>

VAT (Value Added Tax)

If your turnover exceeds the threshold figure of £73,000 a year (as of 1 April 2011), you must register for Value Added Tax (VAT). You must register as soon as your turnover in any tax year exceeds the current threshold. You must also register immediately if you have "reasonable grounds to expect" that your turnover in the next month will be over the threshold - for example, if negotiations about a £73,000 job are going well!

Some freelances find it worth registering before they reach the threshold, if they calculate that it will be financially worthwhile to claim back the VAT paid on equipment. The high cost of photographic equipment can make this particularly attractive for photographers.

Being registered can also be helpful in persuading clients not to deduct Income Tax and National Insurance at source.

How VAT works

Any freelance who is registered for VAT must add it at the current rate to every invoice they issue. When they fill in a VAT return they add up the total VAT they have charged (confusingly, the forms call this the VAT on their "supplies"). They also add up the total VAT they have paid on business equipment and, er, supplies (in the English sense: the forms call these "inputs"). They must pay the difference to HM Revenue and Customs. This net payment therefore represents the tax on the "value added" to the inputs.

You can also claim back the VAT on some assets acquired before you registered.

Because (almost) all clients are registered for VAT, the work of a VAT-registered freelance does not cost them any more. They claim back the VAT on their inputs from VAT-registered freelances, just as these claim back the VAT on their inputs. (Of course a freelance who worked entirely for small organisations or those that have trouble doing accounts would meet resistance - but such a freelance would have other problems.)

Usually, clients that operate self-billing systems accept that VAT-registered freelances will submit actual invoices. Faced with a particularly obtuse accounts department, however, it may be necessary to invoice separately for the VAT only, after the main payment has arrived.

Beware the dark side

A freelance who is registered for VAT will save £300 when they buy computer equipment for business use with a price tag of £1500 (at the 2011 rate of 20 per cent).

We advise, however, thinking seriously before registering voluntarily. The work involved in filling out VAT returns may wipe out any advantage - particularly if you are paying an accountant to do it. VAT records must be preserved for six years. The penalties for late completion of returns and late payment of due VAT can be severe.

Annual returns

If your turnover is under £1,350,000 (!) you can apply to send in just one VAT return a year, due two months after the end of your financial year. This can reduce the administrative overhead. You must still, however, make payments of your estimated VAT liability at least quarterly.

The flat-rate scheme

Some freelances swear by the "flat-rate scheme". Under this, you pay a flat percentage of your receipts to the government. This saves the effort of adding up all your invoices and all your receipts.

For what HM Revenue and Customs describe as "journalists" this flat rate is 12.5 per cent - and for photographers it is 11 per cent (as of 4 January 2011).

For each £1000 that any photographer who is registered for VAT bills to clients, they must charge an additional £200 in VAT. Under the flat-rate scheme they would pay £110 of this to the government, leaving them £90 toward the VAT they paid out on equipment and supplies. A journalist who is not a photographer would pay £125, leaving them £75.

You can apply to HM Revenue and Customs for permission to go on the flat-rate scheme when you register for VAT, or afterwards. The scheme is available to those whose turnover is less than £150,000 (as of January 2011).

While on the flat-rate scheme, you can also still claim back the actual VAT you paid on any capital assets that cost £2000 or (including VAT) more each.

It appears that in your first year of registration you can pay one per cent less than these rates - that is, you keep an extra £10 per £1000 of net billing.

One accountant comments that the Treasury would never have approved this scheme if it meant that freelances paid them less. The existence of the scheme does lighten the dark side by providing an escape route from doing full returns.

Deregistration

If you can show that your turnover will be under £71,000 (as of January 2011) you can apply to de-register. You will have to go on accounting for VAT until HM Revenue and Customs agree that you can deregister.

§ See: Tax and National Insurance

§ See: HM Revenue and Customs (ex Customs and Excise) <http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/>

§ See: Flat rate scheme information (from HMRC) <http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/vat/start/schemes/flat-rate.htm>

Setting up a company

Some freelances set up limited companies that charge for their services and pay them a salary.

Doing this can be helpful in persuading clients, the Revenue and others that you should be paid gross, without deduction of Income Tax and National Insurance Contributions at source.

It is, however, definitely not decisive. HM Revenue and Customs have of course caught on to the possibilities and introduced the "IR35" rules - which mean that companies can be charged Income Tax. Whether you would be caught by IR35 is a complicated question. The rule is that it applies if you provide personal services (that is, the services of you personally - not what you are thinking) and:

the circumstances are such that, if you had provided the services directly to the client under a contract between you and the client, you would have been regarded for Income Tax purposes as an employee of the client and/or, for NICs purposes, as employed in employed earner's employment by the client.

It seems, anecdotally, that the people who are caught by IR35 are mainly those whose companies supply their services to one client for a period of months at a time.

Possible benefits...

A company that is accepted by HM Revenue and Customs as a genuine provider of services to a wide variety of clients can offer tax advantages. Profits can stay with the company, with Income Tax payable only on the amount that the freelance needs to draw as salary.

The current rate of Corporation Tax is 20 per cent (from 1 April 2011) on all company profits up to £300,000. The 2006 Budget replaced a complicated system of tax bands and special taxes on distributed profits. It appears that the intention was to make setting up a company less tax-efficient for freelances.

What does this mean? In 2002 an accountant told the NUJ's London Freelance Branch that someone earning £20,000 might save about £1500, but of course they would have to pay company registration fees and keep much more complicated accounts - for which an accountant would charge from £50 to £400 an hour. A financial journalist estimated the net saving to someone earning £100,000 as about £3000. These threshholds beyond which freelances may make savings would be higher now.

Limitations of limited liability

The "limited liability" that "incorporation" as a company provides is probably not of enormous use to a journalist. True, if the bottom falls out of your market, winding up a company may be less painful than personal bankruptcy. But many of the large liabilities that journalists face - particularly the risk of being sued for defamation - are personal liabilities and the only effect of having a company would be that it could need legal representation as well.

You must take professional legal and accounting advice before embarking on setting up a company.

You may receive offers to set up a company for you, or see advertisements for schemes that have you selling your services through someone else's company. It is our journalistic judgement that these are designed solely to draw you into paying accountancy and administration charges. There are several websites that claim to offer support to freelance journalists but on closer inspection turn out to be lightly customised versions of generic templates for marketing such services. Some have the appearance of Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) schemes. Beware. Take independent professional advice.

§ See: Should you be a company? brief Freelance piece <http://www.londonfreelance.org/fl/0209ltd.html>

§ See: Employed, Self-employed and Kippered from an accountant <http://www.londonfreelance.org/fl/0207tax.html>

§ See: IR35 page HM Revenue & Customs <http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/ir35/>

Tracking down pirates

The internet makes it much easier for unscrupulous publishers and individuals to rip off your articles or photos, in breach of your copyright. In return, it also makes it possible for you to track down such abuses yourself. Of course, you can only do anything about those abuses if you have kept copyright in your work.

In the age of print, you would never know that your work was appearing in a paper on the other side of the world, unless a friend or relative or colleague spotted it and thought to call you. In the age of the internet, you can go looking - not only for internet rip-offs, but often for rip-offs by traditional print media that have internet editions.

Publishers' associations bang on about "piracy", but of course a very large portion of the pirating of articles and images consists of publishers ripping off writers, photographers and illustrators.

So how do you chase them down?

There are three steps:

Advising people who may not be familiar with the technology behind the internet how to do this takes a lot of words, so we have broken this down into sections. Unfortunately, it's important that you read them all.

Effective searching for text

To find all copies of one piece of your work online, you need to learn strategies for effective web searching. The one most important tip is this: don't search for words that describe an article, search for phrases that are contained in that article - and not in anyone else's.

If you are searching for web pages that may contain rip-offs of one of your photos, that means that you should be searching for words that would appear together in a decent caption for that photo, and nowhere else.

Ego-surfing

First, of course, you will look for your own name, in case the rippers-off have been silly enough to include it.

You almost always want to put names in quote marks, thus -

"Jane Smith"
- so that the search engine will find only web pages with that name - "Jane Smith" together as a phrase - not those that merely mention a Charles Smith and a Jane Dickens.

Leave it out!

If you are unfortunate enough to have namesakes widely referenced on the web, you may be able to exclude them. For example in Google Jane Smith could exclude a namesake who sells quilting patterns:

"Jane Smith" -quilt -quilting
- the minus sign excludes pages containing either of the words "quilt" or "quilting". (The minus sign is the same as the hyphen on a computer keyboard! You will want to use your own name, not Jane's.)

This minus-sign convention appears to work at www.altavista.com too. In other search engines you want to head for the "advanced search" option, if there is one, and look for the place to enter words that "must not be included" or to search for pages that include "none of these words".

Narrowing it down

Or you could add extra words that narrow the search results down to your work. Think laterally. If Jane Smith is looking for book reviews,

"Jane Smith" ISBN
may be a very good search, since many reviews will contain the ISBN of the book. They may not contain the word "review".

Note the general principle: the more words you put into a search form, the fewer web pages you get back. That's because the search engine will try to find you pages that contain all the words.

Of course, it's better if you had the foresight to start doing your journalism under a unique name. The actors' union Equity insists that no two members share a stage name for a reason.

Originality rewarded

Far better than searching for your name, though, is searching for the most unusual phrase in an article.

If, for example, you've reviewed a book entitled "Logic Made Easy", a search for that will produce everything everyone's posted to the web about it, plus every page that uses this phrase about anything else. But a search for the phrase

"cooked up by envious environmentalists"
(with quote marks) will produce that article, and only that article. (And of course this page.)

Life beyond Google™

Actually, www.google.com didn't at first find it, using that search phrase. You need to use other search engines as well.

Google's advantage is a patented scheme that frequently displays the web pages that you want first, before less-relevant pages. But www.altavista.com and www.alltheweb.com both include more web pages from many sites than Google does, as does www.yahoo.com - and if you search cleverly, as described here, you can easily outdo Google's cleverness.

You could also try www.a9.com - though it doesn't seem to have the "advanced search" facility that allows you to specify words that the pages returned must not contain.

If your article doesn't include any improbable phrases, you can search for an improbable combination of words or phrases:

cooked "envious environmentalists"
finds the above review, and only it (and this), using Google.

The general principle is, again: search for a combination of words and phrases that should appear in the web page you are looking for, and no other. Looking for a different piece, the bizarre search

"bicameral mind" "bed-covers"
produced only the original review when we first checked in Google, but www.altavista.com turns up at least five "web reprints".

By the way, there's little point searching for a phrase of more than about 10 words, at least initially. Most search engines will ignore excess words and some may get confused.

TIP: Given a page of search results, Windows users can click with the right mouse button on the links and Mac users can hold down the Control key while clicking on it. A menu pops up and you can select either "open in new window" or "open in new tab" from it. This makes it easy to keep your place in the search results.

You should soon acquire the skill of scanning the 20-word extract from a page and its URL to see whether it's worth a quick flip over to look at it. (Like learning to swim, this skill is hard to describe in writing.)

TIP: Google provides an alerts service. Once you have found the perfect search term to find copies of an article, you can ask Google to email you every time a new matching page shows up.

Scanning individual sites

Some sites have useful search facilities of their own. But you can often get better results using the facility Google provides to scan a particular site, with searches such as these increasingly specific examples:

site:channel4.com
site:channel4.com/news
site:channel4.com/news glastonbury

The rule when you specify site: is that immediately after it you type part of the URL - up to and including the .com or .co.uk or .ac.uk or whatever - and then optionally add part of the stuff after the "slash" - for example /news and a space and more words. AltaVista/Yahoo Advanced Search offers a similar facility - enter this information under Location / by URL - and once again it returns more results.

§ See: www.altavista.com the first powerful search engine (absorbed by Yahoo!) <http://www.altavista.com>

§ See: www.alltheweb.com search engine <http://www.alltheweb.com>

§ See: search.yahoo.com search engine <http://search.yahoo.com>

§ See: www.bing.com from Microsoft <http://www.bing.com/>

§ See: www.duckduckgo.com/ search anonymously <https://duckduckgo.com/>

Finding photos and illustrations

Technology for finding photographs is likely to change quite fast. In the fairly near future it may be possible to send a photo to a special search engine that will find other photos that look like it. At the moment, though, your best bet is to search for text that would be likely to be wrapped round a particular photo. Please see the draft section Photography / Tracking down pirates.

We plan to expand and revise that section and this page soon - please send your comments to ffg@londonfreelance.org

The principles of finding photographs apply equally to finding illustrations.

§ See: Photography / Tracking down pirates

Once you have found a rip-off...

As soon as you find ripped-off articles or photos, you need to start collecting evidence as though you were going to court. It'll help in negotiation, even if you don't get to court. And courts like paper much more than they like computer files.

Print everything you find, making sure that your browser is putting the date and time in the page footer. For this reason a printout is better than a screen grab, if harder on the forest. If you know how, you could make a screen grab and add your own date and time, but unscrupulous pirates (and is there any other kind?) know they could get lawyers to quibble - so we won't explain to those who don't know.

You can keep electronic copies on your hard disk as well if you like. They can be easier to find. We recommend making PostScript files because you can re-locate them by searching your hard disk if you forget where you put them - and they're more likely to be accepted in evidence. But a tutorial in how to do that is beyond the scope of this Guide.

How long has it been there?

Copy and paste the URL of the page you have found into www.archive.org to look for earlier versions of the same page. This allows you, with some patience, to find out how long the rip-off has been posted on the web. Print out the earliest version you can find.

Note that you cannot search www.archive.org for content - text or pictures. You have to find the URL (web address) of a page, and then find that in the archive. The archive system appears to wait a few months before displaying pages that it has saved. It may not save every page from a website every time it visits some of that site. It often fails to save copies of pictures - but you can often see where they were on the page.

Photographer David Hoffman has recommended visiting www.touchgraph.com (now charging, but offering a 30-day trial: see link below). This maps visually what websites are connected to the one you found (you will need to know how to make sure you "have the latest version of Java installed"). He finds that the sites it finds often have further rip-offs of his pictures.

Locating website owners

There are two parts to the question, "who owns that website?" - the owner of the name of the site, and the owner of the machine on which the site lives. These may or may not be the same person or organisation. In turn, they may or may not be the same as the organisation that claims ownership of the content - including ripping-off your work. It's the last one you want to negotiate with, but having the other details recorded helps in that process, because it helps you take action against the pirate if they don't pay.

Who owns the website name?

Open up a universal lookup service - see link below (they come and go, and we do our best to update that). Copy and paste the name of the website into its search box. It should come back with details of the owner of the name, usually with email and phone contacts. For example, to find out who owns http://www.example.com paste in just

example.com
(You drop the "www." because one name registration covers www.example.com for their website as well as mail.example.com for their email servers, and so on.)

If this doesn't work, visit the regional name registration databases directly: again, see below.

Sometimes people and smaller organisations register names through services that don't reveal their contact details to any of the public databases. We find that a visit to the "WhoIs" lookup provided by one of these services - www.godaddy.com (see live link below) - sometimes produces results when other searches fail.

The results often list two organisations: first that which owns the name, and then that through which the name was registered. Sometimes the second is the same as the organisation that owns the "host" computer - but best to check..

Who owns the website host - the machine it lives on?

Open up the "terminal window" or "command prompt" program on your computer. (Search for these phrases in your operating system if you can't find it in the menus. On a Windows computer you can also hit the "Start" button, click "Run", then type command into the box that appears.)

If you're interested in www.example.com then in the terminal window that appears type

ping www.example.com
(Here you do include the "www.") You will see:
Pinging www.example.com [208.77.188.166] with 32 bytes of data:

The number 208.77.188.166 is the actual internet address (the "Internet Protocol number" or "IP number") of the computer that stores the files that make up the website www.example.com

Some jargon translation may help: it is the "Domain Name System" (DNS) that translates a "domain name" such as "example.com" into an "IP number". In effect, the DNS asks around the internet: "anyone know where 'www.example.com' lives?" until something - in last resort one of the databases listed above - returns the IP number.

Now go back to www.allwhois.com and in the search box type the IP number you got for the website you're interested in.

With any luck, it'll tell you who owns that computer, in the same format as the name registration information. If not, try the other options given under "Who owns the domain name?" .

Who owns that newspaper or magazine, though?

Sometimes, it is neither the website name owner nor the website host owner who you first want to approach for payment.

If your work has been ripped off by What Fridge? magazine, you want to approach the publisher first. And some newspapers and magazines are cagey about giving out contact details, except for a form that sends email to ignore-this@what-fridge.co.uk

They are, however, keen for potential advertisers to get in touch reliably and immediately. So that's where you look on their website for proper contact details. This is often where you find out who owns the publication - for example if they give emails in the form what-fridge-ads@moloch-media.co.uk

You can also check whether the publication is listed on The Owners database - see link below - which has links to the corporate (rather than the publicity) websites of many media owners.

§ See: www.whois-search.com/ universal lookup service <http://www.whois-search.com/>

§ See: www.ripe.net name registry for Europe <https://apps.db.ripe.net/search/query.html>

§ See: www.AfriNIC.net name registry for Africa <http://www.AfriNIC.net>

§ See: www.APnic.net name registry for Asia-Pacific <http://www.APnic.net>

§ See: www.arin.net name registry for North America <http://www.arin.net>

§ See: www.LACNIC.net name registry for Latin America <http://www.LACNIC.net>

§ See: www.InterNIC.net non-national name registry <http://www.internic.net/whois.html>

§ See: www.godaddy.com semi-anonymous name registration <http://www.godaddy.com/?ci=8926>

§ See: The Owners database of what we know about them <../owners/index.html>

Getting remedies

You need to decide as soon as you've found a rip-off what you want. We recommend first going for cash. As Samuel Johnson said: "No one but a blockhead writes but for money," and the same goes for photos.

So, first, you're negotiating. Then you're taking steps to collect on a debt from a reluctant payer. Only if that fails, or if your work is ripped off in a context that damages your reputation, should you set out to get the rip-off removed from the internet.

First, write politely. Photographer David Hoffman writes:

If there is more than one image I've found it best to only mention that I've seen one, and not let on that I know how long it's been online. It is very useful to be able to judge how honest and open the site owner is at an early stage. My initial approach is very gentle and bland: I just mention that I can't find a record of a licence for the use and ask them to let me know the terms of the licence they have. If they come clean at that point I can expect an easy ride. If not then I can give them every opportunity to stitch themselves up thoroughly before I start to shake them down.

Second, If the response is not a satisfactory offer of payment, then invoice the site owner or publisher for at least double what you would have charged them to display your work on their site, had they asked nicely. As David Hoffman says, "The sentence I cannot accept that copyright infringement can ever be a cheaper route to publication than licensed use is now hard-wired into my brain."

To work out what you would have charged them, dig up documentation of what you have actually charged similar clients for similar authorised use - and, remember, double it.

Note that the advice to double what you would have charged is a suggested bargaining position. It would be rational for them to accept it and pay up, rather than going to all the trouble and expense and uncertainty of having a court decide what they actually have to pay you.

Consider asking for extra payment on top of that if there is a breach of your moral rights or if the breach is flagrant. A prime case of breach of moral rights would, as noted, be a publication that gives the appearance that you endorse a product contrary to the NUJ Code of Conduct.

Obviously, your approach will differ depending on whether the pirate is http://some-nobody.blogspot.com with a readership of one (his mum) - or the Moloch Media Corporation with profits in the billions. The former, you might offer a chance to licence your picture for some fairly small sum, or even, possibly, let them post extracts of an article of yours on condition they link to your website so clients can find you. The latter, you'll want to charge for every minute your work has been on their site.

Third, if you have no response to the invoice, send a statement and a copy of the invoice. See Getting your money for generic advice.

And if they don't pay?

If the pirate is based in the UK, you could take them to Small Claims Court. There are, however, complications - see here - and NUJ members should contact the Freelance Office before proceeding.

If the pirate is based in the US there's not much you can do about pursuing the abuse as a debt, unless you registered the work with the Register of Copyrights. (We need an advice section on the US registration system. Coming soon.) This is another case where getting the piracy taken down is an option.

If the pirate is in the EU... the new European Small Claims Procedure will make it easier to collect money from January 2009: see this Freelance article.

In the meantime, and for non-EU countries, you have to investigate the Small Claims procedure of the country in question. NUJ members could try approaching the International Federation of Journalists member union in the country to see whether they'd be interested in helping you informally, since by pirating your work the publisher is taking work away from their members.

§ See: Find your local UK Trading Standards office <http://www.tradingstandards.gov.uk/>

Takedown

If you get fed up trying to collect cash, and anyway if you object to the context in which your work has been pirated, then you want it removed from the internet.

This is where the contact details for the company that owns the web host come in handy - see Locating website owners. In the US and EU at least, you can contact them to demand that they get their customer to remove your work. If their customer does not respond, the hosting company may and should remove the entire site.

Letters to hosting companies in the US should state that they are a takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Letters to hosting companies in the EU may refer to their country's implementation of the "Directive on the harmonisation of Certain Aspects of Copyright and Related Rights in the Information Society (2001/29/EC)".

In the UK that would involve pointing out to the internet service provider - the hosting company - that Section 27 of "Statutory Instrument 2003 No. 2498 - The Copyright and Related Rights Regulations 2003" allows you to seek an injunction against them to remove your work. Section 26 of the same Instrument specifies that they are committing a criminal offence - though we are not aware of any precedent-setting cases determining how this applies in the UK's "common law" system.

Local authority Trading Standards officers are now responsible for enforcing this law and you may be lucky in finding one who is interested in exploring this relatively new power as an alternative to tedious cases of short measure on market stalls.

§ See: Directive 2001/29/EC how member states' takedown must work <http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:32001L0029:EN:HTML>

§ See: Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 as amended (unofficial; 1MB PDF) <http://www.ipo.gov.uk/cdpact1988.pdf>

§ See: Copyright etc Act 1988 HTML from legislation.gov.uk <http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1988/48>

§ See: SI 2003 No. 2498 takedown in UK law <http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2003/2498/contents/made>

§ See: US Digital Millennium Copyright Act <http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c105:H.R.2281.ENR:>

§ See: Find your local UK Trading Standards office <http://www.tradingstandards.gov.uk/>

§ See: Useful publications

§ See: Advice from the Freelance roundup <http://www.londonfreelance.org/advice.html>

§ See: Joining the NUJ <http://www.londonfreelance.org/nuj-join.html>

§ See: Glossary of terms and categorisations

§ See: NUJ Code of Conduct <http://www.nuj.org.uk/innerPagenuj.html?docid=174>

Text © Mike Holderness & previous contributors; Moral rights asserted. Comments to ffg@londonfreelance.org 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.