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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.
The National Union of Journalists publishes this guide 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 being a freelance.
Non-journalists may think that some of the numbers in this guide represent a lot of money for what may sometimes seem, from outside, like quick 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.
The simplest point to make is this: the total direct cost to a company of employing someone, not counting the costs of running an office, 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's before you include the cost of providing an employee with a desk and a piece of floor to put it on; or 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.
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.
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. The agreed minimum rates at the Guardian represent an hourly rate less than the UK minimum wage for a 500-word story that takes 50 hours to produce. Not all stories take that long, of course. But really interesting stories - the ones that justify this whole journalism business - can and should take much longer to do well.
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.
On top of all these arguments, photographers face huge equipment costs and need to charge £120 a day or more before they receive any actual personal income at all. See the link below.
NUJ member Andrew Bibby produced a ready reckoner that works out the daily rate equivalent to the total cost of employing someone on a given salary. It is now maintained by the NUJ Freelance Office.
It does not suggest that these rates are commonly 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: Negotiating fees advice
A client will almost always have a budget for a job, but they might not always want to share with the freelance what it is. So when a client asks "What do you charge?" or simply states "We pay this rate", the freelance needs to start negotiating.
Rule One in negotiating is: always get the client to put their offer first. It may well be higher than what 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.
(Some freelances do instead take a "rate card" approach - refusing to budge from the fees they set. If they can stick to the plan then they never do work for less than the price they need. A downside is they will never know whether they might have offered more.)
A minute's amiable bargaining regularly secures improvements of anything from 5 to 100 per cent of the amount you might have first thought of - and beyond. All you are doing is pushing the client to the limit of what they are prepared to pay. And why not?
You may still 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 courses on negotiating, entitled "Winning and Negotiating". 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 this should be left surrounded by the amateurs they deserve.
Your fees should compensate you not only for the time you directly spend on a job but also 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 a better offer).
If a commissioner's call catches you unprepared, or you need to think about what the job entails, you can break off negotiations so that you can work out what fee it is reasonable to accept before continuing the discussion. The skill-specific sections in this booklet are designed to provide guidance.
Remember that you can charge more - sometimes many times more - for exclusive or unusual material.
If you are approaching an editor with an idea, work out the details of the commission with them first. You are probably 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.
You may consider talking now about extra fees for any extra uses the client wants to make of your work. 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 and even though it is increasingly common that the fee for use in a magazine (for example) includes that magazine's online archive.
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? Do you have editions in other countries?" Editors are trying to think about the content and want not to think about copyright at the same time, so you do it.
In any case, getting it clear now precisely what uses you are licensing makes things simpler in the event that there are other uses later (see "Syndication and spin-off rights", linked below).
The Confirmation of Commission form (available at 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.
Do raise the issue of expenses with the commissioner and agree what items or what amount will be covered. Travel? Phone-calls? What else?
If they expect you to cover your expenses within an all-in fee, this may substantially reduce its net value to you and alter your view of whether it’s enough for you to go ahead with the job.
Yes, you can claim expenses "against tax" - which means that for every £100 of expenses you declare in your tax return you probably pay £20 less income tax, because they are not actual income. Far better to persuade your client to pay them outright!
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/rates. But beware - some rates reported there are lower than the NUJ or members consider acceptable: do pay attention to the "XXX" tags. Some, too, were achieved by a "name" and/or an able negotiator.
The NUJ has some agreements with media companies on minimum rates for freelances. In the after-coronavirus time, the union's Freelance Industrial Council will revise 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: On negotiating from the Rate for the Job <http://www.londonfreelance.org/rates/negotiat.html>
§ See: What freelances need to charge and why advice
As a freelance journalist you own whatever you create, whether you have been commissioned or whether you have sold work "on spec" or from stock. It makes no difference if an editor comes to you with an idea: you own your expression of that idea. As a freelance you have two kinds of rights in your work: "economic rights" (often called just "copyright") and moral rights.
Under UK law, 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 legal sense includes photographers, cartoonists, illustrators and other creators as well as writers. We mean no offence to image-makers when we include them as "authors". 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.
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. (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 Confirmation of Commission form (available from 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.
Freelances come under pressure to assign rights - see below. Freelances are 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. Often, magazines and newspapers expect use of a text online to be included in the one fee for print use - especially when the print edition is an edited extract of the website ("online-first" publication).
Media companies often ask freelances to "assign" (hand over) all their rights, sometimes still citing as a reason the advent of electronic media, as if these were "new". 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. They also want 100 per cent of the income from fees that libraries and clippings agencies, for example, pay for reproducing your published or broadcast work - see "Photocopying etc." below.
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 these rights-grabs. 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 for example have promised musicians that their interview will not appear in a particular tabloid. A freelance 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
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 than that if you already have reason to suspect your work will be sold on.
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.
Writers and photographers are entitled to extra money from companies and organisations that make "secondary use" of their work, for example photocopying. 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 - users of the works - to work out statistically how to distribute it. ALCS and DACS are working to extend these schemes to cover more digital secondary uses. Efforts also 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 NUJ member who wants to opt out should contact DACS.
In October 2014 UK law was changed to make provision for "extended collective licensing". This would be like the licences offered to libraries and so on, as described under "Photocopying etc." above - but "extended" so that the collecting society can licence copying of works by people who are not its members.
Collecting societies must apply to government for permission to issue such licences, demonstrating that they have consulted with authors and/or performers affected, that they have procedures for tracking us down to pay us money, and so on. As of June 2020 one such application had been lodged - and then withdrawn.
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). You can and should register parts of books as well as whole books - your chapter, photo or illustration.
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 Copyright Designs and Patents Act (linked below) for details. See
A few things you should know about quoting, linked below, for the main points affecting freelance journalists.
Some changes were made to UK law in October 2014. These included the rather slack concept of permitting "quoting" a photograph. and a provision for "fair dealing" for the purposes of parody. The NUJ campaigned vigorously and successfully to oppose sillier proposals. It is not aware of any practical effects of these changes on journalists since then. If you come across one, contact email@example.com
For more information on copyright and how the NUJ has been tackling this thorny problem, see the NUJ publication Copyright for journalists and writers, free to NUJ members from the Freelance Office.
§ See: Tracking down pirates and getting them to pay
Quite separately from the "economic rights" to say who can copy your work and how, you have what are called "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 - to "identification". These are obviously important to protecting and to 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 falsely putting their name to a work; 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.
In particular the moral rights to a credit and to object to derogatory treatment do not apply to any work made for the purpose of reporting current events; or for newspapers, magazines and similar periodicals; or appearing in encyclopaedias, dictionaries or yearbooks.
The right to a credit is effective only if it is "asserted": the phrase "Moral rights asserted" at the foot of the copy or on invoices seems to be sufficient "assertion".
Employed journalists have no right to a credit on work done in the course of their employment.
Employed journalists have no right to defend the integrity of work done in the course of their employment (except in the case that the work is not reporting news or current affairs, does not appear in a newspaper or magazine, and has appeared with a credit).
UK law makes it possible for these rights to be given up or "waived" anyway.
Clients using laundry-list contracts often demand that freelances "waive" their moral rights, even where the law already rules these 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 an editor intends 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 ought to apply to the integrity of the agreed published version, and to allow 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 through its requirement that a journalist "ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair".)
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.
The point was that High Street photo studios - remember them? - should not be able to exploit, for example, wedding pictures that become newsworthy. It appears to mean that it is illegal to publish a "pick-up" photo unless you have explicit permission from the person who "commissioned" it as well as permission from the holder of the copyright, and as well as permission to borrow the physical photo.
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. The moral rights are explicitly separate from the economic rights.
As long as you have signed nothing, as a freelance you should retain copyright in your material. (Note: not so if you produced it in the course of employment).
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. NUJ members can contact the Freelance Office to ask for help with drafting a response to these copyright grabs.
Again, some publishers' "weasel" contracts acknowledge that 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, immediately, that you do not wish to sign this contract and ask which rights the publisher actually wants and needs. 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.
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.
Any independent syndication agencies that still handle words (most deal in pictures only) will probably 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 who retain their copyright and handle 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.
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 to use 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 judgment 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.
The United States is unique in requiring that you register works to gain effective copyright protection. You should therefore consider registering your copyright in your words and pictures in the United States if it seems likely that it will be infringed there.
Schemes offering to register works in any country other than the US are, on the face of it, scams. You have copyright simply by virtue of creating a work. If you expect to need to prove the date before which the work was created, you can easily and cheaply do it yourself: post a copy to yourself using the Post Office "signed for" service, keep the receipts, and do not open it when it arrives.
In the US, you must register a work before you can sue for any infringement of your rights in it.
The rules and procedures are quite complicated and this is offered only as a general guide to help you decide whether it's worth investigating further.
If you have "timely" registration, you can get "statutory damages": an amount not less than $750 per work and up to $150,000 if the infringement is found to be "wilful".
And with "timely" registration, if you win the case the other side must generally pay your attorney's (lawyer's) fees.
Registration is "timely" if it is within three months of the work's first publication (or sometimes later, but before the copyright infringement begins). Those legal fees are likely to be a lot higher if it's on the borderline of timeliness - and remember that even if you do get them back in the end you will likely have to front them while the case goes through.
Statutory damages are independent of the "actual damages" - which would be the assessed cash value of the infringement: broadly, what the infringer would have paid, had they asked for a legitimate licence and presuming you granted it.
If you do not have "timely" registration, you can recover only "actual damages" and cannot reclaim your lawyer's fees. This probably means that you cannot afford to bring the case at all, unless you are rich enough to pursue litigation as a hobby.
If you have timely registration then US courts will presume that your claim to be copyright owner is valid. As a practical matter, the infringer is therefore far more likely to settle out of court.
We have looked only at the online registration process. Paper registration forms are being phased out. Please note:
You need to submit copies of the works you register. For unpublished works, that would be an approved electronic file format, such as a JPEG of a photograph or a PDF of a text. For published works, you must submit the "best edition": as we understand it, for works first published outside the US and published online before they are issued in print, a high-quality PDF of the pages involved will do.
You need to be aware of the "works made for hire" doctrine in US law. If, for example, you are engaged to do a day's work for a US publication, it will expect to be the first owner of copyright in all works you produce in that day - unless you explicitly agree otherwise or persuade it that your contract is governed by some law other than US law.
When you register for an online account with the US Copyright Office you will face expected annoyances such as being required to give a phone number in a valid US format. While researching this we resorted to giving the fictitious number of fictitious detective Jim Rockford - 1-213 555-2368 - and asked them to contact us by email. Further investigation is required.
It may be worth re-stating that in UK civil courts the general rule is that the losing side pays both sides' lawyers' fees.
The US copyright office refers to all texts that report news as "Literary Works".
You can register a single work of any kind, published or unpublished, for US$35.
You can register up to 750 photographs at once. They must either be all unpublished; or all published, and published in the same calendar year.
You will need to assign a title to each photograph, and think of a title for the collection - we suspect that "Jo Schmo photographs 2025 Batch 1" is appropriate. There are strict rules for the naming of the spreadsheet file you submit that contains these titles and the file-names of the photos you upload.
The fee is US$55.
You can register a "Group of Unpublished Works" - up to 10 in one batch - and to do this you must select that option from the menu, not the standard registration.
The fee is US$55.
You can register a group of works that have been published in "serials" - newspapers or magazines for example. Obscurely, the sub-categories are "Contributions to Periodicals TX" for textual works and "Contributions to Periodicals VA" for visual works.
The fee is US$85.
Fees start at US$800 for "expedited registration", for which you must also provide written evidence that your need for speed relates to pending or prospective litigation, customs matters, or contract or publishing deadlines. Non-expedited registration may take some months to be recorded.
§ See: Copyright registration and enforcement Stanford University Libraries <https://fairuse.stanford.edu/overview/faqs/registration-and-enforcement/>
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. 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 of that contract: 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).
The Confirmation of Commission form (available at 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
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.
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.
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.
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 (still subject to EU law in June 2020) 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.
When a freelance gets paid is something else 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 delivery of the work, or (depending on what was agreed with the client) after they receive the freelance's of your invoice.
Unless the client you work for operates a system of "self-billing" (see below), invoice promptly for work done. Without an invoice, a client's accounting department may not even know that payment is due, let alone pay you. On your side, efficient invoicing makes record-keeping easier.
Invoice for each piece of work separately. If the client is late paying, you are likely entitled to at least £40 compensation on each invoice. Freelances 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. If you want to make it clear that late payment will incur interest and compensation, the UK government has suggested 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.
This is not, however, compulsory. You are entitled to interest and compensation simply by virtue of issuing an invoice and it not being paid on time.
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. You should 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 upfront on agreement, a third half-way through, and a third on completion.
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. Check that you have in fact been paid for each piece of work - and that none has fallen out of the system.
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. Otherwise, you'll need to check against your bank 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. A statement 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.
Freelances should generally secure payment within a month of delivery of the work. If the amount due is not known then- for example if there are expenses to deal with - payment would be due within a month of the client receiving your invoice.
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". Some photographers will often work this way.
In other cases, working without a commission is daft - particularly where there are long lead times before publication (for example in books and some monthly magazines) or where the date of publication is left uncertain.
In 2018 some freelances launched a campaign against payment on publication. As they point out, a commission is a contract and when you have delivered work that meets the specification the client owes you the agreed amount.
§ See: Late and problem payments advice
§ See: Negotiating rates + rights advice
§ See: Guide to the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court Small Claims Track .gov.uk (PDF) <https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/679030/ipec-sct-published-guide-february-2018.pdf>
§ See: Money claim fees .gov.uk <https://www.gov.uk/make-court-claim-for-money/court-fees>
An invoice is your formal announcement to your client that they owe you money.
Invoices may be sent 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 give each of their invoices a unique number - an "invoice number", oddly enough - if these help them track who owes what, but these are not compulsory.
See our example invoice (Word document). Remember to change all the example details in red!
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.
If payment seems to be delayed, do not hesitate to chase it up. Telephone or email a reminder, or do 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 (or the book-keeper of a small client) whether your payment is under way. Paying you is their job! Sometimes it's best to ask them to contact the person who commissioned you and ask them to hurry up approving the payment.
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.
In principle, it is legally allowed to claim statutory interest for late payment up to six years in the past if you are in England, Wales or Northern Ireland (five years in Scotland). Waiting this long is not recommended: see Invoice early and invoice often.
Accounts departments often react to a "statement" - that is, a dated document headed "statement of account" that simply lists each invoice that is currently unpaid with:
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 a client cannot pay its debts the company goes into liquidation. As a "creditor" of a company in liquidation you join a queue, with the banks, the staff and the Inland Revenue ahead of you for whatever money is available. If any money is left after they've been paid, it is shared among the company's remaining creditors.
There is often little chance of a freelance receiving substantial payment - getting 10 per cent of what you are owed ("10p in the pound") is not unusual. But, still, 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).
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.
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 £9999.99 and £100 above that. Interest is payable at 8 per cent over Bank of England base rate. The penalties and interest 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. If the client requires you to invoice them, they "have notice" when they receive an invoice.
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. See the government and industry website www.payontime.co.uk (at the link below) and the Freelance Office has a full guide for NUJ members on using late payment legislation.
The NUJ's London Freelance Branch offers an online Interest and penalty calculator for freelances to work out the interest and compensation - see the link below.
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.
The NUJ's London Freelance Branch provides 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.
If you start court proceedings, for sums under £10,000 you will ask to use the Small Claims Court.
If your claim is about unauthorised use of an article or image, you will be using the "Small Claims track" of the "Intellectual Property Enterprise Court" (IPEC). This was set up after campaigning by the NUJ when the County Court started refusing to admit claims related to copyright as small claims.
If your claim does not involve your copyright - for example if you have not been paid what you are due for a day's work - then you use the normal "County Court Small Claims track".
In either case, 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 June 2020 it started at £35 for claims up to £300 and was £80 for claims up to £1000 (see the links below).
You can issue standard claims online - but not IPEC claims - at MoneyClaim (see link below) with a fee of, for example, £70 for claims up to £1500.
You can usually claim the fee back if the court finds in your favour.
The Freelance Office will send NUJ members a guide to taking a case through the traditional Small Claims process and will give you advice to guide you through what is, in fact, a very simple - though rather precise - procedure.
Note, though, that members who are claiming for copyright abuse 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.
Taking cases for amounts over £10,000 to the IPEC ranges from expensive to very, very expensive. Seek qualified advice before doing anything. In the Small Claims track you are almost entirely protected from having to pay the other side's legal costs if you lose. In the "full-fat" courts you are not.
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 a client fails to pay, and seems to be in trouble, or simply to be unscrupulous, there is no point in continuing to work for them, even if you hope to gain favour and eventually payment. The chances are you will simply end up with an even bigger debt due to you.
You may find the occasional Attention! items run by the Freelance useful - see the link below.
Of course, a Small Claims judgment 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. (To be sure, this approach works only 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: just 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: Making a court claim for money including Small Claims & fees <https://www.gov.uk/make-court-claim-for-money/overview>
§ See: Getting your money basic advice
§ See: Negotiating fees basic advice
Some freelances working shifts have found themselves "taxed at source" - that is, Income Tax and National Insurance are deducted from their fees as if they were employed staff.
One 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.
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 "IR35" rule is part of this push. It aims to bring some freelances who invoice as a company or partnership, not as a "natural person", into the PAYE orbit. See below, and Setting up a company.
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.
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 ensure that all workers do in fact take time off - and get paid for it.
European Union legislation continues to apply in the UK until at least the end of December 2020.
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.
Being on PAYE is not a requirement - you merely have to be "a worker" paid by the day, rather than a supplier paid by the word or the picture.
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.
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.
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 possibility of negotiating compensation for "redundancy" - but neither is at all the same thing as being offered a job.
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 precisely to ensure that they can charge such companies income tax.
The UK government is progressively tightening this rule. A move to make more companies responsible for categorising contract workers scared many companies into terminating those contracts in early 2020 - even though the move was postponed until April 2021.
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
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.
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 are 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 and hence tax paid. However, the self-employed have no entitlement to sick leave, maternity or paternity pay, or company pension provision.
It may also have implications for copyright ownership: see Rights and why they are important.
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 different 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"...)
(The last point - your having the right to "substitution" - is indeed strange for freelance journalists. But it's part of the general rules covering freelances in general.)
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.
An employer must give employees and workers a document stating the main conditions of employment when they start work. This is known as a "written statement of employment particulars". See the link below - and remember that, as noted above, you can still be treated as "a worker" for some purposes and "employed" for others.
The general thrust of European Union legislation is to grant certain rights to "workers" regardless of their employment status. Workers who are employed or engaged by an agency that sells their services on must be treated no less favourably than the directly-engaged workers alongside them.
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.
European Union legislation continues to apply in the UK until at least the end of December 2020.
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: Rights and why they are important advice
As a self-employed freelance journalist you are generally responsible for paying your own Income Tax and National Insurance.
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.
Your deadline for filing a tax return online is 31 January each year. The UK government is increasingly trying to discourage filing paper tax returns: the deadline for these is the previous 31 October. See the link below.
Under the Self-Assessment scheme, freelances must keep full records of income and expenditure - and preserve them for six years 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 claimed as expenses.
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 under the Pay As You Earn scheme or as if you were employed. See Employment status.
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 Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs.
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 may have claimed Working Tax Credit. Those over 16 who have children may have claimed Child Tax Credit.
Very few people can make new claims for these credits. Those who receive them should take care not to disturb them or let them lapse. The exception is if you were entitled to the severe disability premium in the last month.
Instead you are asked to apply for Universal Credit.
When the Freelance tried out one of the recommended Universal Credit calculators in March 2020, it said that a single person in London aged 50 with no children and a "profit" of only £3000 and savings of under £6000 - working 32 hours a week - was (at that time) entitled to Universal Credit of £184.18 per week - plus an amount towards rent.
Note that Universal Credit is notoriously difficult for freelances, with requirements for frequent filings of income figures, delays in payment and very poor handling of variable income.
§ See: VAT (Value Added Tax)
§ See: Employment status advice
If your turnover exceeds the threshold figure of £85,000 a year (as of 1 April 2017 and still in June 2020), 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 job worth £85,000 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 - but not decisive - in persuading clients not to deduct Income Tax and National Insurance at source.
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 what the forms call "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.
If your client is 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.
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 2020 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.
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.
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 12 June 2020).
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 June 2020).
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 more each (including VAT).
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 less. The existence of the scheme does lighten the dark side by providing an escape route from doing full returns.
If you can show that your turnover will be under £83,000 (as of June 2020) 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: Flat rate scheme information (from HMRC) <http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/vat/start/schemes/flat-rate.htm>
Some freelances set up limited companies that charge for their services and pay them a salary (and dividends).
Doing this can be helpful in persuading clients, the Inland 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. [sic]
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.
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 19 per cent (from 1 April 2017, and still in June 2020) on all company profits.
What does this mean? An accountant estimates 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 has estimated the net saving to someone earning £100,000 as about £3000. These thresholds beyond which freelances may make savings would be higher now.
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 (or "liquidating") 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.
The internet makes it much easier for unscrupulous publishers and individuals to rip off your articles or photos, in breach of your copyright - easier, that is, compared to when they had to re-type or re-photograph your work.
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.
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.
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 -
- so that the search engine should 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.
If you are unfortunate enough to have namesakes widely referenced on the web, you may be able to exclude them. For example 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.)
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".
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
might be a 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 should get back. That's because the search engine should 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.
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) should produce that article, and only that article. (And of course this page.)
You need to use other search engines as well as www.google.com.
Google's advantage is a patented scheme that frequently displays the web pages that you want first, before less-relevant pages. But www.yahoo.com may include more web pages from many sites than Google does - and if you search cleverly, as described here, you can easily outdo Google's cleverness.
That said, the market dominance of Google has narrowed the field a lot since we first published this advice. Yahoo search is currently powered by Microsoft's www.bing.com search engine. The site www.duckduckgo.com markets itself as preserving your privacy and now apparently has its own search engine, as well as offering results from www.bing.com and www.yandex.ru - which you can use directly by going to www.yandex.com/tune/lang to set its interface language to English.
All search engines appear to be moving away from strict searching and toward using machine learning (hyped as "artificial intelligence") to try to work out what they "think" you wanted instead of what you specified. This backfires on skilled searchers: the main effect of this is to show you more things you didn't want.
This is annoying. The following tips don't work as well as they used to, but they still help.
If your article doesn't include any improbable phrases, you can search for an improbable combination of words or phrases:
cooked "envious environmentalists"
should find the above review, and only it (and this), using Google. (In March 2020 it also found two lists of apparently-random phrases.)
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 now turns up a book quoting it, sometimes an unauthorised "web reprint", this page and a bunch of randoms.
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.
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:
The rule when you specify
site: is that immediately after it you type part of the URL - up to and including the
.ac.uk or whatever - and then optionally add part of the stuff after the "slash" - for example
/news and a space and more words. Yahoo Advanced Search offers a similar facility - enter this information under "only search in this domain/site".
Technology for finding photographs is still changing quite fast. You can now send a photo to a special search engine that will find other photos that look like it. Still, though, your best bet is often to search for text that would be likely to be wrapped round a particular photo. Please see the section Photography / Tracking down pirates, linked below.
The principles of finding photographs apply equally to finding illustrations.
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.
Save everything you find, making sure that you record the date and time you found it. For this reason a printout is still 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.
How long has it been there?
Copy and paste the URL of the page you have found into the "WayBack machine" at web.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. Save or print out the earliest version you can find.
Note that you cannot search web.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.
There are two parts to the question "who owns that website?"
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.
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
(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.
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 (pre-Windows-10) you can also hit the "Start" button, click "Run", then type
command into the box that appears.)
Note that a terminal window (or command prompt) is a place where you type instructions or commands to your computer. Clicking inside it with the mouse is not recommended. At best, it will have no effect on anything.
If you're interested in www.example.com then in the terminal window that appears type
(Here you do include the "www.") You will see:
Pinging www.example.com [22.214.171.124] with 32 bytes of data:
The number 126.96.36.199 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 here.
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 the WhoIs server you are using 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?" .
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com
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. (It is in dire need of updating.)
You need to decide as soon as you've found a rip-off what you want. We recommend first going for cash. As the 18th-century writer 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. We suggest that 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://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.
If the pirate is based in the UK, you could take them to Small Claims Court. 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 (see the link below). 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 made it easier to collect money from January 2009 and until at least December 2020.
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: Registering a work in the US
If you get fed up trying to collect cash, and anyway if you object to the context in which your work has been abused, 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 Statutory 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: SI 2003 No. 2498 takedown in UK law <http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2003/2498/contents/made>
§ See: Useful publications
§ See: Glossary of terms and categorisations
Text © Mike Holderness & previous contributors; Moral rights asserted. The collection (database right) © National Union of Journalists. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.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.