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NUJ Freelance Fees Guide
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This "general" section of the Freelance Fees Guide offers a wealth of advice for freelance journalists. Much of it applies to all freelances: we also provide a separate section with advice that is specific to photographers.

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 with government bureaucracies.

The sections listed below offer advice on working as a freelance journalist.

general contents:

What freelances need to charge and why

Non-journalists may think that some of the numbers in this Guide represent a lot of money for what 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.

Charging for shifts

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. (The Fees Guide editor did not believe how much they mount up either, until we did the accounts for a charity - and re-did them in disbelief.)

These extra costs fall due before you include the cost of providing an employee with a desk and a piece of floor to put it on; or factor in the sheer convenience to a company of engaging a freelance, who is only there when they are needed. Sometimes it seems to freelances that companies think that, when they cannot see us, we exist in a state of suspended animation, waking for five seconds every hour to check for email from them.

This is not the case. Even a freelance who is doing five sub-editing shifts this week must budget to be able to eat next week, when some (or all) of those shifts may have ceased. They would be foolish to budget for more than 180 paid days per year.

Out of their fees, freelances have to pay tax and two chunks of National Insurance, and arrange their own pension.

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 Fees Guide do undercut staff in this way, since they spring from reports of actual market rates. That does not mean that the NUJ condones this practice.

Charging for writing and reporting

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

Journalists who produce news and features have to work harder - for considerably less money. The agreed minimum rates at the Guardian represent an hourly rate less than the UK minimum wage for a 500-word story that takes 18 hours to produce. Not all stories may take that long. But really interesting stories - the ones that justify this whole journalism business - can and should take much longer to do and 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. See the link below.

What your client saves by engaging a freelance

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: see the link below.

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: Photographers' day and base rates

§ See: The day rate ready reckoner ( <>

§ See: Negotiating rates and rights advice

Negotiating rates and rights

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. The freelance needs to negotiate over the terms, too - particularly what rights they are licensing.

Advice to freelances

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 been offered more.)

Learn to negotiate

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. Indeed, often would-be clients who offer zero can be persuaded to pay a fair fee, which is far beyond a 100 per cent increase.

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 and its London Freelance Branch (LFB) both run courses on negotiating. These are open to non-members, but much cheaper to members. For dates and booking, see the NUJ calendar and the LFB Training page, 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.

Why freelances need to charge what they charge

As a freelance journalist you should charge fees that 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 - that is, the lowest fee for which you'll do the job. Remember that once you've named an amount, it can be difficult to move any way but down - which is why you want to leave the process open so that you can encourage and accept a better offer. You will also want to have a higher figure in mind in case the potential client refuses to name a figure

We make the above points to help new freelances know about setting minimum fees. Clients want not to hear them.

Don’t be afraid to say ‘I’ll get back to you’

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 Fees Guide to provide guidance.

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

Pitch for a firm commission

If you are approaching an editor with an idea, work out the details of the commission with them first. You are probably not ready to contact the editor until you can say what the piece is about in 25 words or fewer.

You won't get a chance to expand unless you catch the editor's attention first.

Listen to the editor's 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. You the work in and then you very likely won't get paid...

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

And what does this fee cover? Negotiating rights

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.

Talking about extra uses

You should 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.

See "Rights and why they are important", linked below, for more reasons why it is important to negotiate what usage rights you are licensing.

Less-experienced editors may be startled at the talk taking this turn. Some believe that they are buying an article in the same way they would buy a kilo of carrots - gaining outright ownership. In fact, as the authors of their work, journalists own the copyright in the work they produce, unless or until agreed otherwise. Freelances will want to issue licences to clients to reproduce their work as mutually agreed, and only thus.

It is usually down to the freelance to do the thinking for the editor about this: "OK, what do you need? The weekly edition - and use on the web for a year - how about 30 per cent 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 (linked below) 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.

Better contracts may be available

Large companies that have self-contained legal departments can be the hardest to negotiate with. They may issue commissioning editors with set schedules of rates and will have set contracts in which they try to get a licence allowing the widest possible use of the work for that price.

They are, however, more likely also to have pre-packaged "fall-back" contracts. We know of several companies that have at least one separate contract intended for writers who have literary agents, for example - and these offer much better terms. Editors may be under instructions not to reveal that these exist... but they do.

Even those companies that insist they have immovable standard rates are likely also to have another set of rates for special contributors.


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 many kinds of expense "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. It's far better to persuade your client to agree to pay 100 per cent of your expenses!

More to watch out for

Clients with large legal departments usually "offer" laundry-list contracts in which their lawyers try to wring out everything they can. Smaller clients often give the appearance of plagiarising these contracts - but that would be too ironic to be true, surely?

Of particular concern, beyond attempts to gain rights to use the freelance's work in universes yet to be invented, are attempts to transfer legal liability to the freelance. See the sections of this Fees Guide on "Commissions and contracts" and "Indemnities - challenge them and get insurance", linked below.

Suggested rates

This guide suggests minimum rates for a range of skills used throughout the media industry. Examples of rates actually paid are reported in the "Rate for the Job" section of the Freelance and on this London Freelance Branch website - see the link below. 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.

Union freelance agreements

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.

Template contracts

The NUJ has several template contracts that it can offer to members who need to present a draft in negotiation. Contact the Freelance Office describing the purposes for which you need to draft a contract.

§ See: Indemnities - challenge them and get insurance

§ See: How to pitch from a commissioning editor's mouth <>

§ See: NUJ training - including courses on negotiating <>

§ 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 <>

§ See: What freelances need to charge and why advice

§ See: Suggested schedule of cancellation fees for shifts

§ See: Kill fees for commissioned articles

§ See: NUJ London Freelance Branch training page more courses <>

§ See: Syndication and spin-off rights advice

§ See: Sometimes 'the man' blinks negotiating success from the Freelance <>

Rights and why they are important

As a freelance journalist you own whatever you create, whether you have been commissioned or 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 what are called moral rights, which deal with protecting the integrity of your work.


Under UK law, specifically the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, 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 employers own copyright in the works employees produce "in the course of employment" - which means in a Proper Job. (See also "Shift payments and copyright".)

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

Freelances - hold on to your rights

Copyright is a valuable asset. If you own the rights in your work you are in a position to make money from it through, for example, syndication - for the rest of your life. (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 rates and rights" (linked below). The Confirmation of Commission form (linked below) 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 negotiate a basic fee for the first use of their work (for example in a magazine or newspaper) and sell the publisher additional licences for other specific uses. 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).

Resisting rights grabs

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 "Collecting societies pay for copying", 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. See "Moral rights", below.

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 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.

Respect must be mutual

Freelances, like staff, should ensure that they do not breach the rights of other authors (including illustrators and cartoonists and photographers).

Remember too that software, including fonts, is subject to copyright. Even free software is issued under a copyright licence which specifies how you may copy it.

Politely resist any suggestion from commissioners (who may know no better) that you breach the rights of other authors, illustrators or photographers.

Fair dealing

UK law defines a strictly limited number of ways that works can be used without the author's permission or payment to them, such as including them in exam questions. These uses are called "fair dealing" - the equivalent exceptions to copyright in US law are called "fair use". See "Some things you should know about quoting", linked below, for the main points affecting freelance journalists, and the Copyright Designs and Patents Act (also linked below) for details.

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. We are not aware of any practical effects of these changes on journalists since then. If you come across one, contact

Finding out more about copyright

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 and the link below.

§ See: Specific advice on copyright for photographers

§ See: Show me the money from the Freelance <>

§ See: Tracking down pirates and getting them to pay

§ See: ALCS - Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society <>

§ See: DACS - Design and Artists Copyright Society <>

§ See: Public Lending Right (Now administered by the British Library) <>

§ See: Copyright etc Act 1988 HTML from <>

§ See: Some things you should know about copyright in one printable page <>

§ See: Some things you should know about 'quoting' in one printable page <>

§ See: Negotiating rates and rights advice

Moral rights

Quite separately from the "economic rights" that give you final say over who can copy your work, 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".)

And another thing (mostly for picture editors)

Journalists who work as picture editors or who may be asked to collect "pick-up" photographs - for example family photos of someone in the news - need to know about the little-known fourth moral right. This forbids publishing, broadcasting or exhibiting photos taken for "private domestic" clients, unless the person who "commissioned" them gives permission.

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.

But remember, you own copyright

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

§ See: NUJ Code of Conduct <>

§ See: Some things you should know about 'quoting' in one printable page <>

§ See: Some things you should know about copyright in one printable page <>

Responding to rights grabs

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.

Collecting societies pay for copying

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, and artists).

All journalists are encouraged to sign up to these services, and keep them updated on what you have published. If your work has appeared in books, you may find money already waiting for you to claim. 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 a 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 link 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 order to claim for work that appeared in a magazine or "journal" you need to give its International Standard Serial Number (ISSN). This uniquely identifies a "serial" - the librarian's jargon for a newspaper, magazine or journal. An ISSN is an eight-digit number in the form 0000-0000. (Annoyingly, the ALCS website wants you to enter it without the hyphen.) It "should be displayed in a prominent position on every issue". An online edition may have a separate ISSN to a print edition, and editions in different territories should have different ISSNs.

In the UK ISSNs are managed by the British Library and there is an international ISSN lookup tool: see the links below. It's probably easier to update your own records of where your work has appeared as you go.


In order to claim for work that appeared in a book you need to give its International Standard Book Number (ISBN). This uniquely identifies an edition of a book. The preferred form is a 13-digit number; older editions may quote only a 10-digit number. These may or may not be broken up with hyphens. (Note that the final "digit" of an ISBN-10 may be an X.)

UK publishers and self-publishers buy ISBNs from the Nielsen ISBN store; there are many lookup tools, such as - see the links below.

A search tells us that the first edition of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own (London: Hogarth Press 1929) now has ISBN 9780631177265. Note that each later edition of this work has a different ISBN.


You may see mention of an International Standard Name Identifier (ISNI) - a new-ish standard for unique identifiers for authors (or illustrators or photographers...) You do not, yet, need to give this to claim payments from a collecting society. We believe these identifiers are being assigned automatically behind the scenes. For UK authors, the British Library offers a "portal" to add and update ISNI entries - see the link below.

What’s an ‘extended collective licence’ then?

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 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 August 2021 one such application had been lodged - and then withdrawn.

§ See: ALCS - Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society <>

§ See: DACS - Design and Artists Copyright Society <>

§ See: About ISBNs and ISSNs From the British Library - <>

§ See: ISSN search <>

§ See: The Nielsen ISBN store buy one or more UK ISBNs here <>

§ See: An ISBN lookup tool from <>

§ See: ISNI portal you need to create an account on <>

§ See: Public Lending Right

Public Lending Right

Book authors, illustrators and translators are also entitled to payments for lending of their work by libraries. UK law says you are entitled to Public Lending Right (PLR) payments because you are the author.

To get paid, you have to register.

In the UK, 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. The "PLR year" runs from July to the end of June, with payment in November for titles registered by 30 June.

You can and should register parts of books as well as whole books - your chapter, photo or illustration.

In August 2021 the payment worked out at 9.55p per loan. Payments are capped at £6600 per author. This rate is reviewed annually: the government sets a budget and it is shared among registered authors.

§ See: Public Lending Right (Now administered by the British Library) <>

Syndication and spin-off rights

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

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

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 to do this 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.

Shift payments and copyright

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

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

Clients would probably argue that custom and practice grants them a wide licence 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.

§ See: Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 <>

Registering a work in the US

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.

First, beware of scams

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.

Why register your work in the US?

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.

How to register your work in the US

We have looked only at the online registration process. Paper registration forms are being phased out. Please note:

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".

Single works

You can register a single work of any kind, published or unpublished, for US$45.

Groups of published or unpublished photographs

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.

Groups of unpublished textual works

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.

  1. All the works must be unpublished;
  2. they must all be the same type of work - no mixing sculpture and court reports; and
  3. all the works must be created by the same author or the same co-authors, and the author and claimant for each work must be the same person or organization.

The fee is US$55.

Groups of published works

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.

  1. All contributions must be created by the same author. The author must be an individual and the works cannot be works made for hire;
  2. the copyright claimant for all the contributions must be the same person or organization;
  3. each work must be first published as a contribution to a periodical, and all the contributions must be first published within a 12-month period;
  4. the application must identify each contribution, including its date of first publication and the periodical in which it was first published;
  5. the applicant must submit one copy of each contribution, either by submitting the entire issue of the periodical where the contribution was first published, the entire section of the newspaper where it was first published, or the specific page(s) where the contribution was first published; and
  6. special rules apply for contributions published before 1 March 1989.

The fee is US$85.

Special handling

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: Registration US Copyright office <>

§ See: Best editions US Copyright office (PDF) <>

§ See: Fees US Copyright office (PDF) <>

§ See: Copyright registration and enforcement Stanford University Libraries <>

§ See: 17 U.S. Code §412 Registration as prerequisite to certain remedies for infringement <>

§ See: 'Signed for' service UK Post Office <>

Commissions and contracts

A commission to carry out and deliver a piece of work often starts informally with a text message, email or 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).

Work submitted ‘on spec’

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

Checklist for negotiating a commission

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

Template contracts

The NUJ has several template contracts that it can offer to members who need to present a draft in negotiation. Contact the Freelance Office describing the purposes for which you need to draft a contract. Join the union to get such assistance and more.

Confirmation of Commission form

The Confirmation of Commission form (see the link below) 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: Terms that should alert freelances to problems with a contract a glossary <>

§ See: Negotiating rates and rights advice

Indemnities - challenge them and get insurance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting the contract changed

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

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

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

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

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


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 wherever in the world the work is published or distributed. (This is still "subject to EU law" in August 2021; cover can be extended to include claims brought outside the EU, including USA/Canada, where you actively undertake or target work in those countries.) See the link below.

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

Freelances commissioned to carry out dangerous work must check that the client will insure them against personal injury and damage to equipment.

§ See: Terms that should alert freelances to problems with a contract a glossary <>

§ See: Professional Indemnity insurance for NUJ members <>

Getting your money

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.

See "An invoice - defined", linked below.

Invoice early and invoice often

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 and problem payments", linked below, for advice on what to do if the client ignores this.

Order number

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.

Digital payments - BACS

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.

Invoice in stages on long jobs

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.

Payment on publication - a bad practice

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, for example: "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.

NUJ freelances have campaigned 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 and rights advice

§ See: Collective action is key to better terms the Freelance on StopPOP <>

§ See: Guide to the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court Small Claims Track (PDF) <>

§ See: Money claim fees <>

§ See: BACS to basics - no more excuses from the Freelance <>

An invoice - defined

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:

It certainly does no harm to give it the headline "Invoice".

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!

§ See: BACS to basics - no more excuses from the Freelance <>

Kill fees for commissioned articles

You have a contract, and you fulfil your side of it when you deliver the work on time and meeting the agreed specification. 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.

How much time you put into this may depend, however, on whether the article is time-limited and what other outlets exist.

Late and problem payments

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 of deliberate procrastination and if you do not remind a client, your payment can disappear into a pile of emails or computer files or even paperwork.

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 to have already joined the NUJ 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.

Basic steps to collect overdue payments

Accounts departments often react to a "statement" - that is, a dated document headed "statement of account" that simply lists each invoice that is currently unpaid, one per line, 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 they cannot pay

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. If you're a freelance journalist and not an NUJ member: join!

Late payment

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

The Late Payment of Commercial Debt (Interest) Act (1988) was amended in 2002 to include fixed penalties in addition to interest. For debt of less than £1000 the penalty is £40, rising to £70 for debts up to £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 (at the link below). 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.

How freelances can chase up late payers

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

NUJ members who have provided a late payer with astatement 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.

What's this Collect-o-Matic then?

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 The full details you provide allow the NUJ to send a stiff letter or two on a member's behalf. If that does not work, the union can help members pursue clients in court - though this is not difficult to do yourself. Members who deal with claims themselves should keep the NUJ informed as they may need its advice or support later.

The small claims court

If you start court proceedings to get your money, for sums under £10,000 you will ask to use the Small Claims Court. NUJ members are very, very strongly advised to contact the Freelance Office before starting anything involving a court. Very often they can get you paid without going that far; and if the matter does go to court the Office needs to be involved before you start to give you proper support.

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 system 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 August 2021 it started at £35 for claims up to £300 and was £80 for claims of £1000 to £1500, for example (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 advice from the NUJ before they start.

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. NUJ members must read the advice from the Freelance on getting legal assistance from the union before doing anything. Seek qualified advice before doing anything yourself.

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.

Protect yourself

Chasing payments is time-consuming, and if your client collapses financially you may never be paid. So do not let clients run up large bills.

If 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 that 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.

The hard cases

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 issuing a "winding-up order" or putting a publisher through liquidation proceedings to enforce a claim. This is 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: Interest and penalty calculator for freelances <>

§ See: Collect-o-Matic checks the details needed - for NUJ members <>

§ See: guidance <>

§ See: enter a claim online <>

§ See: Making a court claim for money including Small Claims & fees <>

§ See: Royal Mail Signed For service <>

§ See: Getting your money basic advice

§ See: Attention! items from the Freelance <>

§ See: Companies House online company checks <>

§ See: Suggested schedule of cancellation fees for shifts

§ See: Kill fees for commissioned articles

§ See: Negotiating rates and rights basic advice

§ See: Cross-border civil and commercial legal cases: guidance for legal professionals <>

§ See: US Senate passes Small Claims process Freelance Jan 2021 <http:/>

Shift payments - tax and time off

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", linked below.

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", linked below, 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", linked below.

The Inland 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. Talk to the accounts department about what they can do: they may for example be able to designate you a "visiting lecturer".

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

Paid time off

The thrust of European Union labour rights law has been to grant rights to "workers" regardless of their formal employment status. This has been incorporated into UK law and still applies as of August 2021. The major practical effect in the UK is that freelances who work shifts are entitled to paid time off. This is not, strictly, "holiday pay". It comes under Health and Safety legislation intended to ensure that all workers do in fact take time off - and get paid for it.

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

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. (We are not sure about the status of photographers paid a "day rate against space" or similar. NUJ members should consult the Freelance Office.)

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

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

There’s more...

Further, regulations, also incorporated into UK law and still effective as of August 2021. give all workers the right to a rest period during a shift. They stipulate a minimum rest period between the end of one shift and the beginning of the next.

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

And there’s less...

Some freelances believe that if they work daily shifts on a casual basis they acquire the right to be offered a staff job after a year's service. This is an urban legend. It is false.

It appears, however, to be an urban legend that is believed by some newspaper companies, which make a point of dropping such "casuals" after 51 weeks. Someone who works in this way may acquire the ability to negotiate compensation for "redundancy" - but this is not at all the same thing as being offered employment.

Incorporation and partnerships

Some freelance journalists have "incorporated" - formed limited companies - or set up partnerships: see "Setting up a company", linked below. 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 - though the move was postponed until 6 April 2021. Since then, every medium and large business in the UK has been responsible for correctly setting the tax status of any contract worker who invoices for their services through a limited company or legal partnership.

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

§ See: Rights and why they are important advice

§ See: Setting up a company advice

§ See: Employment status how the theory works

§ See: Your rights as a worker and insisting on holiday pay - from the Freelance <>

Employment status

It would seem at first glance that a freelance is by definition not "employed". But unfortunately there are details to get to grips with. These details have important consequences. They affect how much a freelance gets paid for doing a shift or other work paid by the day, deductions (such as tax and National Insurance) at source and whether they are entitled to paid time off. See "Shift payments - tax and time off", linked below, for a practical guide to those questions.

Since so many freelances and clients ask about the principles, this section discusses them.

Employed or self-employed?

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

So what makes you ‘self-employed’?

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

The Inland Revenue publishes guidelines, for Income Tax, but they do not cover every situation. There can even be variations among the ways that 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"...)

(That last point about your having the right to "substitution" is indeed strange for freelance journalists. But it's a part of the =rules covering freelances in general.)

So there's no single answer?

No, there is not. Trickily, it is possible for the Income Tax and National Insurance offices 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.

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

Written statement of employment particulars

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 "employed" for some purposes, as "a worker" for others and "self-employed" for yet others.

Part-time and agency workers

The general thrust of European Union legislation has been to grant certain rights to "workers" regardless of their employment status. This has been incorporated into UK law and still applies as of August 2021.

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. When 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.


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

§ See: Written statement of employment particulars <>

§ See: Your rights as a worker and insisting on holiday pay - from the Freelance <>

Tax and National Insurance

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

Income Tax

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


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", linked below

National Insurance

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

You work out your profit by deducting your allowable expenses from your self-employed income.

If some of your work is taxed at source you will probably 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.

See the link below for current self-employed National Insurance rates.

Tax credits and Universal Credit

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. The exception is if you were entitled to the "severe disability premium".

Those who receive them should take care not to disturb them or let them lapse. There are reports that people who merely started an application for Universal Credit, but did not submit it, had their Working Tax Credit claim stopped.

Instead you are asked to apply for Universal Credit.

When the Freelance tried out one of the recommended Universal Credit calculators in August 2021, 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 £153.61 per week - plus an amount towards rent.

Your mileage will vary. This amount will fall in September 2021 if the government persists in cutting the "covid uplift" to Universal Credit.

Note that claiming 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: Tax returns for the self-employed from HM Revenue and Customs - incl. registration <>

§ See: VAT (Value Added Tax)

§ See: Employment status advice

§ See: HM Revenue and Customs (ex Inland Revenue) <>

§ See: Benefits calculator <>

§ See: Self-employed National Insurance rates from <>

§ See: Universal Credit < >

§ See: Working Tax Credits <>

VAT (Value Added Tax)

If your turnover exceeds the threshold figure of £85,000 a year (as of July 2021) and you do business in the UK, you must register for Value Added Tax (VAT). Your turnover is the total money you take in from your work, including for example repayments of expenses. If it's more than the limit you must register whether you are trading as a human or as a company.

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: see "Employment status", linked below.

How VAT works

Any freelance who is registered for VAT must add it at the current rate to every invoice they issue. When they fill in a VAT return they add up the total VAT they have charged (confusingly, the forms call this the VAT on their "supplies"). They also add up the total VAT they have paid on business equipment and 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, your work for them as a VAT-registered freelance does not cost them any more. They claim back the VAT on their inputs from VAT-registered freelances, just as you claim back the VAT on your inputs. (Of course a freelance who worked entirely for small organisations or those that have trouble doing accounts would meet resistance - but such a freelance would have other problems.)

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

Beware the dark side

A freelance who is registered for VAT will re-claim £300 VAT after they buy computer equipment for business use with a price tag of £1500 (at the August 2021 rate of 20 per cent).

We advise, however, thinking seriously before registering voluntarily. The work involved in filling out VAT returns may wipe out any advantage - particularly if you are paying an accountant to do it.

VAT records must be preserved for six years. The penalties for late completion of returns and late payment of due VAT can be severe.

Annual returns

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

The flat-rate scheme

Some freelances swear by the "flat-rate scheme". Under this, you pay a flat percentage of your receipts to the government. This saves the effort of adding up all your invoices and all your receipts. But do please pay attention to the warning about "limited cost" businesses below.

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 July 2021). These are percentages of your turnover including the VAT you pay out.

For each £1000 that any photographer who is registered for VAT bills to clients, if they are registered for VAT they must charge an additional £200 in VAT. Under the flat-rate scheme they would pay £132 of this to the government, leaving them £68 toward the VAT they paid out on equipment and supplies. A journalist who is not a photographer would pay £150, leaving them £50.

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 July 2021).

While on the flat-rate scheme, you can also still claim back the actual VAT you paid on capital asset purchases 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 gross 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: but see the warning below.

The catch with the flat rate scheme: ‘limited cost’ businesses

In 2017 the government introduced a new, higher, flat rate for "low cost" businesses: these must pay 16.5 per cent of their gross turnover. This was announced as a measure to combat fraud.

A business is defined as "low cost" if its VAT inclusive expenditure on goods is either:

Note that this is based on expenditure on goods - "moveable items" - and not on services such as your accountant's fees.

Clearly, if you sign up to the flat rate scheme and get caught by this you are very likely to be out of pocket. It seems to be a bad idea to apply for the flat rate scheme unless you are sure that more than 2 per cent of your turnover will be on "goods" in each future year.


If you can show that your turnover will be under £83,000 (as of August 2021) you can apply to de-register. Yo will have to go on accounting for VAT until HM Revenue and Customs agree that you can deregister.

§ See: Tax and National Insurance

§ See: HM Revenue and Customs (ex Customs and Excise) <>

§ See: Flat rate scheme information (from HMRC) <>

§ See: VAT Notice 733: Flat Rate Scheme for small businesses (detail) <>

§ See: Employment status how the theory works

Setting up a company

Some freelances set up limited companies that charge clients for their services and pay the freelance 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 and National Insurance. 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 likely thinking) and:

the circumstances are such that, had the arrangements taken the form of a contract between the worker and the client, the worker would be regarded for the purposes of Parts I to V of the Contributions and Benefits Act as employed in employed earner's employment by the client. [Definition from National Insurance regulations]

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

Possible benefits of incorporation...

Operating as 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 August 2021) 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.

Limitations of limited liability

The "limited liability" that "incorporation" as a company provides is probably not of enormous use to a journalist. True, if the bottom falls out of your market, winding up (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.

§ See: IR35 page HM Revenue & Customs <>

§ See: Corporation tax HMRC <>

§ See: Starting a company <>

Tracking down pirates

The internet makes it much easier for unscrupulous publishers and individuals to rip off your articles or photos, in breach of your copyright - 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.

But there are issues with freelances' work being distributed in ways that are not authorised by anyone - by people who we'll call "pirates" as others do. So how do you chase them down?

There are three steps:

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

Effective searching for text

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

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


First, of course, you will look for your own name, in case the rippers-off have been silly enough to include it. This can happen when they're simply unaware that they need your permission to copy your work.

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

"Jane Smith"

- 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.

Leave it out!

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

"Jane Smith" -quilt -quilting

- the minus sign should exclude 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".

Narrowing it down

Or you could add extra words that narrow the search results down to your work. Think laterally. If you are Jane Smith and you are looking for reports on nuclear power, you may get a lot of results. Instead think of a word that few others use:

"Jane Smith" Magnox

Note this 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.

Originality rewarded

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

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

"cooked up by envious environmentalists"

(with quote marks) should produce that article, and only that article. (And of course this page.)

Life beyond Google™

You need to use other search engines as well as

Google's advantage is a patented scheme that frequently displays the web pages that you want first, before less-relevant pages. But 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 search engine. The site markets itself as preserving your privacy and now apparently has its own search engine, as well as offering results from and - which you can use directly by going to to get its interface in 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 it has 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.

Improbable combinations of words

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 August 2021 it also found a list of apparently-random phrases.) An exercise for you: how does this search differ from the one above that contains the same words?

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 a particular piece of your work, you can ask Google to email you every time a new matching page shows up. When an email arrives you can quickly check whether it's telling you about a new unauthorised copy.

Scanning individual sites

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

The rule when you specify site: at the start of your "search term" is that immediately after it you type part of the URL - up to and including the .com or or 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".

§ See: search engine <>

§ See: from Microsoft <>

§ See: search anonymously <>

Finding photos and illustrations

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.

§ See: Photography / Tracking down pirates

Once you have found a rip-off...

As soon as you find ripped-off articles or photos, you need to start collecting evidence as though you were going to court. It'll help in negotiation - whether by you or, if you are an NUJ member, the union - 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 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 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.

§ See: the 'Wayback Machine' - earlier versions of web pages <>

Locating website owners

There are two parts to the question "who owns that website?"

  1. the owner of the name of the site; and
  2. the owner of the machine on which the site lives.

These may or may not be the same person or organisation. In turn, they may or may not be the same as the organisation that claims ownership of the content - including ripping-off your work. It's the last one you want to negotiate with, but having the other details recorded helps in that process, because it helps you take action against the pirate if they don't pay.

Who owns the website name?

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

(You drop the "www." part because one name registration covers for their website as well as 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 - (see live link below) - sometimes produces results when other searches fail.

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

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

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


(Here you do include the "www.") You will see:

Pinging [] with 32 bytes of data:

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

Some jargon translation may help here.

It is the "Domain Name System" (DNS) that translates a "domain name" such as "" into an "IP number". In effect, the DNS asks around the internet: "anyone know where '' 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?" .

Who owns that newspaper or magazine, though?

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

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

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

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.)

§ See: universal lookup service <>

§ See: name registry for Europe <>

§ See: name registry for Africa <>

§ See: name registry for Asia-Pacific <>

§ See: name registry for North America <>

§ See: name registry for Latin America <>

§ See: non-national name registry <>

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

§ See: semi-anonymous name registration <>

Getting remedies

You need to decide what you want as soon as you've found a rip-off. 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 with a readership of one (his mum) - or the Moloch Media Corporation with profits in the billions. The former, you might offer a chance to licence your picture for some fairly small sum, or even, possibly, let them post extracts of an article of yours on condition they link to your website so clients can find you. The latter, you'll want to charge for every minute your work has been on their site.

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

And if they don’t pay?

If the pirate is based in the UK, you could take them to Small Claims Court. NUJ members should contact the Freelance Office before proceeding.

If you are in the UK you can no longer use the European Small Claims Procedure introduced in January 2009 to make it easier to collect money from creditors in EU member states. The UK government advice linked below is... not encouraging about how easy it is to pursue debts in EU member states now.

For payments due from outside the UK, 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.

In January 2021 the US Senate (finally) passed a law effectively setting up a Small Claims track for copyright cases. It is available only to the authors of registered works. We have not yet heard how well it works for claimants based outside the US, or for anyone for that matter. See the links below.

§ See: Registering a work in the US

§ See: Find your local UK Trading Standards office <>

§ See: Cross-border civil and commercial legal cases: guidance for legal professionals <>

§ See: US Senate passes Small Claims process Freelance Jan 2021 <http:/>


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". If it's in the US, UK and EU at least, you can contact it to demand that it gets its customer to remove your work. If its 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, a US law amending that country's copyright law (see the links below).

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. This could be expensive. As always, NUJ members should consult the Freelance Office before proceeding; and non-member journalists should join.

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. This Statutory Instrument implementing EU law is still in force in UK law.

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 <>

§ See: Copyright etc Act 1988 HTML from <>

§ See: SI 2003 No. 2498 takedown in UK law <>

§ See: Find your local UK Trading Standards office <>

§ See: US copyright law ("United States Code Title 17") <>

Cancellation fees for shifts

If a freelance agrees a shift or a day job and the client cancels it, the freelance should of course be compensated.

It reasonable for the freelance to charge the full fee for days cancelled with less than a week's notice. However much notice was given, the freelance should receive the full fee if they have turned down other work to fit it in.

As always, our recommendation is to negotiate professionally. You had a contract to do work. If the original work the client had in mind is not there or is not ready on time, is there other work you could do for them?

Several NUJ members have, however, requested a schedule of cancellation charges that they could send to clients. Below we link to a guide, probably most appropriate to shifts on daily papers. You may want to list percentages based on these when confirming commissions, with the statement:

In the event of cancellation of shifts, the following charges apply. Should I find replacement work, there will be no charge.

Notes on negotiating rates for cancellation fees for shifts

Our advice on negotiating cancellation fees boils down to: do it, and do not just accept what (if anything) is offered.

The suggested rates: cancellation fees for shifts (Know a better rate? tell us!)

If a freelance has a shift or a day job cancelled, they should of course be compensated. Shorter notice merits more compensation: but they should charge the full fee in any case if they have turned down other work to fit the shift in.

The figures below are a guide to other cases - probably most appropriate to shifts on daily papers. A weekly should probably give more notice.

Cancellation fees for shifts -
1-7 days' notice100.00%
15-21 days' notice50.00%
22-28 days' notice25.00%
8-14 days' notice75.00%

§ See: Useful publications

§ See: Joining the NUJ <>

§ See: Glossary of terms and categorisations

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

§ See: Rights and why they are important advice

§ See: Late and problem payments advice

§ See: Negotiating rates and rights advice

§ See: Interest and penalty calculator for freelances <>

§ See: Collect-o-Matic checks the details needed - for NUJ members <>

§ See: guidance <>

§ See: enter a claim online <>

§ See: Making a court claim for money including Small Claims & fees <>

§ See: Royal Mail Signed For service <>

§ See: Getting your money basic advice

§ See: Attention! items from the Freelance <>

§ See: NUJ training - including courses on negotiating <>

§ 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 <>

§ See: What freelances need to charge and why advice

§ See: Suggested schedule of cancellation fees for shifts

§ See: Kill fees for commissioned articles

§ See: Specific advice on copyright for photographers

§ See: Show me the money from the Freelance <>

§ See: Tracking down pirates and getting them to pay

§ See: ALCS - Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society <>

§ See: DACS - Design and Artists Copyright Society <>

§ See: Public Lending Right (Now administered by the British Library) <>

§ See: Copyright etc Act 1988 HTML from <>

§ See: Some things you should know about copyright in one printable page <>

§ See: IR35 page HM Revenue & Customs <>

§ See: Rights and why they are important advice

§ See: Setting up a company advice

§ See: Employment status how the theory works

§ See: Tax returns for the self-employed from HM Revenue and Customs - incl. registration <>

§ See: VAT (Value Added Tax)

§ See: Employment status advice

§ See: HM Revenue and Customs (ex Inland Revenue) <>

§ See: Tax and National Insurance

§ See: HM Revenue and Customs (ex Customs and Excise) <>

§ See: Flat rate scheme information (from HMRC) <>

§ See: Photographers' day and base rates

§ See: Terms that should alert freelances to problems with a contract a glossary <>

§ See: Written statement of employment particulars <>

§ See: Collective action is key to better terms the Freelance on StopPOP <>

§ See: Guide to the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court Small Claims Track (PDF) <>

§ See: Money claim fees <>

§ See: Benefits calculator <>

§ See: Corporation tax HMRC <>

§ See: BACS to basics - no more excuses from the Freelance <>

§ See: Self-employed National Insurance rates from <>

§ See: The day rate ready reckoner ( <>

§ See: NUJ Code of Conduct <>

§ See: VAT Notice 733: Flat Rate Scheme for small businesses (detail) <>

§ See: Companies House online company checks <>

§ See: Suggested schedule of cancellation fees for shifts

§ See: Kill fees for commissioned articles

§ See: Negotiating rates and rights advice

§ See: Negotiating rates and rights basic advice

§ See: Negotiating rates and rights advice

§ See: Some things you should know about 'quoting' in one printable page <>

§ See: NUJ London Freelance Branch training page more courses <>

§ See: Indemnities - challenge them and get insurance

§ See: How to pitch from a commissioning editor's mouth <>

§ See: Cross-border civil and commercial legal cases: guidance for legal professionals <>

§ See: US Senate passes Small Claims process Freelance Jan 2021 <http:/>

§ See: Universal Credit < >

§ See: Working Tax Credits <>

§ See: How to pitch from a commissioning editor's mouth <>

§ See: NUJ training - including courses on negotiating <>

§ 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 <>

§ See: What freelances need to charge and why advice

§ See: Suggested schedule of cancellation fees for shifts

§ See: Kill fees for commissioned articles

§ See: NUJ London Freelance Branch training page more courses <>

§ See: Negotiating rates and rights advice

§ See: Syndication and spin-off rights advice

§ See: Employment status how the theory works

§ See: Sometimes 'the man' blinks negotiating success from the Freelance <>

§ See: Starting a company <>

§ See: Your rights as a worker and insisting on holiday pay - from the Freelance <>

§ See: Your rights as a worker and insisting on holiday pay - from the Freelance <>


§ See: Useful publications

§ See: Joining the NUJ <>

§ See: Glossary of terms and categorisations

§ See: NUJ Code of Conduct <>

This is updated to 2021-11-07 22:00:00; if you have a printout, check the current version at

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

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

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