One of the career hazards of working as a freelance journalist is worrying about lawsuits. Any journalist worth their salt will occasionally antagonize much more powerful figures, and this can occasionally lead to the courtroom. Lawsuits funded by third parties have targeted journalists quite a few times… and, to their surprise, journalists have found out their publications may not be paying their legal costs.
Writing over at Contently’s publication The Freelancer, Lynsey Grosfield makes a compelling case that freelance writers need to look at their contracts very carefully.
Freelancers & Lawsuits: Do Magazines And Websites Help Freelancers Out With Lawsuits?
The answer is: It depends.
Different publications and websites have different contracts with freelancers or contractors, and protections vary depending on the terms of a contract.
Gosfield recounts encountering a pretty standard issue contract that leaves freelancers out to dry if something goes wrong legally:
“Contributor shall indemnify and hold Publisher harmless and defend Publisher against any liabilities, losses, damages, costs and expenses, including attorney’s fees, arising from any claim, action or proceeding based upon or in any way related to any breach of this Agreement, including breach of these representations and warranties, which shall survive termination of this Agreement.”
Basically, according to that contract, a freelancer is responsible for any legal fees their magazine might have to pay if an article leads to a lawsuit.
If you are working as an investigative journalist or are covering litigious story subjects, you’re well advised to renegotiate these contract terms with the publication you’re writing for.
Freelancers & Lawsuits: Can Freelance Journalists Get Private Libel Insurance?
The answer, sadly, also is: It depends.
The type of an insurance freelancers need is called “liability insurance,” and it covers things like
- Negligence claims
- Awarded damages and defense costs
- Libel and/or slander claims
- Punitive damages
- Claims related to subcontracting
Several third-party insurance companies offer liability insurance, but it typically costs several thousand dollars per year. In addition, insurance companies often stop offering this service (which is an annoying thing!). Honestly, finding an insurance company offering liability insurance to a small business such as a freelance journalist may require a bit of footwork.
Freelancers & Lawsuits: The Incorporation Advantage
While finding liability insurance can take some time, there’s one damage-mitigation solution that can help freelancers: Incorporation. Setting up a one-employee LLC or S Corporation can help protect personal assets from a potential lawsuit.
Disclaimer: None of the preceding text is legal advice, the author is not a lawyer, and this article is for information purposes only.