Precarious E-Lancers

Freelance journalists’ rights, contracts, labor organizing, and digital resistance

Authored by: Errol Salamon

The Routledge Handbook of Developments in Digital Journalism Studies

Print publication date:  August  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138283053
eBook ISBN: 9781315270449
Adobe ISBN:


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Freelance journalists are self-employed workers that print journalism companies have long contracted to do short-term assignments or piece work (Bibby, 2014: 11–12; Cohen, 2016; Salamon, 2016a). Yet between 1994 and 1996, companies in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada pioneered a new type of contract for freelance contributors. This contract has typically demanded that freelancers waive their moral rights and assign their copyrights to the company – rights that by default are theirs, as enshrined in copyright legislation (Salamon, 2016a: 986). The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ, 2016) explains that in general, these contracts demand that freelance contributors

assign to the publisher a worldwide, exclusive right to use, reproduce, display, modify, and distribute [their] work in all types of platform, known or future [and] allow the publisher to transfer [their] works to third parties without additional payment to the author and exploit [their] works in any way the publisher deems necessary.

With these contracts, corporations have thus had the potential to increase revenues and profits while decreasing the potential for freelance contributors to resell their work and maximize their income. In response, freelance journalists have taken collective action, adopting three key tactics to resist rights-grabbing contracts: class-action lawsuits, boycotts, and strikes. They have used digital communications as a tool to facilitate the two latter tactics. In this chapter, I outline a history of these contracts and the digital resistance of freelancers’ labor organizations, situating them within a broader political economy of print journalism, freelance employment, and labor organizing in a digital age.

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