This is not legal advice, just some information gleaned from my own experiences. When in doubt, consult a real, live legal professional with intellectual property rights experience.
Because you’re a brilliant, responsible freelancer, you know that you need a contract for every job. But what if the client doesn’t provide one? And what if the client does?
Here’s the skeleton of the contract I use for my projects.
Address Line 1
Address Line 2
Date: Sunday, March 18, 2007
Project: Title, word count, page count
Description: Type of work, including:
· Element 1
· Element 2
· Element 2
Work will be performed using MS Word’s Track Changes and Comments features [or Adobe 7.0 Professional PDF annotation tools] [or on hard copy and returned via FedEx].
Rate: XX pages [hours] @ $YY/page [hour] = $ZZZZ
Payment: Two payments of $AAAA, one due immediately and one due on project completion, within 15 days of receipt of invoice.. [In addition to monetary compensation, explicit acknowledgment of Kristen King’s editing work in the acknowledgments section of the book, if appropriate, and two (2) free copies of the finished book on publication would be greatly appreciated.]
Terms: Work will commence upon receipt of signed agreement and clearance of payment on a mutually agreed upon date and will be complete approximately three (3) to four (4) weeks later. Upon payment in full, the author retains all copyright to this work, including but not limited to electronic rights and the finished product, as well as all rights to any ancillary products, including but not limited to articles, film, and audio recording.
This is a service agreement only, not a contract of employment. This project may be terminated in writing by either party at any time. On termination, Kristen King will return any materials completed to date within ten (10) working days of giving or receiving notice and CLIENT will be billed 50% of the project fee or an hourly rate of $YYY/hour for work performed up to termination, due immediately.
CLIENT is solely responsible for the final content of the document to be edited [written]. The rate quoted for this project is based on the anticipated depth and duration of editing [writing] and is subject to change with written notice in the event that the scope of the project exceeds the initial expectation. Additional work will not be billed without express written approval from the project manager [whoever].
Please sign and date a copy of this document and return it by fax to Kristen King at 814-284-7499 or via postal mail to the address above at your earliest convenience to indicate acceptance of this price and the terms outlined herein. Please contact Kristen at 540-220-2184 or email@example.com with any questions or concerns prior to signing.
Feel free to modify it to your needs — and make sure you change the name and phone number, etc, so people aren’t paying me for your work. Unless, of course, you want them to, which I really wouldn’t mind.
Now, if you receive an agreement from a client, be sure that it contains the following elements:
- It clearly describes exactly what the project materials are and how/when you’ll be receiving them.
- It clearly describes what you’ll be expected to do and how/when you’ll be returning the finished product.
- It allows for a way to revisit the scope/cost/time line of the project without penalty to you in the event that things change.
- It explicitly spells out copyright terms (even, and especially, when you’re doing work for hire) and gives you permission to use the work in your portfolio (if appropriate — but sometimes you simply don’t know, so when in doubt, put that in).
- It gives explicit instructions for termination of the agreement.
Many contracts clients provide include a legal clause of sorts, stating that you won’t infringe on anyone else’s copyright, commit libel, etc. That’s all well and good, but I go ahead and add “to the best of the writer’s [editor’s] knowledge” to each of those terms. If I don’t know I’m doing it (or if you or someone else happen to be making it up), no way am I going to be penalized for it!
Also, you’ll frequently find a clause about the writer’s being responsible for legal fees if the publisher is sued. Again, fine if it’s your fault and you’re actually responsible, but to make sure that you’re paying up in only those cases, I add “against all finally sustained claims” (which means ones in which you’re actually found guilty, rather those that are frivolous or dismissed) and “except for editorial changes made by the publisher” on the advice of DC-area lawyer Nina Graybill, who frequently speaks to Washington Independent Writers. (I look at my notes from her presentation in fall 2004-ish constantly.)
When it comes to kill fees, be sure the fee is clearly stated in the contract, and that it explicitly says rights revert to the author when a kill fee is paid.
These are my tips for freelance contracts. What tips do you have?
This post and any suggestions found in the comments are merely information gained from personal experiences, not legal advice. When in doubt, consult a real, live legal professional with intellectual property rights experience — not a blog.
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