What you must know before taking an assignment of journalistic work and before offering your contribution to a publisher

These are general guidelines. If you have detailed questions, you need to join a union and to consult a union lawyer familiar with the authors' rights and labour law which will govern the contract.

When a publisher (paper, magazine, radio, television et al) orders any journalistic work (writing, photographing, lay-out etc.) from you, you must agree with them:

  • the subject, as exactly as possible;

  • the extent of the work: how many words or pages, how many photographs, days, etc.

  • the delivery schedule: i.e. the deadline by when the work must be finalised.

  • who is responsible of travelling and other expenses;

  • what licenses to use your work the publisher needs; and

  • your fee.

Always make a written agreement for every single job. You may plan your own contract form, or maybe your publisher has got one. An agreement can also be written on a piece of paper, or it can be faxed or e-mailed. Do check carefully that, all the essential is agreed upon, and signed by both parts (on e-mail it´s enough if the counterparts´ names are there). Don´t rely

on a purely oral agreement.

If the contract is in the UK, you can use the Confirmation of Commission form.


It is normal to agree upon only one-time publishing. If the publisher wants licenses to re-use your work, negotiate separate payments for each, specified, use. Never sell "All Rights".)

The principle is that we freelances retain legal ownership of our work. Publishers need to make separate arrangements and additional payments for repeated uses of material or any form of syndication - these rights are not automatic. You may find the London Freelance page On Negotiating useful.


It´s sometimes difficult to decide the exact sum of payment. You may agree a minimum payment, and that if the job is more demanding you´ll get extra. For this reason, some EFJ member unions (particularly in Germany) are very keen that all freelance work should be paid at a daily rate. In other countries the practice of paying writers by the word (e.g. UK & Ireland) or by the character (e.g. Belgium) is a very strong tradition.

When you offer work...

When you offer your contribution to a publisher, and it's accepted, you have to make same kind of agreement as if they'd approached you. If the publisher seems interested in your proposal, send a short synopsis and proposed contract form by fax or e-mail, asking the publisher to answer with any changes they propose. This is to your advantage and theirs.

Contracts for regular work

Many freelances do regular work for a publisher or for several. In this case, it is worth of having a standing contract, for example for one year, with each of them.

Publishers are usually willing to make this kind of contracts, but beware!

Read the form carefully. It is normal that such contacts license to the publisher one-time use of your work. But more and more often publishers' lawyers are issuing contract forms that include a paragraph in which you sell all rights. Don't sign before consulting your union's legal department!

If you refuse to sign, you may lose one client. But if you sign, you lose all your rights for all eternity, and the publisher will earn money that belongs to you by selling your work over and over again.

Tutta Runeberg chair, FREG