It was six months ago when I came across a great writing ad online: “Looking for Amazing Freelance Writers For An Eight-Month Project.” Eight months was a pretty substantial amount of time to be doing what I loved – writing – while making some much-needed cash.
So, I did the most natural thing, and sent an application alongside my best writing samples. After a few weeks, I received an email from the employer with the title, “You’re Hired!”
Imagine my joy and excitement when I read the email! Attached to it was a contract. As I had signed many contracts throughout my freelance writing career, it wasn’t a new experience. After all, it was all about making the client comfortable. So, I skimmed through the contract as I always did, signed it, and returned it to the sender.
As I began working on the writing projects, I missed a deadline on one occasion. This led to the client getting understandably upset. After I explained that I had many writing projects running concurrently, I was immediately terminated from the project and, in the two days that followed, I was served with a lawsuit.
It stated that I was in breach of contract. Therefore, I would not receive compensation for the work that I had already submitted and that the client was seeking $5,000 from me for wasting his time. To my detriment, the letter was not an idle threat. Numerous emails from the client’s attorney citing that I would be reported to the Internet Crime Complaint Center followed. I had to seek legal counsel of my own.
After I did this, I found out that the initial contract the client had sent me had an irrefutable clause that stated I was not to work on any other writing projects while working for the client. The clause went on to state that, should this happen, it would be considered a breach. I had spent countless hours and sleepless nights providing the work that the client needed. The neck and back pains I suffered were proof that I was committed to the work. However, the client wouldn’t have any of my explanations, even after we tried the arbitration route.
“If only I had read the contract…” I kept thinking, and beating myself up for it.
Well, I didn’t and the price I had to pay was $3,000 out of my savings, which was money I had set aside for a rainy day after months of squirreling away. Essentially, I wasted time working on a contract that did not pay me anything in return, and ended up costing me all of the money that I had.
Just like any other profession, freelance writers are equally susceptible to legal action. As I learned the hard way, it’s easier to sue a single person than it is a company. As an independent contractor, you’re always at risk. They say that knowledge is power and it’s best to be armed with the right information at all times.
Here are 3 common reasons why freelance writers get sued:
Breaching terms of service
This is exactly what happened to me! When you are newly employed, and don’t fully understand the scope of work that your client requires, as well as their terms and conditions, you may find yourself breaching the terms of service. For instance, I was not permitted to have any other projects running concurrently with the writing project that I secured. If I had taken sufficient time to go through the contract, and even sought legal help before signing it, I wouldn’t have faced a lawsuit.
To avoid breaching terms of service, inquire from your employer if there are any. If you are working independently with a client, find out whether there are conditions that you should meet. On the other hand, if you’re working through a website, familiarize yourself with the terms and conditions to be on the safe side.
Infringing on intellectual property
This is a common way to get sued as a freelance writer. It can happen when you unknowingly create similar content to what’s already on the Internet. It gets even worse when you use another author’s work and you don’t give them proper credit. It could even happen when you borrow your own piece of information that you created when working on a past project provided you sold specific rights to the previous client. To avoid this, ensure that your work remains original. When your content is fresh and original, you are saving yourself from potential legal trouble.
When working on your writing project, and giving your opinions, you may think that your client is liable for any complaints that come with the work since he will be the one using it. Unfortunately, there are cases where clients have redirected legal action towards their freelancers so they could avoid a lawsuit themselves. This is why you should draw up a freelance contract to protect yourself. The contract includes an indemnity clause that states, once the work is complete, you’re not liable for it.
The Bottom Line
When you take on a writing project, ensure you examine all angles. No one would want to take on work, and later on deal with legal issues. I learned the hard way! It is a money-wasting and stressful experience. However, if you understand your liability, and adopt a contract that will protect your interests, you shouldn’t have to worry about lawsuits.
Emily Thompson is a freelance writer who has contributed to publications such as Reviewed, Freedom With Writing, The Sun, and many more. In her free time, she enjoys whipping up recipes with her daughter and walking her dog.
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Intuitively, I’d bet you’re not the first writer that this company has refused to pay and later, sue. It’s sounds ‘systematic’ on their end.
“…I found out that the initial contract the client had sent me had an irrefutable clause that stated I was not to work on any other writing projects while working for the client. The clause went on to state that, should this happen, it would be considered a breach. I had spent countless hours and sleepless nights providing the work that the client needed. The neck and back pains I suffered were proof that I was committed to the work. However, the client wouldn’t have any of my explanations, even after we tried the arbitration route…”
I’m a third-party objective. This company can generate ‘revenue’ by pursuing writers’ breach of contract to the ‘full extent of the law’, I’d say the company is hedging their bet, at the gate, betting on a ‘trend’ that a vast majority of freelancers WON’T READ the clause – cuz they’re so excited to write and get paid. Thus, the company waits and watches – It’s clocked, palpable, predictable. I’d love to see, on their end, exactly what the FINISHED project looks like. I would think that’s a reasonable inquiry – but now that you’ve paid and jumped through hoops, you owe them nothing. It might be worth a little investigative journalism, yes? I’d hedge my bet and predict that this is a scam on their part.