Copyrights are important to a writer’s success, but so is money. Sometimes work for hire (WFH) is a great way to earn money.
Freelancers can make good incomes writing promotional materials, product manuals, grants, or books in series (think Dummies). Without owning the copyrights they can’t sell the movie or smartphone app rights, but how much are the rights to Assembling Your EZ-Burn Oven worth?
The key is to get paid enough so that you won’t miss those movie rights. And commercial clients, who are likely to be more profitable than conventional publishers, often pay better. If a magazine commissions a work-for-hire article, or a contract clause states that the work doesn’t qualify as work for hire under the Copyright Act—there are legal limitations, but they’re easily circumvented—and the writer has to surrender all rights, that is a red flag.
Work-for-hire writers have other concerns. If you want to use portions of your work on your website, you need to write that into your contract. If the contract contains a harsh indemnification clause you can’t remove, be sure that it applies only to the work as submitted, so you won’t be sued if the employer makes changes.
Above all, watch for confidentiality and non-competition clauses that can interfere with your livelihood. Change any restrictions on your dog-training booklets from “writing on the topic for two years” to “writing booklets on training Dachshunds in Greenwich Village apartments.” Anything over a year is oppressive, too. Your GCD contract advisor, whom you can find at firstname.lastname@example.org, will help you with these changes.
Barbara Mende is the NWU Grievance and Contract Division coordinator.