Naomi sent me a message. She asked:
“What I would like to know, is when you are trying to get a paid gig online, how do you find out if it is legitimate? And if they refuse to pay you at some point, what can be done about that. Most of us cannot afford a literary lawyer, since they are so expensive.”
Her question is a real problem for writers whether or not they write for an online site or for a traditional print source. I’ve had a good deal of personal experience with the latter. I was a freelance writer for a Midwestern newspaper for nearly two decades. I was paid by the article and any accompanying photographs, and retained the copyright once the work was published. It was difficult for other news sources to copy my photographs because newspaper pictures are very grainy when copied. As for text, if another source used parts of my work there was either an attribution given to me or the newspaper where my work had been published. Things became more complicated when newspapers began to publish their content online.
Back in 2006, maybe even earlier, I received a message about a class action lawsuit that pertained to writers whose work was published on the Internet. Once a work is published online there seems to be a Wild West mindset where everything on the ‘Net is thought to be fair game for use rather than plagiarism. The suit aimed at seeking restitution for writers whose work had been used without compensation.
The suit has yet to be finalized. An issue pertaining to the suit went before the U.S. Supreme Court. The case was argued in October 2009. Early in 2010, the Supreme Court overturned a ruling by the Second Circuit on a jurisdictional issue and sent the case back to the Second Circuit for further proceedings, which is where the case is pending at this time.
Even if the court were to eventually rule that writers should be compensated in full by anyone who uses their work, the enforcement of this finding would be very difficult, lengthy and costly to enforce. So what’s a writer to do?
Want to know what I told Naomi? Visit my blog Out of the Box Publishing Company.