Writers Union Props Libel Insurance Plan

Article excerpt

Dotinga (rdotinga@aol.com) is an education reporter with the North County Times, Escondido, Calif.

Union says publishers forced the move by pressing freelancers to sign indemnity clauses

As newspapers and magazines increasingly force freelance journalists to assume legal liability for their work, a union of freelance writers is planning to offer group libel insurance.

The National Writers Union - in what appears to be a first - is preparing a libel insurance plan for its 5,000 members. The union plans to send out enrollment packages later this month and to make coverage effective Jan. 1.

The move is in response to growing numbers of publications that require freelancers to sign contracts assuming liability for damages resulting from their work.

"The idea that someone who got $200 to write an article should be forced to assume the legal costs for what might be a billion-dollar media conglomerate is pretty crazy," said Philip Mattera, an author and NWU vice president. "But that's what the industry started doing. It's become an increasing problem for freelance journalists. In many cases, it's nonnegotiable. People face the choice of losing the assignment or taking on this incredible potential burden."

The union hopes about half of its members will sign up, Mattera said. Policies could cost $95 a year, depending on how many writers buy.

Available through Lloyds of London, policies would have a $5,000 deductible and would cover writers for up to $1 million for libel. Coverage also includes invasion of privacy, emotional distress, trade libel (i.e. disparaging vegetables) and accidental copyright violation, Mattera said. …