Your Legal Knowledge & Freelancer Rights

By Jamie McSloy / September 27, 2017
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Your Legal Knowledge & Freelancer Rights

Do you know your rights as a freelancer and business owner?

This is something I’ve struggled with and most successful freelancers have struggled with. It’s also something that you need to understand at a certain level.

When you start freelancing, you learn to recognise the scammers and cheapskates. Everyone learns this, the easy way (you start noticing the spelling errors and weird turns of phrases,) and the hard way (people steal your money or disappear without paying.)

As you progress, you’ll work with bigger companies who have contracts, disclaimers and other things for you to sign. Or, you’ll move into selling other things and you’ll have to obey the law when it comes to those things.

At some point, you’ll no longer be a freelancer and will have to act like a real business because you are one.

The best way to do this is to be prepared and do what needs to be done. This article will take you through my quick advice on the subject.

Quick Notes on Freelancer Rights

Here’s my quick-notes advice for dealing with contract stuff as a freelancer:

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  • Understand the law in your area (geographical)
  • Understand the law in other areas (geographical)
  • If you’re doing international work, then look very closely at common scam types and where they come from
  • Get a book or two on copyright law (this is dependent on what you’re doing – car cleaning or something is nothing to do with copyright)
  • Talk to other freelancers and find out what’s common in your niche (for instance, $0.005 per word is not okay for anything in freelance writing. $0.01 is for the first basic SEO writing tests on a new freelance portal and so on.)
  • Don’t be afraid of legalese. There are tons of dodgy companies who’ll put stupid stuff in contract terms that are unenforceable and sometimes illegal; the fact they have a letterhead doesn’t mean they know what they’re talking about.
  • On the other hand don’t think you can do whatever you want, whenever you want. You can’t and if you sign the contract, you should expect to do what it says. For freelance writers, this means actually deliver the work and do it on time.
  • If there’s one thing you need to do, it’s understand the law in your field. Let’s talk about that.

The Law In Your Field

Once you work out which laws apply to you – this might be anything from public liability to copyright law and contract law, you can work out what aspects of the law you need to learn.

Some you’ll need to learn really well, and some you’ll need to glance over and be acquainted with.

This is boring and employees will say, “I can’t believe my boss sent me to a health and safety workshop!” but as a self-employed person, you can’t afford to not know the law.

Luckily there are professional-grade courses available for just about any aspect of law.

Here’s what you should look into (and this is country specific and it’s impossible to give legal advice anyway):

There will be alternative avenues into the legal profession in almost every country. In the UK there’s CILEX and the Open University run courses.

Now, you don’t want to be a lawyer and that’s not what you should aim for. But if you can take modules individually, then you can do that. Understand, this is overkill. In most cases, grabbing legal books and learning is sufficient knowledge.

But if you’re a writer/publisher then you need to know about copyright law and it’s better to get it from a professional who knows what they’re talking about. These courses are also tax-deductible and look great on a resume should you need one.

In any case, there’ll be areas you need to learn and you’ll gain from learning about them properly.

All of this is in aid of…

Don’t Get Screwed By Dodgy Companies

I’ll reiterate what I’ve said in other articles; 99% of all people you work with, sell to and otherwise do business with are perfectly fine. Sometimes, all you need is a handshake and to say, “I’ll do X by Y and you’ll pay me A by B.”

Sometimes, it’s all a bit more complicated when you’re dealing with big companies and they have specific channels.

This is a world away from what freelancers put up with on a daily basis. I’ve been there too.

You do a ton of work and then the company ignores your requests for payment.

You jump through a ton of hoops only to be told, “Sorry… it’s not what we’re looking for.”

Or you think you’re getting a job but then at the last minute, you get “NDA, sign all rights over to us and you can’t write anything on the same subject for anyone else for three years.”

Those types of things aren’t normal and you don’t have to accept them. Many people blindly accept them because they don’t know any better.

The knowledge is there and you should know what you will say no to and what you will say yes to.

  • […] Numerous times across the blog, I’ve stated the importance of knowing your rights as a freelancer and as a businessperson. […]

  • […] I have written time and time again on the site that if you are in business for yourself, then you need to understand the laws that affect your business. […]

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