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August 20, 2007 10:50 PM Subscribe
What are my rights as a freelance writer? If I'm writing about employees competing on a company-sponsored team, do I have to clear everything I write with their PR people??
posted by mariokrat to law & government (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I was invited by a friend to join a sports team his company was sponsoring to compete in an upcoming festival. Aspiring writer that I am, I pitched an idea to the local free paper, and to the other team members to see if they'd let me talk to them and write an article about the team and the event. The response from both was positive, and things went well. About a half week after I sent the e-mail out to the team describing what I wanted to do, the de facto leader of the team got a bit nervous...
She (let's call her 'Jodie') prohibited me from naming the company or any of its employees on the team unless I got prior approval from their corporate communications manager on the article I wrote before I sent it to my editor. She said this once in a conversation between me and her, and again in front of the entire team at a post-practice lunch. Needless to say, the rest of the team had cooled to the idea of talking to me after that.
It was a Sunday, and I explained to her that my deadline for the article was Monday morning. My compromise solution was to send the article to both my editor and their communications officer at the same time, and have the communications officer deal with the editor about any problems the company might have. Jodie's repeated that their communications officer had to give approval before anyone else saw the piece, and that if I was unwilling to do that then I had to remove all mention of the company and its employees.
I decided then that I had no choice but to remove them, and spent that night re-writing the article into something I am not at all happy with. I sat there enraged thinking, "What the hell? Why am I having to write this piece in this way? Why should I need to get the company's approval?"
Monday morning, Jodie e-mailed me again and told me that it was 'imperative' that I contact their corporate communications before I sent my article to the editor or for any sort of publication. Their communications manager got back to me separately (my friend in the company had e-mailed them for me), and after explaining that the problem was no longer really a problem and that I had re-written the piece, I asked her to clarify their company's policies about such things. She explained that it was unlikely that they would have asked to screen the article in advance of publication, but that they would have asked about what I was likely to write, and who I had talked to. This answer, while better than the one Jodie had given me, was still a bit too ambiguous for me.
My view on the situation is this: Whatever issues there were with my mentioning the company or employees in the piece, they were between the employees and the company. As a non-employee, I believe I was within my rights to write what I wanted within the bounds that I had laid out in my original e-mail to the entire team. It seems to me that there should have been no reason for me to submit my article for approval prior to its even being seen by an editor at the paper.
But: I have very little idea about what rights I actually have about writing in a public forum about a team sponsored by a private entity. If I am participating on a team that is sponsored by a private entity, am I automatically subject to whatever corporate rules they have about talking to the media, even if I'm not an employee myself? Help! I feel like I've self-censored, and it makes me feel dirty. Did I really? I'm in Canada, and so advice about my Canadian rights would be appreciated.