AB5 still caus­ing is­sues for free­lancers

Antelope Valley Press - - OPINION -

With the dawn­ing of a new year and decade, free­lance writ­ers and in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ists find them­selves in a pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tion be­cause of Assem­bly Bill 5, which took ef­fect on Jan. 1.

De­spite AB5 se­verely lim­it­ing their earn­ing power as in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ists, they have not lost hope of be­ing able to con­tinue to sup­port them­selves on their terms.

In re­sponse to AB5, the “Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of Jour­nal­ists and Au­thors Inc., filed a law­suit against the state of Cal­i­for­nia, in fed­eral court, to stop a new law from vi­o­lat­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion and dev­as­tat­ing the ca­reers of free­lance jour­nal­ists such as writ­ers and pho­tog­ra­phers,” ac­cord­ing to a story in the Pub­lish­ers Aux­il­iary news­pa­per.

In the story, ASJA Pres­i­dent Mil­ton C. Toby is quoted as say­ing, “We have no choice but to go to court to pro­tect the rights of in­de­pen­dent writ­ers and free­lances jour­nal­ists as a whole.”

He said the stakes are too high and they can­not stand by as their mem­bers and col­leagues “face ill-con­ceived and po­ten­tially ca­reer-end­ing leg­is­la­tion.”

Be­fore the law took ef­fect, we talked about it here, on the Opin­ion page, in hopes that our law­mak­ers would lis­ten. While the law helps those who drive for Uber and Lyft, as well as other in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors, it hurts free­lance writ­ers and pho­tog­ra­phers be­cause it lim­its the amount of con­tent they can pro­duce for any one me­dia out­let. Un­der the new law, in­di­vid­u­als can only pro­duce 35 pieces of con­tent per year.

If they ex­ceed that amount, then they must be­come em­ploy­ees of the pa­per to which they are con­tribut­ing work.

“Un­der the law, a free­lancer like me can write 200-plus press re­leases in a year for a mar­ket­ing firm and it’s no prob­lem,” San Diego free­lance writer Randy Dotinga said in the ar­ti­cle. “But if a news­pa­per wants me to write a weekly col­umn about lo­cal pol­i­tics, it must put me on staff — a very un­likely prospect — or vi­o­late the law. Oth­er­wise, I am si­lenced.”

The ar­ti­cle states that the law­suit chal­lenges AB5’s un­con­sti­tu­tional dis­crim­i­na­tion against jour­nal­ists and was filed in fed­eral court in Los An­ge­les, by ASJA’s pro bono at­tor­neys at Pa­cific Le­gal Foun­da­tion.

ASJA played a lead role in ne­go­ti­at­ing with state leg­is­la­tors early last year, as AB5 was de­bated. How­ever, the Bill’s au­thor, Assem­bly­woman Lorena Gon­za­lez, re­fused to give free­lance jour­nal­ists a work­able ex­emp­tion.

In an al­ready-shrink­ing me­dia land­scape, AB5 puts more pres­sure on me­dia out­lets to not only find ways to pro­duce more con­tent, but to do so with fewer re­sources.

It’s not just Cal­i­for­nia that could be af­fected by this, how­ever. ASJA is deeply con­cerned with pro­posed laws in New York and New Jer­sey that have been in­spired by AB5, ac­cord­ing to the ar­ti­cle.

“If nec­es­sary, ASJA is pre­pared to launch more le­gal ac­tion in sup­port of the free speech, free press and equal pro­tec­tion rights pro­tected by the Con­sti­tu­tion,” the ar­ti­cle states.

De­spite what this might mean for some jour­nal­ists, a fed­eral judge made the de­ci­sion to not al­low free­lance jour­nal­ists and pho­tog­ra­phers an ex­emp­tion from the broad law. U.S. Dis­trict Judge Philip Gutierrez, in Los An­ge­les, de­nied the tem­po­rary re­strain­ing or­der sought by two free­lancers’ or­ga­ni­za­tions, while he takes more time to con­sider their ob­jec­tions to the law. A hear­ing on their re­quest is sched­uled in March.

The judge said the groups waited too long to file a law­suit. They waited three months to sue, af­ter the Bill was signed into law and just two weeks be­fore it took ef­fect. They sought the re­strain­ing or­der a day be­fore it be­came ef­fec­tive.

Let’s hope the March hear­ing yields bet­ter re­sults for free­lancers.

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