AB5 still causing issues for freelancers
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.