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Authors Guild and Coalition Partners Ask Congress for Collective Action Rights for Professional Creators

The Authors Guild and eight other organizations that represent freelance creators sent a letter to congressional leaders seeking legislative amendments to labor and antitrust laws that would enable freelance professional creators to negotiate collectively. Under current labor law, only W-2 employees have the clear right to do so.

The east front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., by day

April 28, 2023 (New York): The Authors Guild and eight other members of the Creators Together coalition sent a letter to Congress, urging the adoption of collective action rights for professional creators. Other signatories included the Dramatists Guild, National Writers Union, Graphic Artists Guild, Music Workers Alliance, Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association, The Society of Composers & Lyricists, and Songwriters Guild of America.

Addressed to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, and House Minority Leader Hakeem S. Jeffries, the letter requested that Congress pass legislation that will allow professional creators to work together and share information to ensure they are fairly paid.

The letter describes freelance creators’ lack of bargaining power with the big media and entertainment conglomerates most work for, as well as the profound disparity between the enormous revenues that their work generates for these companies and the paltry compensation most receive for their work. Yet, unlike employees—including creators who work temporarily, such as on film and television—they have no ability to collectively demand better terms. As explained in the letter, U.S. law currently only recognizes two types of work statuses: employees and independent contractors. While employees have the right to share information with each other, act and negotiate collectively with their employers for better terms, and boycott bad actors, freelancers (classified as independent contractors) are currently prohibited under U.S. antitrust laws from taking any of these actions, lest they be accused of colluding.

The organizations seek an amendment to the National Labor Relations Act, which provides an express right to employees to act and bargain collectively, so that it also covers freelance professional creators. Alternatively, Congress could amend the antitrust law to make clear that the Sherman Act’s prohibitions on collusion do not apply to individual professional freelance creators. Doing so would preserve the right to free association guaranteed to all persons by the First Amendment, and would ensure competition, diversity, vigor, and fairness in the largest intellectual property economy in the world.

“Our current law all but abandons our vital freelance creative professionals—or at least perpetuates the fiction that they should not be able to conduct arms’ length negotiations,” said Authors Guild CEO Mary Rasenberger. “Most freelancers have little choice or power to do anything but accept take-it-or-leave-it contracts, which often take their copyrights to boot! While antitrust laws may make sense for the types of independent contractors who can set their own rates, these laws are not fairly applied to freelance creators whose rates are all but forced upon them by one or a few large corporations wielding monopsony powers.

“Freelance creative professionals are not simply misclassified workers, however, like many gig workers today,” Rasenberger adds. “As the letter stresses, creators need to maintain their independent status to retain and obtain the benefit of their own copyrights. We believe the specific relief we have requested in our letter proposes a fair and practical middle ground.”

Click here to read the coalition’s letter (pdf).

About the Authors Guild and Authors Guild Foundation

With more than 13,000 members, the Authors Guild is the nation’s oldest and largest professional organization for published writers. It advocates on behalf of working writers to protect free speech, freedom of expression, and authors’ copyrights; fights for fair contracts and authors’ ability to earn a livable wage; and provides a welcoming community for writers and translators of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and journalism. Through its educational and charitable arm the Authors Guild Foundation it also offers free programming to teach working writers about the business of writing, as well as organizing public events that highlight the importance of a rich, diverse American literary culture and the authors who contribute to it.