The Case For Contracts: Let’s Talk Business and Freelance Agreements

Whitney Houston made the phrase “show me the receipts” famous in her 2002 interview with Diane Sawyer and in B.B. King’s ‘70s hit “Nobody Loves Me But My Mother,” the music legend flat out said even his mother could be “jivin too.” It’s that kind of amusing skepticism that makes lawyers and journalists have an instant bond. We don’t just want to hear verbal talk of ideas, compliments with hidden agendas or handshake agreements. We prefer fact-checking, documented conversations and signatures, please and thank you.

Lawyers and journalists are under immense pressure to be ethical, credible, hard-working and to keep a stellar reputation. Naturally, there would be synergy between a lawyer and journalist who realized those two worlds could come in handy for legal news tips. While the decision to collaborate on a blog was an easy one for my partner (in blogging) and I, after working together off and on for a couple of years, negotiating the terms of the co-writing contract was more involved. No matter the camaraderie, business is still very much business.

We began the contract process by going over more than 50 emails outlining both of our expectations, goals and terms for the project which we then combined into a written agreement. During the drafting process new questions were raised such as:

Who owns the copyright to blog posts jointly created by the parties? How would we be credited for blog posts on third-party sites? Who would retain creative control? Who would be responsible for the research of each post?

Contract questions like these are applicable to most freelance agreements even for those in different career fields. Here are some general items freelancers should discuss before working on any freelance project to make there is no miscommunication.

  • Both sides should explain what their ultimate goal is before beginning work on the assignment/project.
  • Both sides should explain how they plan to reach the goal mentioned above.
  • Both sides should agree on the exact job roles they will play in the goal mentioned above.
  • Both sides should agree on any monies exchanged for these services. For example, is the freelancer entitled to initial payment before completing the work? Before or after approval? How will funds be split for outside work if the two parties still act as a unit?
  • Can the freelancer retain the work product until they are paid in full?
  • Is the freelancer entitled to share in any revenue generated from the work product? (Note: A work-for-hire clause is another important provision in freelance agreements. This clause stipulates that any work created by the freelancer belongs to the company or individual that contracted the services of the freelancer. Without this clause, the freelancer retains copyright ownership to the work product created.)

While the idea of drafting all of this information up may seem tedious at first, having those receipts (i.e., contracts) makes all the difference between a hobby and a business. In addition to avoiding potential business conflict, contracts are also a handy reference tool for later use.

Do you use business contracts?

The information contained here is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered but should not be construed as one-size-fits-all legal advice. Speak to an attorney specifically about your contractual agreement for specific terms and conditions.