Journalism - Legal Information

Copyright law is there to protect you but it is surprising the number of freelancers who are not fully aware of the legislation's depth and breadth. As a journalist you need to make yourself aware of what you can and cannot do and, just as importantly, what your clients can and cannot do. At the least ignoring copyright will leave you out of pocket and at worst could result in legal action.


Copyright as a journalist

Copyright legislation means that any stories, articles, or publications you produce will be protected by law, preventing unauthorised reproduction of your work and also protecting your clients if you have assigned them copyright for a story.

Be careful with copyright. Many publications will ask you to assign your rights to them. Try not to do it, you may be able to adapt the story and sell it to more than one newspaper or magazine. But remember - there is no copyright on facts or ideas, you only own the "expression" of an article, for example, the way it is written.

Copyright means that you have the right to be paid for a third party to reproduce your work and that you have the right to be credited as the author of that work.


Freedom of Information Act

There is a variety of beneficial laws for journalists to act under and a number of guidelines to follow. The Freedom of Information Act highlights ethical and public interest issues that you should be aware of as a freelance journalist. This act allows you to apply to government or public bodies to see public documents and statistics from over the years. Good practice as a freelance journalist is crucial and you should therefore follow these ethical codes:

  • Accuracy and double-check sources
  • Give those who are criticised a ‘right of reply’ to demonstrate fairness
  • Respect privacy at difficult times
  • Protect exposed and vulnerable people such as children
  • Do not use hidden devices to record information

Freelance journalists are able to breach these guidelines if a large story occurs with a wide public interest.

This act also outlines public interest guidelines in order to help protect the nation. Some of these guidelines include:

  • Exposing crime or dangerous events within reason
  • Protecting public health and safety
  • Do not misinform the public by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.


Publishing articles on social media

As a freelance journalist, social media is on the rise and becoming the dominant way of publishing information. Public interest can determine what is popular, and what is newsworthy. Freelance journalists should not publish any information such as:

  • Private information
  • Child welfare – particularly at school
  • Someone experiencing grief, shock, or any other difficult time
  • Information protected by privacy settings and is not in the public domain

Always look at the privacy settings, the age of anyone you may wish to contact regarding various stories, and make sure that each story you produce is of the public interest. With social media, you must always check how reliable the source is as it could affect your credibility. Verification will be needed to process particular information; keep a record of all your findings in case it is needed in the future.


Read more on freelance journalism here