Be aware of your liability as a freelancer

A recent article in the Huffington Post describes how NY Times writer Joe Sharkey is being sued for $280,000 is the Brazilian courts for blogging about an air crash that took place three years ago — Sharkey was a passenger in a U.S. private jet which crashed into a large Brazilian passenger yet. He wrote that the passengers and crew of the private jet were badly treated and blamed for the accident by the Brazilian government and media. For that, he is being sued by Brazil.

You can read the article to find out the background of the case and its effect on Sharkey. I just wanted to underline a couple of items.

First, that as a freelance writer for the NY Time (albeit one who has written for the Times for 14 years), Sharkey is not eligible to be represented by the Times' lawyers.This is a real problem for freelance writers — especially because many freelance agreements and contracts put the legal onus on the freelancer to pay for any legal costs should they or the company they're writing for be sued because of something they wrote. (I once called an agent who had represented me briefly and asked him about that clause in a contract I had been given. He said not to worry about it — that if anybody wanted to sue, they'd go after the company, knowing that the freelancer didn't have enough money to make it worth their while….)

Second, that according to the piece, "last week the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bi-partisan bill that protects U.S. writers and bloggers from defamation suits in countries that have less robust protections of free speech than in the United States. Foreign libel judgments would not be enforced unless they conformed to U.S. standards." So if Sharkey is found to be guilty of libel in a Brazilian court, he cannot be held responsible for the judgement, or imprisoned for not paying in, in the United States. If he travels outside the U.S., that's another matter….

Blake Fleetwood: Exclusive: NYT Columnist Faces Civil and Criminal Charges, But New Law May Get Him Off The Hook

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