The Authors Guild is asking its membership and allies in the publishing industry to contact their senators to express support for the PRO Act, which has passed the House and is under discussion by the Senate. The act would enable freelance writers and authors to bargain collectively with businesses that hire them, something currently restricted by antitrust law. The Guild is also asking that the Senate amend the language of the bill to specifically cover the work of freelancers and authors.

To further discuss the legislation, on April 9, the Guild will host a webinar that will explain how the PRO Act, if enacted, would give freelance writers and authors collective bargaining rights, and what that means, as well as to address any misconceptions. Further details about how the PRO Act will affect freelancers and authors are online.

The letter from the Authors Guild reads as follows:

We are asking you to show your support for the PRO Act. The PRO Act, as passed by the House and currently in the Senate, is the most sweeping, comprehensive labor bill in decades. It amends the National Labor Relations Act to strengthen collective bargaining rights, and it would give many professional freelancers the same rights as employees to collectively bargain with the companies that employ them. This is a profound development for freelance writers.

The Authors Guild has long advocated for laws that would enable book authors, freelance writers, and other freelance creators to collectively bargain. The PRO Act would be a boon in much the same way that collective bargaining power has helped the screenwriters of Hollywood.

Without it, writers and other freelance creators will continue to be restrained by antitrust law from acting together to negotiate better rates or financial terms. Under current law, only employees may collectively negotiate the terms of their employment. Freelancers are treated as though they are independent, competitive businesses with the ability to fully negotiate with the buyers of their services, even though, like employees, they have little or no ability to effectively negotiate the terms of their employment, and they are generally underpaid.

In the last two decades, authors and freelance journalists have seen their incomes precipitously decline, while they also have been forced to hand over to publishers more of their rights. Writers need to be able to stand together to negotiate better terms, set compensation standards, and, when necessary, boycott publishers. The PRO Act would give them the ability to do all of these things and more to improve their bargaining position against publications.

To be clear, the PRO Act would not otherwise affect authors’ and freelancers’ legal status as independent contractors—a status that many writers hold dear for key reasons:

  1. Under copyright law, independent contractors get to keep their copyrights when they write (unless a contract provides otherwise).
  2. Under the current tax code, independent contractors may deduct business expenses (on the downside, they must pay self-employment taxes).
  3. Freelancers have unparalleled flexibility in working hours and workplaces.

To ensure that courts interpret the PRO Act to cover freelance writers and authors without affecting copyright ownership, the Authors Guild requests that this language be added to Section 2 of the bill:

“As used in this subsection, a “service” may include the creation of copyrightable content, and this designation shall not affect copyright authorship or ownership under Title 17, the Copyright Act.”