December 17, 2019

Freelance journalists sue over California’s new contracting law

Los Angeles; December 17, 2019Two of the largest groups representing freelance journalists filed a lawsuit today challenging California’s new rules for contractors. Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5), which takes effect January 1, significantly changed the way businesses can use contractors and has already jeopardized the livelihoods of many members of both the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA). 

AB 5 is full of unfair exemptions and carveouts that disfavor freelance journalists compared to other professions that engage in speechWriters and photographers submissions to publication are capped at 35 pieces of content per year; if they exceed that limit, they must become employees. Journalists who record audio or video instantly lose their ability to work independently. Meanwhile, publishers will face higher costs.  

“Under the law, a freelancer like me can write 200-plus press releases in a year for a marketing firm, and it’s no problem,” said San Diego freelance writer Randy Dotinga, a board member and former president of ASJA. “But if a newspaper wants me to write a weekly column about local politics, it must put me on staff — a very unlikely prospect — or violate the law. Otherwise I am silenced.” 

“From the first reports of the introduction of this bill, NPPA has expressed its concern over the arbitrary and unjust treatment of independent visual journalists under its terms,” said Michael P. King, president of the NPPA. “Unfortunately, despite our best efforts to amend the bill’s language, lawmakers have been unsympathetic and unresponsive to our pleas. 

“Treating journalists differently based solely on the content of their speech is flatly unconstitutional,” said Jim Manley, an attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation. “The government cannot single out journalists and deny them the freedom to work as freelancers.” 

The ASJA and NPPA are represented free of charge by Pacific Legal Foundation. More information is available at pacificlegal.org/freelancer. 

Case Documents

Pacific Legal Foundaation case document
American Society of Journalists and Authors v. Becerra - Complaint
December 17, 2019 Download

About Pacific Legal Foundation

Pacific Legal Foundation is a national nonprofit legal organization that defends Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. Since our founding in 1973, we challenge the government when it violates individual liberty and constitutional rights. With active cases in 39 states plus Washington, D.C., PLF represents clients in state and federal courts, with 12 victories out of 14 cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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