By Mark Loundy
(Note to editor: Please excuse the torn and dirty paper, I've been sleeping in abandoned barns and moving only at night...)
If I'd only known that I was committing a crime I never would have mentioned freelance rates in that E-mail. Now I'm on the lam, without a friend in the world.
Did you know that it's a crime for freelancers to share pricing information? The feds call it "price fixing"— a term usually reserved for the illegal behavior of large corporations.
Unfortunately, for the purposes of anti-trust law, freelancers fall into the same legal category as Exxon or Ford. We can't legally discuss specific rates on the Editorial Photographers discussion list, for example. Don't even think about forming a guild or union.
God forbid the Justice Department should raid the Common Cents international headquarters. My wife and kids would be breaking rocks in Leavenworth.
I'm all out of breath. All this hiding from police cruisers is getting old.
One of the primary reasons that publications are able to make onerous contracts stick is that freelancers cannot, by law, get together and bargain as a group. Even asking somebody how much he or she charged for a particular job is technically a violation. Moderators of online discussion groups are careful not to let discussions stray into "dangerous" territory.
If the National Press Photographers Association had been constituted as a union, it would legally have had to exclude freelance members from coverage under any collective bargaining agreements.
Got to keep moving... Lt. Gerard getting closer... They'll never take me alive...
Enter U.S. Representative John Conyers, Jr. and HR 4643 aka the Freelance Writers and Artists Protection Act of 2002. Conyers' bill may be the only thing that will get me back on the right side of the law. It will grant writers and artists (and photographers) an anti-trust exemption and permit us to bargain collectively. The measure is supported by a number of professional organizations, including the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Graphic Artists Guild and Editorial Photographers.
If you want to level the negotiating playing field for freelancers or if you just want me to see my family again, now is the time to write to your congressional representative. Use the links in the left column and send a note off today.
I hear a helicopter. Are those bloodhounds? Geez, I hope I get a sympathetic cellmate.