For nearly 7 years, I've been writing for a group of websites that now belong to Viacom. I've loved writing for AfterElton.com and AfterEllen.com. But I won't be writing for them anymore, and you should know and care about the reason why.
I am a freelance writer and editor, by choice. I've been working in this field since 1991, and I'm very blessed to have been able to not only support myself as a writer, but to make a very good living doing something I truly love.
I've also been able to focus on subjects that really matter to me, mostly dogs, animal welfare, and veterinary medicine, but also LGBT equality and the relationship of political and social change with popular culture.
That last category is comprised of work I've done almost entirely for the AE/AE sites. I got my start there when AfterElton.com editor Michael Jensen and his partner, Brent Hartinger, came across a humorous post I wrote for this blog, "Ten Reasons Xena and Gabrielle Are Better Than Brian and Justin."
They'd been on the hunt, it seems, for funny lesbians who could write about television for a blog called The Big Gay Picture, at the time a partner site of AfterElton.com and AfterEllen.com. They invited me to guest blog for, I think, a month, and after that asked me to keep writing for them. That turned into gigs for AfterElton and AfterEllen, back in the day when I was, in fact, the only woman writing for the gay men's site.
I've loved working there -- although much less since so many of the people I worked with and for over the years left, particularly Michael who has become a close friend, but also Brent, Malinda Lo, and site founder Sarah Warn. But I still like and care about many of the writers there, and also many of the readers and community members.
However, under no circumstances would I agree to sign the obscene rights grab they call a "freelance contract," the language of which I've pasted below the cut.
In short, it claims ownership of all my notes, thoughts, ideas, suggestions, and works inspired by them, whether I write them down or not, whether they use them or not, literally "in perpetuity throughout the universe in all media and all forms and all formats, and/or any methods of delivery, in any and all media now existing or hereafter devised," as well as "irrevocably, exclusively and perpetually."
Now, you may not care that I won't be recapping Glee or writing anything else for the site anymore (although I do).But if you care about reading things people have written, and want artists, writers, and other creators to be able to make even a small living producing creative works, then you should care, and care a lot, about large corporations leveraging their publishing power to force their contributors to sign contracts like this.
As a freelance writer, rather than a staff writer who gets a salary and benefits, you simply cannot survive if every idea or note or thought you have about something you’re writing for a publisher belongs to them in every usage for all eternity. I routinely turn interviews into multiple articles, and go to conferences and write about what I saw or learned there, for multiple publications, sometimes for years afterward.
I blog — including here — about “outtakes” from my articles on AE/AE all the time. I also frequently come up with ideas while I’m writing articles, which I then turn into other articles. This is how I make my living. Without that freedom, without the ownership of my own thoughts, without the flexibility of the kind of freelance contracts I’ve been writing under now for my entire career -- including for other big corporate media platforms owned by Hearst -- I could never have made a life as a writer.
And young writers, who are forced to go along with these disgusting agreements because they need to be published and need the money, are going to be increasingly disempowered, robbed, violated, and marginalized.
Furthermore, established, proven writers and journalists, photographers and artists, will no longer write for sites like AE/AE, because we don’t have to sell our souls to pay the bills — and who would sell their soul if they didn’t have to?
All of which will have a profound chilling effect on the quality of the work you are going to be seeing out of any publication that forces its writers into these kinds of contracts.
You can read the contract under the cut. In the meantime, I'm really sad to be saying goodbye to a form of expression that meant a lot to me. Thanks for nothing, Viacom.