vaccines and lawsuits and writerly contracts

by marjorieingall on August 30, 2010

I have been known to be a pain in the butt about indemnity clauses in freelance contracts. Conde Nast has a good one — it says, basically, that the writer pledges to write an article that is true to the best of her knowledge, and that the writer will cooperate with Conde Nast if there’s a lawsuit. Other companies’ contracts say, basically, “if we’re sued, it’s your problem; suck it, writer.” When I get a contract like that, I generally ask the company to use CN’s language, and thus far everyone’s been agreeable. But here’s why I ask: Frivolous lawsuits are even more of a pain in the butt than I am.

Behold this horrid story of a vaccines-cause-autism activist suing Wired magazine and the writer of the (superb) piece, Amy Wallace. (Thanks to Daddy Types for the link.) The autism activist objected to a two-word quote from vaccine researcher Paul Offitt: “She lies.” Even though the quote came from Offitt, Wired and Wallace were named in the libel suit. It was dismissed…but still cost money, time and stress. (I presume Conde’s own lawyers handled it, though Wallace doesn’t say.) If you write on heat-generating topics like vaccines, breastfeeding or Palestinian rights, you may find yourself on the receiving end of insults and threats (in my case, you betcha) … and you have to hope some loon doesn’t sue.

Freelance writers can get liability insurance — I looked into it a few years ago but didn’t buy it. Perhaps stupidly. But I’m cheap. And for the last eight years I’ve written mostly for Conde Nast. But these days, now that I’m writing for Tablet and a lot of other publications, I should probably look into getting my own insurance again.

In any case, be sure you don’t sign a contract that makes all lawsuits your burden rather than the publisher’s, OK?

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