How this west coast photographer used NYC's Freelance Isn't Free law to get paid

Mar 18, 2019

The second anniversary of the Freelance Isn't Free law is coming up on May 15, and we're celebrating with your success stories. To help us provide a pathway for more freelancers to use the law, share your experience at advocacy@freelancersunion.org.

As a photographer in Los Angeles, I’ve worked with many clients on the East Coast and elsewhere to create sun-drenched images of Southern California to enhance their campaigns.So when an advertising agency in New York City contacted me last fall to create social imagery for a widely-recognized fashion label, I agreed. I was asked to photograph several billboards around Los Angeles in a creative, street-scene style to use on the label’s social media accounts.

The budget was set at $250 per billboard with no edits — a fairly standard rate for that kind of work.The agency paid me for the first two sets within days of delivery, and a little while later they hired me to photograph two additional sets. I delivered those with my invoice the next day, according to deadline.

Payment was slow the second time around, though. Not wanting to irritate anyone at the agency as I was hoping to establish an ongoing relationship with them, I waited and followed up the next week. They told me that they were in the process of moving their office and that things were hectic; their response felt like the late payment had simply been an oversight due to unusual chaos.

So, I waited. And followed up … again, and again. Finally, the client stopped responding altogether, and the woman who managed their accounting department seemed to be eternally “out of the office.” As a subscriber to the Freelancer’s Union newsletter, I was aware of the Freelance Isn’t Free law and knew what to do. When the payment was 30 days late, I filed a complaint and copied the client on the email.

It was an impressively easy, quick, and free process. A few days later the client suddenly paid the invoice. A short while after the payment was finally made, they reached out to ask if I could photograph another billboard on what was expected to be an unusually rainy day in Los Angeles — possibly to protect themselves from accusations of retaliation under Freelance Isn’t Free’s anti-retaliation provisions.

I asked if I could photograph it on a different day due to the weather, and never heard back. Regardless, I’m thankful to have had the option of filing a complaint, as I may have had no realistic recourse otherwise. The simple act of filing the complaint, coupled with the potential penalties associated with Freelance Isn’t Free violations, were enough to elicit a response when no amount of follow-ups had been.

Even with contracts in place, recovering a missed payment requires time and money that many freelancers simply don’t have. I firmly believe that laws like Freelance Isn't Free should be in place across the country. When a freelancer spends time creating work for a client, they should be paid for it. It really is as simple as that.

Share your Freelance Isn't Free success story at advocacy@freelancersunion.org.