California challenge to cap on freelances

A variation on Australia's tax laws limiting who can be considered a 'contractor' has surfaced in the US with a strange restriction affecting freelance journalists.

Legislation which took effect at the beginning of this year limits freelance journalists to 35 pieces of content per year for a company, forcing them to become employees if they exceed that limit.

The law has been challenged in California by the American Society of Journalists and Authors, which claims it "violates" the Constitution and "devastates the careers of freelance journalists such as writers and photographers".

Similar restrictions do not apparently apply to those in PR, marketing and graphic design.

However, a federal judge has denied a temporary restraining order, saying the organisation waited too long before making an application. A hearing now will not be held until March.

ASJA president Milton Toby says the group had "no choice" but to go to court to protect the rights of independent writers and freelance journalists as a whole: "The stakes are too high, and we cannot stand by as our members and our colleagues face ill-conceived and potentially career-ending legislation."

ASJA says Assembly Bill 5 is "full of unfair exemptions and carveouts" that disadvantage journalists against other professions.

San Diego freelance writer and ASJA boar member Randy Dotinga says "a freelancer like me" could write 200-plus press releases a year for a marketing firm without problem, "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."

A number of media outlets are reported to have blacklisted California freelance journalists or limited the amount of work they can produce in 2020. "We hope and expect that the legal challenges to the constitutionality of AB5 will encourage lawmakers considering similar measures in other states to draft legislation that protects the rights of all independent writers and other freelance journalists," said Milton Toby.

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