Do You Need A Contract When Hiring A Freelance Writer?

The old saying on the web is content is king, which simply means you need high-quality content for your website. Many site owners hire freelance writers to produce such material. This strategy raises a simple question. Do you need a contract when hiring a freelance writer?

Freelance Writers

The web has dramatically changed the way a large number of professions function in the modern economy. Freelance writing is one of those professions. The days of hiring writers through expensive middlemen such as public relations firms are over.

The web is full of sites listing quality freelance writers. You can hire them directly and cut out the middle man. The sites will charge you a fee, but it is nominal and usually taken out of the writer’s fee. Examples of sites include, and any of the larger freelance sites such as Just make sure to shop around and try out a number of writers until you find the ones who do quality work and write in a style you find attractive.

Paying Is Not Ownership

If you pay a writer to produce content for you, isn’t it rather obvious that you own that content when it is delivered? It certainly seems like common sense, but we are dealing with the law here, so common sense takes a back seat.

In truth, you do not own the content produced by the freelance writer even though you pay them to write it. The problem is copyright law. Under copyright law, the person creating the “work” is automatically vested with the copyright to it. Put another way, the writer owns the material.

Okay, so the writer automatically owns the copyright. Don’t they automatically transfer it to you when they receive payment for the work? You would think so, but the answer under copyright law is again no.

How can this be? The answer is fairly simple. As a matter of public policy, the law is written to recognize creative people tend not to be the most detailed when it comes to legal issues. Copyright protects writers from themselves by requiring an additional step that should set off alarms regardless of how familiar a writer is with the law.

What is the step? A copyright transfer must be in writing.

Freelance Writer Contract

Do you need a contract when hiring a freelance writer? Yes, you do if for no other reason than to make sure it contains a clause transferring copyright from the writer to you. Without a written contract, you technically do not own the end product, and this can lead to two potential problems.

The first concern should be obvious. What if you subsequently have a dispute with the writer? They could sue you for royalties or request a court force you to remove the content. Is this likely? It is a risk, but not a huge one.

A second concern is more realistic. What happens if you get an offer you can’t refuse for the site? The person buying the site is going to ask to see proof of ownership for the various elements of the site. If you can’t produce evidence of a written transfer for the content created by the writer, the deal is going to collapse. This problem frequently happens.

Payment and Delivery Terms

You should also use a contract for a freelance writer to nail down the terms of your agreement. Writers are artists of a sort. They tend to view deadlines as merely suggestions. A contract can define the deadlines a writer must meet as well as any penalties associated with not meeting the deadlines. This language keeps you from ending up in a situation where your content project drags on and on and on.

In Closing

You should use a contract in any business transaction, and your relationship with freelance writers is no different. Contact me today to learn more about obtaining a freelance writer contract.

Richard A. Chapo, Esq.