NPPA sues California over controversial ‘freelancer’ bill that harms photojournalists

19 Dec

The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) has announced its new lawsuit against California’s Assembly Bill 5 (AB5), which forces some independent contractors (freelancers) to become employees of their clients.

The AB5 bill was passed in September but won’t go into effect until next month. Though the law aims to prevent companies from exploiting workers by falsely declaring them as independent contractors, critics say it unfairly restricts people like freelance photojournalists who desire the freedom and copyright benefits associated with being an independent contractor.

In a statement published on Wednesday, the NPPA claims this law ‘discriminates against some visual journalists’ who wish to work as freelancers but are instead forced to become employees ‘whether they desire this working relationship or not.’

The NPPA argues that this legal requirement violates the U.S Constitution because, in part, only certain freelancers are covered by it; others, including graphic artists and marketing photographers, are allowed to retain their independent contractor status.

Photojournalists who also shoot video are forbidden from acting as freelancers under Assembly Bill 5, as well, which the NPPA alleges is ‘a content-based restriction on speech.’ Other issues introduced by AB5 include a limit of 35 assignments or submissions per year per client for still image photojournalists. The organization notes that many other types of freelancers also face similar restrictions, including freelance writers and freelance editors.

The NPPA lays out the negative impact this law will have on freelancers, stating:

NPPA members impacted by the law range from retirees who will be losing extra income to mid-career professionals whose journalism clients are part of their overall business model. All of the impacted members are experienced journalists, trained in ethics and professional standards, who keep their local community informed on matters of public concern. Their voices will be silenced when the impact of AB5 hits their businesses. Some NPPA members report that their income from certain clients is expected to drop by 60-75% next year due to AB5.

In addition to earning concerns, the organization also points out that by forcing photographers to work as employees, these photojournalists will lose the copyrights to the images they capture under their employment, whereas freelancers retain the copyrights unless they choose to surrender them to their clients.

Ultimately, the organization claims that it repeatedly attempted to get the bill modified so that it won’t negatively impact freelance photojournalists, but that California lawmakers have been ‘unsympathetic and unresponsive to our pleas.’ The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles, California; the full legal complaint can be accessed on the NPPA’s website.

Articles: Digital Photography Review (

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