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efore you get in your car, you purchase auto insurance; when you buy a home, you acquire homeowners insurance. Writers are notoriously concerned about health coverage policies, so why are so many writing without media (“writing”) insurance? Simply because most are not aware of its existence, affordability, and benefits.

Freelance writers are independent contractors; we are the face and name behind our work. We are a business, pay taxes, and write off expenses; and like all successful businesses, we are susceptible to the unforeseen. Writers research information and share it through blogging, magazines, journals, e-books, and books. With so many media formats, writers are pitching in a whole new field today (pun intended). There is a longer shelf life for written works; whether in a blog or archived on a newspaper’s website, content is more readily accessible through search engines, and there is a heightened risk of liability. Media insurance (similarly, media perils or intellectual property insurance) is the metaphorical fluffy goose down pillow that writers may not necessarily need, but will help them sleep better. There was a noticeable shift about ten years ago according to the President of the National Federation of Press Women (NFPW), Cynthia Price. “We had a lot more members transitioning into PR work and freelance work,” Price said. “We saw the changing demographics in terms of our membership makeup and [media insurance] was something we wanted to offer our members.”

“There is a longer shelf life for written works; whether in a blog or archived on a newspaper’s website, content is more readily accessible through search engines, and there is a heightened risk of liability.”

For All Writers: Freelancers, Self-Publishers, Authors

Some may believe insurance is only necessary for high profile projects. It’s not just celebrity news writing that is a breeding ground for defamation of character and libel claims. Freelance journalists write for a variety of markets and about a plethora of topics. An exposé piece on a hospital’s money laundering or a piece on pet care may seem like they’re at different ends of the liability spectrum; but both are vulnerable to charges of plagiarism, contextual errors, or invasion of privacy.

“It’s not just celebrity news writing that is a breeding ground for defamation of character and libel claims. Freelance journalists write for a variety of markets and about a plethora of topics.”

Outside of journalism, authors can open policies to cover their books. Writers may think they’re safe if they publish their book and then purchase a media insurance policy for it, but they would be wrong. There are two types of policies: occurrence and claims-made. Occurrence policies opened during the year before the writer’s book is published qualify for claims made at any time. Opening a policy today would cover a writer for a book published next week or eleven months from now. A claims-made policy protects writers from claims that are filed only within the policy period. It’s best to discuss the terms with a media insurance broker, so that a policy can be tailored specifically for each title.

Another tricky facet of media policies, in regards to book publishing, is that a hardcopy version, paperback version, international translations, and audio version (books on tape or CD, podcasts) may be treated as separate pieces and not all covered unless explicitly cited. For writers with controversial content like political commentary or academic pieces that may be citing studies, these policies are a comfort to have.

Working without Writing Insurance

What about freedom of speech? “Whether you are journalist or novelist or anything in between, invariably you are going to talk or write about people and ideas; and when you do that, you leave yourself open,” said Jay Brodsky, vice president of DeWitt Stern Group, a risk management and insurance brokerage firm in New York City.

“Whether you are journalist or novelist or anything in between, invariably you are going to talk or write about people and ideas; and when you do that, you leave yourself open.”

If you’ve built a career around writing and haven’t needed media insurance before, why start now? Well, criticism may not be welcomed by those being criticized. Earlier this year, science writer Simon Singh had a libel case dropped after “he lost 46 solid weeks of work.” As a freelancer working for oneself, who will step in to fill your shoes? General counsel of The Author’s Guild, Jan Constantine, shared, “[Media insurance] is peace of mind for an author. Even if an author knows they’re totally innocent, they’re still going to have to deal with legal fees, and legal fees are very high.” Without media insurance, a writer would be responsible for 100% of court, defense, and award costs. On top of the fees, the writer will spend the majority of her time working on matters concerning the case. And like Singh, she could lose almost an entire year of work—or more.

Media Insurance Benefits

There is a comfort behind all insurance policies; you never know when Murphy’s Law will lay its gavel down. Underwriters of media insurance policies offer different coverage limits. Writers must do their due diligence to determine if the policy is best suited for their line of work. Most brokers will work with writers in creating a policy specific to the media they specialize in—whether it’s print journalism, blogging, or political exposé books. Comprehensive policies are available, which can cover all of the benefits below:

  • Identity protection of confidential sources
  • Copyright/trademark infringement
  • Worldwide coverage
  • Punitive damages
  • Coverage of costs: legal, defense, damages, awards
  • Claims based on libel, slander, invasion of privacy
  • Attorneys provided
AXIS® PRO is one such company that offers comprehensive products and renews the vast majority of policies that they write. Not all policies have claims made; but for the ones that do, writers may face claims from $30,000 to $100,000 or more. “This is money they don’t have to take out of their pocket,” said Louis Scimecca, vice president and media/entertainment product manager of AXIS® PRO.

Requirements to Open Policies

Just like comparing quotes for auto insurance, freelancers can shop around for optimal coverage since media insurance quotes are free as well. Underwriters will request a review of the writer’s career in terms of length and income. Some policies, like the one available through NFPW, have income limits and career length requirements. Their product in particular requires policyholders to have established a career for three years or longer and annual incomes of less than $200,000. Prior legal disputes may make writers ineligible for policies or may inflate premiums, depending on how much time has passed since a lawsuit was issued.

“Just like comparing quotes for auto insurance, freelancers can shop around for optimal coverage since media insurance quotes are free as well.”

As with any insurance policy, there are variables that affect the annual policy cost. Writers have the option of choosing their policy limit (for example $750,000 or $1,000,000), and there is a differential between these premiums. Using homeowners insurance as an example, homeowners know that their policy will be lower if they have a higher deductible and higher if they have a lower deductible. “For most authors there is a $5,000 deductible, after which the policy picks up settlement, judgment, defense costs—up to the limit of liability,” said Brodsky.

Although not common, some insurers require an opinion letter from a publishing lawyer (this requires the writer to pay an attorney to review the manuscript).

Freelancers should also be aware that certain policies may prevent them from choosing their own counsel. Being that media insurance is such a specialized market, most of the companies have a seasoned staff at their disposal. If it’s important for a writer to select her own attorney, she needs to be sure to check the fine print before paying the premium.

Okay, How Much is the Premium?

Being that I am self-publishing my first book this year, and after researching and interviewing sources for this article, I found media insurance to be a great security blanket. So, I tested the waters myself and applied for a quote through the AXIS® PRO WriteInsure™ program via The Author’s Guild website. I timed the application process; and in less than three minutes, I was provided four policy options and the ability to select and purchase coverage. It took longer for the hot water to boil for my cup of tea than applying for a quote.

“It took longer for the hot water to boil for my cup of tea than applying for a quote.”

Here’s a snapshot of what policies are available to a writer who has no claims or lawsuits in her history, has documentation of sources, and who has not yet authored a traditionally or self-published book. I simply chose from four levels of coverage, entered my manuscript’s title, provided a synopsis of the work, selected nonfiction (dozens of other types are available like science, fiction, travel, etc.), selected self-publishing, entered the name of the publishing service, and provided estimates on book sales. The policies offered affordable deductibles ranging from $2,500 to $5,000 and total limits of liability ranging from $250,000 to $1,000,000.

But How Much?

Most attractive were the premium prices, tiered from $450 to $700. Of course, these prices would be honored if I were a member of The Author’s Guild since it reflects a membership discount.

Discounted polices are available through a number of other writing organizations. The NFPW’s plan is through Walterry Insurance Brokers based out of Maryland, and they write policies through Executive Risk, an insurance services provider. The policies “cover legal defense costs, damages, and protection from lawsuits.” NFPW’s 1,300 members enjoy policies with an annual cost of under $500. According to Price, the majority of the feedback she receives is that members renew year after year.

Freelancers should carry over the same precision from the thorough research and organization they devote to their written works to their media insurance policy application. Providing evidence of an established career, income, release letters, confidentiality agreements, and a clean legal history will all be helpful in molding the most optimal coverage.

Freelancers may already have a discount available. Here is a menu of writing organizations that offer member discounts on media insurance policies:

The Authors Guild
Independent Book Publishers Association
National Federation of Press Women
National Writers Union

Here’s a final golden nugget freelancers can take away: free legal advice is available from Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts.

So, think about whether or not you need media insurance to protect your freelance career, and check out some of the companies listed in this article for your free quotes.

***

Tara Lynne Groth is a full-time freelance writer, residing in Cary, NC. She is the self-proclaimed “Carrie Bradshaw of the South.” Instead of Manolos, she wears hiking boots; and she drinks sweat tea in lieu of Cosmos. Tara Lynne’s work has appeared in places such as The Providence Journal, GO (AirTran Airways’ inflight magazine), and Blue Ridge Outdoors. She also collaborates with businesses and non-profits around the country in their marketing efforts. Her short stories and poems have won awards, and she received a 2009 scholarship to attend the Southampton Writers Conference. www.taralynnegroth.com.

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