Legal Issues for Freelance Writers: Finding out that your work has been used but you haven’t been paid

This morning I was chatting on the phone to a new client (who’s just ordered three months worth of writing – yay!) . “Oh, by the way,” he said casually, “I was in London last month, and I saw your by-line in a magazine I picked up on the train…”

The magazine in question is one which commissioned me to write a feature for them in April 2005. Over two years ago. I sent the finished piece in on-time… and then heard nothing. Now, I know magazines have long lead times, but they can also change their minds, and I have to admit that when emails to the commissioning editor turned up nothing, I’d pretty much given up on this one. I’d actually forgotten about it (which isn’t like me!) until my client mentioned it to me this morning.

Needless to say, I haven’t received any payment for the use of my article in this magazine. I’ve now emailed the editor to find out what’s happening with it: it would have been nice to have known that it was being published though.

The lesson? Keep tabs on the publications you’re pitching too. This was a magazine which is distributed in London only, and as I don’t live there I’m incredibly lucky that someone else happened to see the article and remember that it was me who wrote it. Had this client not happened to pick up a magazine someone had left on a train, I might never have known that my work had been published.

I can only hope that the editor wasn’t banking on that small fact…