Independent Writers Sue California to Protect Rights of Freelancers

New Law Threatens Careers and Violates the Constitution  

Dec. 17, 2019
For Immediate Release
American Society of Journalists and Authors, Inc.

LOS ANGELES -- The rights of independent journalists are under attack. In response, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Inc., today filed suit against the state of California in federal court to stop a new law from violating the Constitution and devastating the careers of freelance journalists such as writers and photographers.

“We have no choice but to go to court to protect the rights of independent writers and freelance journalists as a whole,” said Milton C. Toby, JD, president of ASJA. “The stakes are too high, and we cannot stand by as our members and our colleagues face ill-conceived and potentially career-ending legislation.”

Assembly Bill 5, which takes effect January 1, is full of unfair exemptions and carveouts that disfavor freelance journalists compared to other professions that engage in speech. Journalists are capped at 35 pieces of content per year, and if they exceed that, they must become employees. Journalists who record video instantly lose their ability to work independently. Marketers, grant writers, and graphic designers face no such limit.

“Under the law, a freelancer like me can write 200-plus press releases in a year for a marketing firm, and it’s no 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. Otherwise I am silenced,” said San Diego freelance writer Randy Dotinga, a board member and former president of ASJA.

The lawsuit challenging AB 5’s unconstitutional discrimination against journalists was filed in federal court in Los Angeles by ASJA’s pro bono attorneys at Pacific Legal Foundation. ASJA is proud to join the National Press Photographers Association as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. AB 5 restricts every journalist who shoots photos or records video, including writers.

On behalf of freelance journalists, ASJA played a lead role in negotiations with California state legislators as AB5 was debated earlier this year. The bill author, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, refused to give freelance journalists a workable exemption.

While AB 5 goes into effect on January 1, it has already begun to hurt the careers of freelance journalists. Multiple media outlets have blacklisted California freelance journalists or limited the amount of work they can produce in 2020. (See exhibit in lawsuit for details.)

“In a shrinking media landscape where hiring executives are still mostly white and male, AB5 places additional restrictions and burdens on women, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community by forcing many of us to seek staff jobs,” said Los Angeles freelance writer and author JoBeth McDaniel, chair of ASJA’s First Amendment Committee. “Many journalists choose to freelance because we encountered discrimination, harassment and bullying in staff positions. Others -- such as parents, caregivers and the disabled -- need the flexibility of setting their own schedules and workloads.”

Unconstitutional restrictions on independent journalism may spread beyond California. ASJA is deeply concerned about proposed laws in New York and New Jersey that are inspired by AB 5. If necessary, ASJA is prepared to launch more legal action in support of the free speech, free press and equal protection rights protected by the Constitution.

“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 Toby, the ASJA president.

Press Briefing: A press briefing will be held via teleconference call on December 18, 2019, at 11:30 am PST / 2:30 pm EST. Join online:

Join by phone:  669 900 6833, Meeting ID: 662 304 962

Contact Information: ASJA leaders and attorneys with the Pacific Legal Foundation are available for comment. Please direct requests to Milton C. Toby, president of ASJA, at, or Randy Dotinga, former president of ASJA, at, or Pacific Legal Foundation at

The PDF of the Complaint for Violation of Federal Civil Rights Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Declaratory and Injunctive Relief is here.

About the American Society of Journalists and Authors

Founded in 1948, the American Society of Journalists and Authors is the nation's professional organization of independent nonfiction writers. Our membership consists of outstanding freelance writers of magazine articles, trade books, and many other forms of nonfiction writing, each of whom has met ASJA’s exacting standards of professional achievement. ASJA offers extensive benefits and services focusing on professional development, including regular confidential market information, meetings with editors and others in the field, an exclusive referral service, seminars and workshops, discounted services and, above all, the opportunity for members to explore professional issues and concerns with their peers. ASJA is a primary voice in representing freelancers' interests, serving as spokesman for their right to control and profit from uses of their work in the new media and otherwise. Visit for more details.

  • A blank piece of paper is God's way of telling us how hard it is to be God.
    – Sidney Sheldon
  • A critic is a man who knows the way but can't drive the car.
    – Kenneth Tynan
  • A good many young writers make the mistake of enclosing a stamped, self–addressed envelope, big enough for the manuscript to come back in. This is too much of a temptation to the editor.
    – Ring Lardner
  • A young musician plays scales in his room and only bores his family. A beginning writer, on the other hand, sometimes has the misfortune of getting into print.
    – Marguerite Yourcenar
  • All the words I use in my stories can be found in the dictionary – it's just a matter of arranging them into the right sentences.
    – Somerset Maugham
  • Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost how it feels about dogs.
    – Christopher Hampton
  • Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.
    – Lawrence Kasdan
  • Copy from one, it's plagiarism; copy from two, it's research.
    –Wilson Mizner
  • Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them.
    – Flannery O'Connor
  • I just wrote a book, but don't go out and buy it yet, because I don't think it's finished yet.
    – Lawrence Welk
  • I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
    – Douglas Adams
  • I'm writing a book. I've got the page numbers done.
    – Stephen Wright
  • It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give it up because by that time I was too famous.
    – Robert Benchley
  • It's a damn poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word.
    – Andrew Jackson
  • Most writers can write books faster than publishers can write checks.
    – Richard Curtis
  • No fathers or mothers think their own children ugly; and this self–deceit is yet stronger with respect to the offspring of the mind.
    – Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
  • There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
    –Somerset Maugham
  • Writing a novel is like paddling from Boston to London in a bathtub. Sometimes the damn tub sinks. It's a wonder that most of them don't.
    – Stephen King
  • Writing a novel is like spelunking. You kind of create the right path for yourself. But, boy, are there so many points at which you think, absolutely, I'm going down the wrong hole here.
    – Chang–rae Lee
  • Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.
    –Samuel Johnson