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Legal Guide For Freelance Copywriters

A career as a freelance copywriter can be creatively rewarding and offer flexible working hours. You can also generally expect a higher hourly rate than most in-house copywriters. However, you will have to spend some of your working hours finding new clients and managing your business too. These of course are non-billable hours so it’s important to factor this in if you’re considering going freelance.

Copywriting covers any type of written copy for commercial purposes, including written content for advertising (from straplines to scripts), social media, blogs, printed articles, brochures, pitch decks, website copy and other sales and marketing materials. 

To be a freelance copywriter you’ll most likely have a background in marketing or writing and, as with any self-employed venture, the more experience you have the better you may fare (and the more you can charge for your services). In addition, you will need to know how to stay compliant and meet your legal obligations. 

In our legal guide for freelance copywriters, you’ll find much information and legal obligations relevant to any self-employed person or freelancer in the UK. However, there will also be some legal considerations specific to freelance copywriting.

Basic Legal Obligations For Freelance Copywriters 

The following legal obligations for freelance copywriters apply to all self-employed professionals and must be actioned when you establish yourself as self-employed. Yet these will also need to be checked regularly and updated when necessary.

Registering As Self-Employed / Registering A Business

How you structure your business will depend upon your aspirations. There are two options for how to set yourself up as self-employed and each comes with advantages, disadvantages and certain legal requirements.

Sole Traders are self-employed and responsible for paying their taxes through Self Assessment. After which you may keep your business profits and opt to pay National Insurance (Class 2). It is important to recognise that becoming a sole trader leaves no legal distinction between yourself and your business, meaning you are personally responsible for all business profits but also any business debts. Head to Gov.UK and register as self-employed.

Setting up a limited company means registering with Companies House. You may make yourself a director and pay yourself a salary and/or opt to be paid in dividends. Limited companies are a good option for those planning to employ staff, secure investment and perhaps, in the case of a copywriting business, expand into an agency. The main advantage with a limited company, is that it is a separate entity, and so your personal assets will always be safe in the event you are ever faced with a dispute.  The downside of setting up a limited company is increased paperwork. Details of your business will be available publicly. Although there is no legal requirement, most limited company owners opt to secure the services of an accountant as you will be required to pay corporation tax and keep more detailed financial records.

To set up a limited company you will need to register your business with Companies House.

Paying Tax

Setting up a business with Companies House will register you for Corporation Tax. 

Arguably, Companies House are not as persistent as the HMRC in reminding you of when tax returns are due, but they will be quick to fine you for missed deadlines. So, ensure your business address is registered to the best place for you to receive postal communications.

You will also need to pay your income tax if you’re self-employed, whether you’re a limited company or not. 

As a sole trader, you’ll need to register with the HMRC for Self Assessment. Self-assessment tax returns and payment of tax is due by January 31st each year, following the year your business was launched.

Business Insurance For Freelance Copywriters

Many freelance copywriters protect themselves with professional indemnity insurance. Suitable for businesses, freelancers and those otherwise self-employed, professional indemnity insurance offers protection if a client or customer makes a financial claim based on inadequate service or breaking of a contract.

Insurance may be less costly than you think and it’s worth spending time doing some research into the different options and insurance suppliers available. Hiscox offer this handy short guide to insurance for freelancers.

Data Protection

As a freelance copywriter and/or small business owner, you may not consider yourself a business collecting data. However, if you’re collecting email addresses for newsletter subscriptions, contact details for clients and/or are requesting basic information from those submitting an enquiry through your website, then you are collecting, processing and storing personal data. Therefore, you need to know a bit about data protection.

Learn about and keep up with data protection guidelines to ensure you’re staying compliant. You may also need to pay an annual data protection fee to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) unless you’re exempt.

On your company website, you must also display a privacy policy and cookie policy, even if your website is currently just a holding page.

Aubergine Legal offer GDPR/data protection packages that include a privacy and cookie policy for your website, as well as a review of your data protection policies and procedures, so don’t hesitate to get in touch to find out more.

Terms and Conditions

Your terms and conditions, or terms of business, are going to be a highly important contract for your business. Not only do they protect you and your business, but they also set the guidelines for how you work with clients, the commitments you make to clients and how you get paid.

These should be given to every client and potentially used for new projects with existing clients also. Terms and conditions for freelance copywriters will generally include:

  • An outline of the project scope or service to be provided

  • Deadlines and quality commitments (for copywriter this may include rounds of edits, etc)

  • The rights and responsibilities of both parties

  • Payment terms (when and how you will be paid)

  • Cancellation policy, terms of termination of services, late payment penalties

  • Clarification on intellectual property ownership

You can find out more about terms and conditions for freelance copywriters in my article, Terms Of Business For Creative Freelancers.

Intellectual Property

Intellectual property law covers copyright, trademarks and patents. 

As a freelance copywriter, protecting your copyright is essential. Your ability to earn income from your work is dependent on your right to own the work you create. Or, more specifically, your ability to licence the copyright - and thereby usage rights - of the work you create.

You needn’t do anything to formally protect your work as, in the UK, copyright is automatically granted to the author of the work upon its creation.

If you are creating copy/content for clients, then they’ll need to have the right to use this commercially. Generally, this will be covered in your terms and conditions, which should clarify at which point copyright will be licenced/ assigned to the client. To best protect your income, you would most likely pre-agree that the copyright can only be used (or transferred) to the client once full payment for the work has been made. 

For more detail on copyright law, please refer to my blog 5 Things Every Small Business Owner Should Know About Copyright.

In the same way that you should beware of copyright breaches against you, you must also be mindful of infringing upon anyone else’s copyright. There are rules and regulations, in regards to content produced by others, around what you can and cannot use, as well as how much you can use and for what purposes. For instance, ‘fair use’ allows for limited inclusion of copyrighted content without the need to gain permission. This is usually specific to using the work for news reporting, teaching materials, research, criticism, comment, etc.

Even under fair use/fair dealing, you should give credit to the original creator when quoting their work, not least because being suspected of plagiarism could be highly damaging to your professional reputation as a freelance writer.

Compliance With ASA

If you're writing content for advertising purposes - which would include anything from straplines and brochures to product descriptions and social media content, then you need to comply with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the UK Code Of Non-broadcast Advertisements and Direct and Promotional Marketing (CAP code).

You needn’t register or pay any fees but you should be aware and keep up to date with advertising regulations to protect both yourself and your clients' business. 

Finally, A Note On Using AI As A Freelance Copywriter

Recent discussions around content writers and AI have centred around ChatGPT and similar AI-supported language platforms. However, other commonly used writing tools, such as Grammarly are also AI. When you ask Alexa, Siri or Google to fact-check something or give you synonyms for a word, you’re also harnessing the power of AI in your professional life. In all likelihood, we are going to be doing this more and more and for freelance copywriters, it could change the nature of the profession - many believe for the better. However, whilst we’re learning how to leverage AI to streamline and enhance our writing, we also need to be mindful of the legal obstacles artificial intelligence in content production is about to collide with. For instance, did you know that when you input information into AI it can store this and reuse it elsewhere? So, if you feed in a client’s blog or original copy to a language processing tool, it could pop up somewhere else on the internet.  Not brilliant for your relationship with your client, especially if they are paying you to create bespoke content that they are planning to own.

As AI is essentially a tool that learns and adapts from the data you feed it, there are risks of IP infringement, accidental breaches of confidentiality and data protection breaches. 

It’s important to be very mindful and aware when using AI tools. Here are my Top Tips For Using Artificial Intelligence In Your Business.

Any other questions about your legal obligations as a freelance copywriter? Or how you can best protect your business? Do you need help with drafting your terms of business? Please don’t hesitate to get in touch for an informal chat about how I might support your copywriting business.


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