Freelance Editorial Cartoonist Suspended!

READER NOTE–Important updates to this article are included at the end.

The “suspension” of Steve Rustad, the Argus Courier’s freelance editorial cartoonist, for violation of his “contract” is a curious matter. In the abstract it appears to be a contradiction in terms.  If a person is a freelancer, how is it that they could ever be in violation of a policy or contract provision except for failure to produce the piece they agreed to provide?

Perhaps the “answer” is in the contract, which, of course, I am not privy to.  However, I wonder just how such a contract might read and whether or not the signatory freelancer of such a contract is a de facto employee. If so, then there are a host of other legal issues that come to mind. Such contracts are known as contracts of adhesion or one sided contracts. In other words, the terms and conditions are not negotiated.  It is strictly a take it or leave it contract.

Petaluma 360 bloggers are also “bound” by a written agreement. While they are not compensated (insofar as I know) they have certain restrictions and requirements imposed on them. I suggest that Petlauma 360 bloggers become aware of them if they have not already done so.

Below is the latest version of the Petaluma 360 “Blogger Agreement” that I have.  I highlighted certain critical portions–particularly the section where bloggers agree to hold Petalluma 360 harmless. 

After reading it, it may be prudent for bloggers to check with their insurance agent as to whether homeowners insurance will cover them in the event of legal action or litigation.


Petaluma 360 Blogger Agreement


By submitting weblog columns (“blogs”) to, you agree to the following terms and conditions and any subsequent modifications. may revise these terms and conditions from time to time, and the new terms will take effect on the date of posting.  Please review these terms and conditions every time you post a blog as they are binding upon you:

1.  You agree to update your blog at least once per week.

2. You may post your blogs to other blogs, provided the blog posted on is updated first.

3. You may post readers’ comments. 

4. You may not post libelous, untruthful or obscene material or comments.

5. You acknowledge and agree that your blog, in whole or in part, is subject to removal by in its sole discretion.

6. You may not post any self-serving or commercial promotion materials.

7. You represent and warrant that your blogs will be original, will not plagiarise another’s work, infringe another’s copyright or trademark, violate another person’s rights, including the right of privacy, or contain libelous or otherwise unlawful or misleading material.  You also represent and warrant that your blogs will not have appeared elsewhere, in whole or in part, and that you have not been paid to promote another’s viewpoint or product.  You agree to indemnify and hold harmless from all costs, expenses, liabilities and damages arising from a breach of the foregoing representations and warranties.

8. You grant to the irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free license to redistribute or republish your blogs in any medium or form. 

John Burns, Publisher

707-776-8450 May 21, 2010

UPDATE November 14, 2010  Go to>> Drawn and Quartered

UPDATE November 15, 2010  Focusing only on the apparent provision in the freelance contract with the NYT prohibiting a freelancer from doing work with any “current or potential news source”…it appears that such “non-compete” clauses have been declared invalid by the California Supreme Court. See


  • November 13th, 2010 8:43 am | […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Petaluma360 and Feelancer Team, Blog-o-Line. Blog-o-Line said: : Argus Cartoonist Suspended … Bloggers Beware – Petaluma Argus Courier (blog) […]

    by Tweets that mention Argus Cartoonist Suspended … Bloggers Beware – Petaluma Spectator – Petaluma 360 – Petaluma, CA – Archive —

  • November 13th, 2010 10:40 am Thank you for posting this, Frank. I had no idea these sort of terms and conditions were in effect. I’m not entirely sure that Ross was ever notified directly about them. Perhaps they didn’t exist when he was originally approached by the Argus to write a blog, prior to P360′s existence. Either way, definitely some food for thought, particularly item 8.

    by Jennifer Lockhart

  • November 13th, 2010 11:45 am Jennifer–I agree that Item 8 is important. But don’t forget Item 7. That is where the danger for individual bloggers resides. See “Your Internet Posts Can Get You Sued For Defamation…or worse!” Link>>

    by Petaluma.Spectator

  • November 13th, 2010 12:15 pmDo I have this right? If you are a blogger, all the benefits go to Pet 360 and you take all the risks? SUCH A DEAL!

    by Steven

  • November 13th, 2010 12:34 pmSteven–I can only answer your question by directing your attention to the link I mentioned in the response to Jennifer above

    by Petaluma.Spectator

  • November 15th, 2010 3:09 am Argus Cartoonist Suspended … Bloggers Beware – Petaluma Spectator ……

    Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……

    by World Spinner

  • November 15th, 2010 10:34 am Thanks for the post, Frank. I sort of recall the agreement, but sometimes wonder if my “opinions” could be taken exception to…but that would be censorship! Oh, no! Love how Stephen Colbert manages to lampoon about anything he feels needs attention with nonsense. I just want to write the truth with joy. But truth is a relative thing. Aren’t we all relatives?

    by In.Her.Own.Write


  • –The Times’ ombudsman addressed the issue of freelancer ethics a while back. Some freelance writers had apparently accepted junkets.
    Freelancing is to employment as a one-night stand is to marriage. If newspapers want to control what you do outside work, they ought to marry you–i.e., pay you a full-time salary and benefits. Otherwise, they ought not to stand in the way of “dating”–or making a living elsewhere. 
    –Is the New York Times Company seriously suggesting that they don’t have freelancers who also have direct political campaigning views? They publish editorials from active politicians every week. 
    –We’ll be seeing more and more of this as media companies install the new plantation-system, where everyone, except management, is freelance or work-for-hire. The bigshot contributors will still be able to do what they want. Everyone else… including cartoonists, of course… is screwed.
    –Ethics are fine and dandy when you’re making $75,000 a year to be ethical.
  • I’ve never done any work like this here, and probably wouldn’t, but I’m not going to fault the guy for doing an unsigned freelance job.The old standards no longer apply. FoxNews and Huffpo and, yes, NYTimes Inc. have seen to that.
    How many editorial page editors have slid into high-paying jobs as political operatives or corporate flaks and then slid right back into newsrooms a few years later? No one seems to have a problem with that.
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