“Quantum meruit,” in the old tongue

Writing is my livelihood, and probably yours too. I have an expectation that I will receive fair value for my work, but there seem to be a lot of people out there willing to work for peanuts, or even less.*

Herein lies the concept of ‘quantum meruit‘ — reasonable value of services.  I’m mentioning it for more than a simple rant about the low payment offered by some individuals. It’s a very valuable little piece of contract law that might help you out in your many productive years of freelancing.

There are two situations in which the idea of quantum meruit is applicable.

  1. If a person is employed (expressly or implicitly) to work for another without any agreement as to his compensation, the law considers it an implied promise on the employer’s part to pay the worker for his services.
  2. If a worker has a contract with an employer, and the employer halts work, generally the worker is entitled to compensation for the work he has already completed.

Contract law has a few more nuances, and I do recommend that you get some legal advice before threatening to sue a non-paying editor. But there it is — you have a right to be paid, even if you don’t have a contract or a set rate. You also have a right to be paid for killed work, although it is a bit more complicated — since you maybe able to sell a piece to another market, you may not be able to collect any payment.

*Perhaps peanut shells?

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