Guide to Laws for Journalists in California

Whether you are a freelance journalist or on staff, here’s what you need to know about some important laws that apply to you.

1. Free Speech

What should journalists know about free speech?

Here’s what you need to know about free speech laws.

2. Shield Laws

Are journalists in California required to reveal their sources?

Journalists in California are protected from having to reveal their sources in certain circumstances.

California has a “reporter’s privilege” aka “shield laws” which may allow a journalist to refuse to comply with law enforcement orders or a subpoena to testify in court.1Article I, § 2(b) of the California Constitution; California Evidence Code § 1070; U.S. Constitution First Amendment Although California’s shield laws apply in civil cases where a party seeks information from a non-party reporter, and in criminal cases where the prosecutor is seeking the information, in criminal cases the defendant’s right to a fair trial is balanced against the reporter’s rights. See more at the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press.

3. Defamation

Can journalists be sued for defamation?

Publishing something false and negative about a person could be considered defamation.

4. Privacy

Can journalists be sued for invasion of privacy?

Publishing something private about someone could be considered an invasion of privacy under California law.

5. Copyright

What do journalists need to know about copyright?

If you are a freelance journalist, you generally have rights to stories you publish (unless you are working under an agreement that says otherwise). If you are considered an employee journalist with a media organization such as a newspaper, you may not have such rights. Either way, you should beware of infringing on others’ copyrights.

6. Obtaining information from the government

What information can journalists get from the government?

Journalists, like everyone else, have the right to obtain access to public records held by federal and state agencies, with some exceptions including national security related information. See more at our Guide to Open Government in California.

7. Police Conduct

What do journalists need to know about laws regarding police conduct?

Journalists often face situations where they interact with the police or other law enforcement.

8. Internet & Social Media

What do journalists need to know about laws regarding the internet and social media?

Since almost all journalism and news is online, you should definitely know about laws about the Internet & Social Media in California.

9. Freelance Journalists

What do freelance journalists need to know about the law?

Freelance journalists in California need to know about the new rules about independent contractors and other freelancer issues.


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