Writers Finally Win Million-Dollar Settlements In Canada And U.S. For Copyright Infringement

SAN FRANCISCO - MAY 14:  A man holds money tha...
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Writers are finally getting redress.

From The New York Times:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday resurrected a possible settlement in a class-action lawsuit brought by freelance writers who said that newspapers and magazines had committed copyright infringement by making their contributions available on electronic databases.

The proposed settlement was prompted by a 2001 decision from the Supreme Court in favor of six freelance authors claiming copyright infringement in The New York Times Company v. Tasini. After the Tasini decision, many freelance works were removed from online databases. Most publishers now require freelance writers to sign contracts granting both print and online rights.

After the decision, the authors, publishers and database companies who were parties to several class-action lawsuits negotiated a global settlement that would pay the plaintiffs up to $18 million.

The publishers in the suit included Reed Elsevier, The New York Times Company, the Thomson Reuters Corporation, Dow Jones & Company, now owned by the News Corporation, and Knight Ridder, which the McClatchy Company bought in 2006.

The suits involved two groups of authors — those who had registered copyrights in their works and those who had not. The second group was by far the more numerous. But the federal copyright law allows suits claiming copyright infringement only after works are registered.

I’ll be filing my more than 100 claims in Canada this month for my work that was used there, unpaid, in similar fashion. The judgement, made in May 2009, gave us a total of $11 million; $5.5 remains after legal fees and the deadline for filing is March 30. Each writer there can win as much as $55,000, the monies awarded on a point system by an administrator.

It will, if it actually happens, be pleasant indeed to receive full payment for my works’ re-use after decades of such easy abuse at the hands of the few corporations who now control information distribution.

This is huge.

Writers live, literally, by their wits. The consistent use of them, selling our ideas and the skills with which to execute them, earns the cash that fills our fridges and gas tanks. It’s what buys our kids’ clothes and shoes and diapers and piano lessons. For the most successful, it puts those kids those through private school and college. It pays for — we pray — a retirement and decently-funded savings, short and long-term.

We have been ripped off for decades. The fees we are paid for our freelance work have remained stagnant for 30 years for many, many outlets or have recently been reduced. Many of us have left the industry, and/or write corporate stuff, teach, write books, do whatever combines to make enough income to make writing for a living worth doing.

Freelance writers work also alone, no matter how many groups or organizations we join. Every single time we call or email an editor  with an idea (or they contact us), we’re entering into a financial and intellectual property negotiation fraught with issues: pay, expenses, length, editing demands, kill fee (they “kill” it and pay us pennies for our time). Not fun.

And every editor knows it’s a mano-a-mano game, one the writer almost always loses. The editor has a job and a paycheck. The writer, until s/he has an assignment, does not.

It takes guts to step forward and take a stand, to fight long and hard for the rights of others.

Thanks, in the U.S., to Jim Morrison, past president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and in Canada to Heather Robertson. Both were seasoned veterans when they decided to step up.

Every writer owes them.

Five More Weeks For Writers To Claim Their Share Of $5.5 Million Award: Step Up!

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She’s my hero — Heather Robertson, a Canadian freelancer, launched her lawsuit in 1996 for Canadian publishers’ unfair use of her work — and that of thousands of others.

She won her case in May 2009, but the deadline for payouts ends March 25, 2o10 after having recently been extended.

The award is $11 million, but about $5.5 million (after legal and other fees) is available to any writers whose work qualifies; you can download the claims forms here and the information you need to know if your work qualifies is also on this site, that of the lawyers handling the settlement.

I spoke yesterday to one of the attorneys on the case and he explained the point system that will be used to determine how much each writer receives; the larger the readership of the publication in question, the more points, with more points added for stories longer than 500 words. The most any one writer can receive is about $55,000. So far 750 have applied, he said.

I plan to see if any of my work fits the bill. If there’s a chance yours does, time to step up!