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Freelancers, publishers strike $18 million settlement in copyright suit

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    News Media Update         NEW YORK         Copyright/Intellectual Property         March 30, 2005    

Freelancers, publishers strike $18 million settlement in copyright suit

  • The nation’s major publishers and database companies will pay freelancers to settle a class-action lawsuit over electronic reprint rights.

March 30, 2005 — Freelance writers whose work was included in newspaper archives and other online databases without their permission will be paid as much as $18 million under a settlement agreement with major U.S. publishers and database companies.

U.S. District Court Judge George M. Daniels of New York’s Southern District is expected to approve the settlement Thursday, more than three years after he consolidated several class-action copyright infringement lawsuits from freelance writers against the New York Times Co., Time Inc., Dow Jones Interactive, Lexus-Nexus and others.

The settlement, struck after more than three years in court-ordered mediation, covers freelance authors whose work on or after Aug. 15, 1997, “has been reproduced, displayed, adapted, licensed, sold and/or distributed in any electronic or digital format, without the person’s express authorization,” according to the agreement.

The media companies agreed to pay writers who registered their copyright as much as $1,500 per article, according to the National Writers Union, a writers group that filed the lawsuit with the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Authors Guild and 21 freelancers. Writers who did not register their copyrights could be paid as much as $60 an article, according to the union.

“It’s fantastic to put up to $18 million in the hands of freelance authors who can obviously use the money,” said Jonathan Tasini, the plaintiff in the 2001 case Tasini v. New York Times Co., in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that electronically reproducing and distributing freelancers’ articles infringes on their copyrights.

“There will be freelancers who will get a substantial amount of money,” Tasini said. “But for every freelance author, it is essentially found money.”

The $18 million settlement grew from a series of class-action lawsuits filed after the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York (2nd Cir.) ruled in 1999 in the Tasini case that the uncompensated use of electronic copies of articles constitutes copyright infringement. The lawsuits were stayed until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2001. After the high court ruling, Judge Daniels consolidated the cases and ordered mediation, resulting in the settlement.

(In re Literary Works in Electronic Databases Copyright Litigation, MDL No. 1379)KM

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