Tentative agreement in Robertson freelance class action suit

A tentative $5-million agreement in the final leg of freelancer Heather Robertson’s lawsuit has been announced with Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd., Rogers Publishing Limited, CEDROM-SNi Inc., ProQuest Information and Learning LLC (the other defendant Canwest Publishing reached a separate settlement in June), D.B. Scott reports on his Canadian Magazines blog.

The class action lawsuit, which began in 2003, examined the infringement of copyright of work produced by Robertson and other freelancers (the work was published in various electronic databases without the writers’ consent or compensation).

The tentative settlement requires approval from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. The hearing is expected to be held April 11 in Toronto. A notice of hearing says:

“The tentative settlement includes a payment of C$5.475 million, inclusive of all costs and fees, including legal fees and administration costs, to provide benefits to class members. In return, there would be a release of all claims against these defendants and their affiliates and a license in respect of all literary works that were published in publications owned or operated by the Toronto Star, Rogers, Canwest or their affiliates. Class members would have a further opportunity to opt out of the settlement. If this settlement is approved, there would be a claims-based compensation process whereby class members could file claims for compensation with respect to their freelance literary works.”

Scott writes:

“Rogers agrees to pay $1.65 million and Torstar $1.75 million and in return get permanent licenses to reproduce the disputed works in any electronic system or device (i.e. databases) and to sub-license the works to other. CEDROM is to pay $75,000 and the $2.07 million balance  by ProQuest, for whom exact terms are still being finalized.

“Canwest’s settlement in June 2010 was for $7.5 million and was made necessary early in order for Canwest to be restructured and broken up.

“In May, 2009 a settlement for $11 million was made with with The Thomson Corporation (now Thomson Reuters Corporation), Thomson Reuters Canada Limited, Thomson Affiliated and Information Access Company (formerly The Gale Group Inc.) and CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. (formerly Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc.), the then publishers of the Globe and Mail newspaper.”

In all the settlements, freelancers get what’s leftover after legal fees are paid, which can eat up as much of half the money awarded.

Scott notes that there is some less-than-happy freelancers as result of the settlement, as larger publishers like Thomson and Rogers, in order to avoid this problem in the future, are simply demanding “all rights” contracts from their freelancers. So instead of the more traditional “first rights” that allow freelancers to maintain copyright and control of their work, the publishers simply get to own everything. This includes the problematic “moral rights” that allows publishers to change the content in a story without the writer’s permission.