$18 Million Settlement to Freelance Writers Filed for Court Approval

Memorandum of Law in Support of Plaintiff’s Motion for Final Settlement Approval, September 19, 2005 (pdf, ~ 4.3 megs)

Supplemental Notice August 10, 2005 (pdf, ~ 107 k)

New York, March 29, 2005 – The American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Authors Guild, and the National Writers Union today announced the filing of a motion for court approval of an $18 million settlement in a class action suit they and 21 freelance writers filed on behalf of thousands of freelance writers whose stories appeared in online databases without their consent. They expect preliminary court approval of the settlement within the next month.

“We are delighted,” said Nick Taylor, president of the Authors Guild. “This is a substantial settlement, and, if approved, it will vindicate freelance writers who deserve compensation and control for their work in the electronic marketplace. It proves our contention all along that access and online advertising revenues shouldn’t all go into the pockets of big media, but should be shared with the creators.”

“ASJA has long preached to freelancers that they demand extra pay for extra uses,” said Jim Morrison, ASJA’s president from 2001 to 2003 and the organization’s representative in the settlement negotiations. “Today, we have an $18 million validation of how valuable electronic rights are to publishers. Freelance writers should remember that when negotiating their contracts.”

Gerard Colby, president of the National Writers Union, noted that in its historic 2001 ruling in Tasini vs. New York Times, the Supreme Court ruled that the principles of copyright apply to online distribution of editorial content, and that articles cannot be distributed in cyberspace without permission of their creators. The Tasini litigation was initiated by the NWU and funded in part by its parent union, the United Auto Workers.

“This settlement will put money in writers’ pockets,” Colby said. “Individual awards for individual articles could add up to big money for writers who had more than one article published electronically without their consent, and who take action to file proper claims. This settlement underscores the fundamental importance of the Constitution’s copyright clause and proclaims that the rights of writers and artists to own their own creations and to earn a living from them must be respected — even by the nation’s most powerful media corporations.”

“This monetary settlement is the final chapter in a 12-year fight to right a gross injustice,” said Jonathan Tasini, president emeritus of the NWU who served on the settlement negotiating team on behalf of the union. “But, more important, it shows that writers can stand up, fight and win.”

The filing seeks court approval of a Class Notice, which gives a full description of the benefits of the settlement, identifies which articles are included and which are excluded, and explains authors’ rights under the settlement. The settlement is complex, and the three organizations have set up a joint website (www.freelancerights.com) dedicated to helping authors understand the terms and make claims.

Under the terms of the settlement, publishers including the New York Times, Time Inc., and the Wall Street Journal and database companies including Dow Jones Interactive, Knight-Ridder, Lexis-Nexis, Proquest, and West Group agreed to pay writers up to $1,500 for stories in which the writers had registered the copyright in accordance with timetables established in federal copyright law. Writers who failed to register their copyrights will receive up to $60 per article; the organizations believe that many such writers will have valid claims for hundreds of such articles.

The amount paid will depend on a number of factors, including whether the writer registered the copyright, the original fee paid for the article, the year it was published, and whether the writer permits the future use of the article in the databases.

Lisa Collier Cool, current president of the ASJA, urged freelance writers to go online and make their claims when the settlement is approved.

Taylor and Morrison noted that fulltime freelancers likely will have substantial numbers of stories eligible for claims. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there are many writers who did not register their copyrights who will earn thousands of dollars from the settlement because they have so many stories eligible for claims,” Morrison said. “That is why we strongly encourage freelancers to make claims.”

The settlement is filed under In re Literary Works in Electronic Databases Copyright Litigation, MDL No. 1379, in federal court in the Southern District of New York with U.S. District Court Judge George M. Daniels presiding.

The American Society of Journalists and Authors (www.asja.org) is a trade association of freelance writers founded in 1948 with more than 1,100 members who have met the ASJA’s exacting standards of professional achievement.

The Authors Guild (www.authorsguild.org) is the nation’s oldest and largest society of published book authors and freelance journalists. The Guild advocates on behalf of its 8,000 members on copyright, contract and free speech matters.

The National Writers Union (www.nwu.org), the nation’s only labor union for freelance writers, was founded in 1981. The NWU is Local 1981 of the United Auto Workers. On behalf of its 3,400 members, the NWU advocates for writers rights and fights to improve the income, contracts, and working conditions for all freelance writers including journalists, book authors, business and technical writers, essayists, poets, playwrights, script writers, writers for the web, and campus writers, including instructors and professors.