Judge George Daniels of U.S. District Court in New York today approved the revised terms of the $18 million class action settlement in In Re Literary Works in Electronic Databases – commonly known as the “Freelance” case on behalf of independent newspaper and magazine journalists.
This action culminates a nearly 20-year-long phase of litigation governing the allocation to freelancers of revenues from new technologies. It also enables the process of distribution of funds to writers by the claims administrator.
“Freelance” is a logistical offshoot of the 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Tasini v. New York Times, which was brought by a group of freelancers led by Jonathan Tasini, then president of the National Writers Union. The decision affirmed that, absent explicit agreement to the contrary, a non-staff writer for a newspaper or magazine licensed only first publication rights to the publisher.
In 2000, in anticipation of the Tasini decision, several class actions were filed on behalf of freelancers, and they were consolidated in federal court.
Irvin Muchnick, a former assistant director of the National Writers Union, had been involved as a consultant in one of those cases. When the original settlement was announced in 2005, Muchnick led a slate of objectors to the terms, and with the help of attorney Charles Chalmers, a class-action expert, spearheaded appeals.
The Freelance case took a detour to the Supreme Court after the Second Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the settlement on the grounds that a settlement could not include the authors of works with copyrights that were not registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. In 2010, the Supreme Court, in the case Reed Elsevier v. Muchnick, reversed the appellate court, which then ruled on the merits of the Muchnick group’s objections and remanded the settlement to district court.
Today’s revised settlement reflects negotiations led on behalf of the former objectors by Chalmers, who is now an attorney of one subset of the class of freelance authors.
The full settlement agreement can be viewed at http://copyrightclassaction.com/Revised_Settlement_Agree.pdf.
We are gratified to bring this historic case to conclusion. What the former objectors hope to have established is that the revenues from new digital media must be distributed in accordance with the law, and must be based on full negotiations involving all the stakeholders.