Supreme Court: Freelancers In Class Action Suit Get Long-Delayed Settlement

gavel judge jury court
GDFL

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that a possible long-delayed settlement could go to freelance writers who sued newspapers and magazines they claimed violated their copyright, the New York Times reports.

Multiple class-action suits were brought against big, well-known publishers who had been reprinting their freelancers’ work in online databases: The New York Times, Dow Jones, Knight Ridder (now McClatchy, of course), and Thomson Reuters were all named in these suits. The freelancers claimed that the copyright for their work was being violated when publishers made the works available on online databases.

The publishers agreed to an $18 million settlement and most publishers now ask freelancers to grant both print and online rights in their contracts.

But the settlement, offered back in 2001, never went through because there were two groups of writers in the suit: those who had explicitly copyrighted their work and those who hadn’t. (They say that everything you create is copyrighted as soon as you create it, but in this case it does seem prudent to have registered.) A court in 2007 refused to advance the settlement, claiming it didn’t have jurisdiction over the latter group of writers.

But yesterday, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s ruling, saying that it did have jurisdiction over both groups of writers and that the settlement should be awarded.

If this goes through, these freelancers will finally see some money, and the online databases will have more content to sell, or whatever it is that an online database does.

Of course, the only thing that’s constant about a class-action suit is that nobody really wins.