Payouts to freelance writers in 17-year-old copyright suit

9 May 2018

Thousands of freelance writers are due to receive a total of more than $9 million as compensation for copyright infringement by electronic database, newspaper, and magazine publishers, including Dow Jones, The New York Times, and Knight Ridder. Although it is mainly writers based in America that will benefit, some Society of Authors members joined the class-action lawsuit and in May they were sent payments. If you joined the suit and have not yet been paid then contact us for further information.

17 years ago the Authors Guild (our equivalent organisation in the US) initiated a class-action suit on behalf of freelancers, who claimed that the use in electronic media of articles initially licensed to be published in print form was an infringement of their copyright. The suit grew out of an earlier action brought by Jonathan Tasini and several other writers, which led to the Supreme Court ruling in the freelancers’ favour.

More than 3,000 writers filed claims for 600,000 articles. A settlement was reached in 2005, but challenges kept the case in the courts for another decade. Although final approval of the long-negotiated and much-revised settlement came in June 2014, it was further delayed when publishers filed 41,000 objections for specific claims, which had to be resolved through investigation and more negotiation.

The total payout is $9,456,000, and a few writers will receive payouts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The amounts depend on the original fees for each article and also, because of the technicalities of copyright law, whether and when the individual works at issue were registered with the Copyright Office.

Some SoA members joined the class-action lawsuit and in May they were sent payments of, one member tells us, ‘almost $1,000 as full payment of my claim’. You should have been notified if you were a successful claimant but if not, do contact us. No new claims can be made.

This is a different matter from the Google Books claim which was dismissed by the Court some years ago.

For more information please visit the Authors Guild website.