Unsettling news

AN APPEAL has been filed in the United States against last September's ruling in favour of a proposed $18 million settlement of freelances' claims for unauthorised online use and sale of our work by publishers and database companies. This followed the US Supreme Court ruling in Tasini v Times that newspapers could not re-publish or re-sell freelances' work without permission.

The proposed settlement offered writers who registered their work with the US Copyright Office US$1500 for each of their first 15 works for any one publisher. That's "Category A". Those who registered after the work was illegally distributed online but before 31 December 2002 are in "Category B" and were offered the greater of $150 or 12.5 per cent of what they were paid by the publisher.

Everyone who has not registered is in "Category C". They were offered up to $60 for articles "originally sold for $3000 or more", down to $5 for each article originally licensed for $50 or less.

The settlement is capped at $18 million, from which legal fees and administration costs of up to $7 million will be deducted. If the total of claims exceeds what's left, Category C payments will be cut.

The objectors say that the proposal is unfair to "Category C" claimants - which will include almost all outside the USA, because the USA is the only major country with a requirement to register copyrights. Registration costs $30 per article (or group of articles, though the Freelance has yet to discover how to do this). They note that those objecting to the settlement have been denied information, so no-one knows how much if anything would be left for unregistered works.

Anita Bartholomew, one of the objectors, went through the databases of the New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer for articles removed as copyrihght violations and calculated, using the American Society of Journalists and Authors equivalent of the Rate for the Job, that these two papers alone owe $12 million for Category C claims.

Hundreds of newspapers and a total of 26,000 publications are party to the settlement. New publishers may be added to the settlement unannounced.

The settlement would grant the publishers a perpetual licence to use freelances' work, unless they opted out and accepted a smaller share of the payout. Those who filed no claim before the deadline of 30 September last year would be deemed to have granted a licence; and even if there were no money left for Category C claimants they would be deemed to grant a licence. The objectors... you guessed?

We do not know when the appeal will be heard by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.

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