One of the Guild’s most important advocacy efforts in recent years has been a class action filed on behalf of thousands of freelance writers who had been paid by major newspapers and magazines for only one-time uses of their articles, and then saw their work swept into electronic databases without further compensation.
On June 10, 2014, we received final approval of our $18 million class-action settlement of the case, In Re Literary Works in Electronic Databases Copyright Litigation, which began over 14 years ago. Authors who filed valid claims could possibly receive payment as early as the third quarter of 2015. There is nothing any of the claimants need to do at this point except deposit their checks when they receive them.
The Authors Guild filed the suit in 2000, along with the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the National Writers Union, and 21 freelance writers. The defendants were database owners like Lexis-Nexis and publishers including The New York Times, Dow Jones, and Time Inc. A settlement was reached in 2005, but challenges kept it bogged down in the courts for almost a decade.
The most visible challenge came from a group of authors originally excluded from the settlement because they hadn’t registered their copyrights. They took their case all the way to the Supreme Court, which delivered a ruling in 2010 allowing these authors to participate in the settlement.
Writers will now receive up to $1,500 per work. The exact amounts will vary depending on the original fee paid for the article, the year it was published, whether the writers registered the copyright, and whether they agree to future use of the article in the databases. The revised settlement will channel at least $10 million in payments to writers, the same amount that was set in the 2005 settlement.