This Monday morning (Feb. 25), a very important court case is getting underway in Montreal. It is a class action lawsuit against the
Montreal Gazette and its owners etc. on behalf of freelance writers. The issue is that “for years freelancers’ work was (and frequently still is) reproduced electronically without consent or compensation,” according to Mary Soderstrom of the Electronic Rights Defense Committee, the organization pursuing the lawsuit.
PWAC will be entering a letter of support into evidence. The ERDC, which represents the writers, has asked that Quebec PWAC members come to court to show our support. We will be meeting at at 8:40 a.m. at the Palais de Justice (1 Notre Dame East) in front of Court room 16.01, 16th floor. Please email if you plan to attend. We hope to see lots of people there.
The ERDC has provided a detailed backgrounder, which we have included below.
On April 7, 1997, the Electronic Rights Defence Committee (ERDC) took the first steps toward a multi-million dollar class action lawsuit in Quebec Superior court against Southam Inc, CEDROM-SNJI, Infomart-Dialog and Southam Business Communications for 37,000 instances of copyright infringement of freelancers’ work dating back to 1985.
More than ten years later, the ERDC is still battling to win recognition of the fact that for years freelancers’ work was (and frequently still is) reproduced electronically without consent or compensation. David Homel has been our class representative since 2003 (our first class representatives Nancy Lyon and David Fennario had to withdraw) and the case has been modified to reflect changes in The Gazette’s ownership. The defendants now are Montreal Gazette Group, CanWest Global Communications, Hollinger Canadian Publishing Holdings, CanWest Interactive, Southam and Southam Business Communications, Infomart Dialog and Cedrom-SNI). Making these changes has slowed the case down, but we also have met with delaying tactics on the other side: it took nearly a year to arrive at a mutually agreeable date for the class authorization hearing now set for February 25-27, 2008.
In early 2007 because of hints from the other side, we thought we might be on the road to a negotiated settlement. Our lawyer Me Mireille Goulet met twice with lawyers for the defendants to present a proposal elaborated by the ERDC executive. It asked for $25 million to be shared among several subclasses of Gazette freelancers as well as future contracts with fair compensation for electronic rights and explicit recognition that copyright remains with freelance writers. The response didn’t arrive until July: it was an offer of $100,000 which the ERDC executive agreed was inadequate.
Other information about class actions against newspaper and media over the issue of electronic rights grabs:
1. In October 2007 the Canadian Supreme Court ruled five to four in the Heather Robertson vs. Thomson case that freelancers do indeed hold copyright on their work reproduced in electronic data bases. This is good news, although the closeness of the decision is disappointing. Now that the points of law have been settled, the Robertson vs. Thomson case must go to trial, most probably later in 2008.
2. The US$18 million class action settlement in the United States which followed from the Tasini vs. New York Times case is currently stalled in the courts. Some class members have contested the settlement, so even though the process of finding who is eligible to receive money began in the summer of 2005, no cheques have been given out.