Heather Robertson Does it Again

Not long after my previous post, I received an email from Access Copyright (www.accesscopyright.ca) informing me that the Ontario courts have approved a settlement for Heather Robertson’s second class action on behalf of freelance writers, this one against Torstar, Rogers,  the Financial Post/National Post, all other Canwest publications, and the database Proquest. After paying legal fees, the settlement will provide approximately $5 million to be divided up among the participants in class action.

The deadline for filing claims is October 15. I looked through the list of publications covered by the suit, went back through my c.v., and found three articles in The Toronto Star and one in The Financial Post. I’ve filed my claim and look forward to payment, probably within a year.

Like the previous suit against Thomson Canada this is good news for freelance writers. My concern, though, is what these suits will mean for freelance writers in the future. My expectation is that, before their articles appear in print, publishers will make them sign a contract that, for whatever compensation is agreed upon, cedes to the publisher not only the right to publish the article but all future rights, including posting in electronic databases.

When I did it, freelancing was informal, without any written contracts. I’m sure that now there will be detailed contracts for freelance writers, just as there are detailed contracts for authors of books and academic articles. Maybe compensation will increase slightly because of the inclusion of future rights.

Regardless what happens in the future, Heather Robertson has provided an important service for writers in forcing publishers to recognize that their articles have value, both for first publication in print or online and for subsequent repackaging or republishing.

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