July 20th, 2011
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.
July 11th, 2011
Some years ago I regularly published freelance op eds in The Globe and Mail. Recently a sitter for our children told me she was excited to see one of my articles appear in her composition text, a book entitled Thinking Through the Essay. On one hand, I was delighted that my work was being used in secondary education. On the other hand, I was deeply insulted that the publisher had not asked my permission in advance or offered any form of compensation. Rather than just getting angry, an opportunity soon presented itself to get even.
Through Access Copyright, I was informed of a class action suit launched by the distinguished Canadian writer Heather Robertson on behalf of other freelance Canadian writers. The suit, Heather Robertson vs. Thomson Canada Ltd et al., alleged that publishers, by automatically including freelancers’ articles in electronic databases, violated the freelancers’ copyright. The case went to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ultimately upheld Robertson’s claim.
The settlement of the suit provided a pool of $5,400,000 for compensating freelance journalists. Based on my own share of the settlement, compensation worked out to approximately $200 per article. Having published over thirty articles that were eligible for inclusion in the suit, my settlement worked out to a substantial and unanticipated addition to this year’s income.
As I understand it, Robertson is pursuing another class action against the Toronto Star and Rogers Publishing. Good on her!
It seems to me that the big issue here is compensation for producers of what the digital world refers to as “content” versus aggregators and distributors of that content. The terms of trade have moved in favor of the latter. So Arianna Huffington gets even richer while paying contributors to HuffPo exactly nothing. The Robertson class action suit shifts the ground in Canada, providing some compensation for freelancers.
I should say, by the way, that I do not get compensated for this blog. I’ve had offers to place advertising on it, but have resisted. I enjoy the immediacy of posting and see the blog as an opportunity to say something about political issues I may be thinking about, to discuss questions unresolved in class, or to post first drafts of parts of what will later become articles or books. But if I choose to write for a newspaper or online publisher, I expect fair compensation. And I appreciate the efforts of Ms. Robertson to secure it.
May 27th, 2011
In my post last February 22, I complained about HP’s Greedy Color Laser Jet Printers that use the expensive color toner even if you are printing only in black. One reader suggested looking for a store that refills toner cartridges. I did that, and found GN Ink/Toner at 621A Mount Pleasant Avenue in Toronto, tel. 647-889-4648, email firstname.lastname@example.org. They provide fast courteous service and a toner refill is roughly half the price of a new cartridge from HP, that is, $62 including tax for a black cartridge, and $200 for the set of three color cartridges. They also rejig the chip on the cartridge so that the printer recognizes the toner as an HP product. This brings down the cost of a black and white page to about 7 cents, which is much more reasonable. I encourage Toronto readers with HP laser printers, or other companies’ laser printers, to visit GN Ink/Toner rather than being ripped off by HP or other manufacturers.
University libraries now provide free access to virtually any academic journal for anyone affiliated with the university. Like many academics I have shelves groaning under the weight of back issues of journals that I almost never revisit. In the past, more than a few academics donated their old journals to organizations that sent them to the developing world, and received tax refunds. Not any more, because the journals are also accessible online in the developing world. So who wants old journals? I checked around and the answer that came back is precisely no one. So I’m recycling them. In the future, I’ll treat academic journals like newspapers or magazines: have a look, maybe clip an article, and then recycle them. If I need a specific article, it will always be there online. Which raises the question of why bother publishing journals in hard copy anymore.
April 7th, 2011
Government, Living Digitally
In this post, I’m taking a break from following the federal election campaign to discuss an ongoing function of government – service delivery. It happened that that my passport, health card, driver’s license, and vehicle registration were all due for renewal this spring, which provided a good opportunity to see how both the federal and provincial governments are doing.
With the passport renewal, I learned on the Passport Canada website (ppt.gc.ca) that I was eligible to use the simplified renewal process. Essentially I could mail in my expiring passport along with the names of two non-related references. The process no longer required sending my birth certificate and two other identity documents as well as finding a guarantor. While Passport Canada promised delivery with 20 business days, I had by new passport in 10. So the process was both simpler and faster than in the past.
For the health card, I visited the Service Ontario website (serviceontario.ca) and booked an appointment – an option not previously available. When I arrived at the Service Ontario office, I was given a number, and it was called before I even sat down to wait. The service was being provided by a trainee (Richard) and trainer (Joanne). Richard noticed that my driver’s license – one of the identity documents I provided for the health card – was expiring, and asked if I wanted to renew it as well. I recalled that I needed to renew my license plate, which Joanne and Richard could also do. Thus I was able to complete the three transactions in less than 10 minutes. While Joanne and Richard were doing training, they were not inconveniencing me at all. The only inefficiency I noticed in the process was that one photo was required for the health card and another for the driver’s license, rather than a single photo that could have been used for both.
To sum up, I was very satisfied with both Passport Canada and Service Ontario. Evidently, both agencies are using up-to-date service methodologies. Passport Canada is reusing data it previously gathered and is also applying the 80-20 rule to speed up and simplify the easy transactions. Service Ontario now uses appointments to reduce waiting and applies single counter service.
It is noteworthy that these are areas of public service that do not appear to be politically contentious or that require extensive political oversight. Passport Canada appears to have convinced the politicians that it can speed up and simplify its processes without compromising public security. In the case of Service Ontario, the recent Ontario budget cites increases in customer satisfaction it has achieved. The budget sets a goal of saving $200 million over the next 3 years through increasing efficiencies in major agencies. Service Ontario is expected to be part of the solution, either through increased internal efficiencies or by taking over additional areas of service delivery on behalf of other agencies.
In my opinion, a measure of the effectiveness of a democracy is the liveliness, even raucousness, of the debate in its election campaigns. Both sharp debate about policy proposals and searching examination of the character of those who have the audacity to lead are desirable. But it’s also important to tell the good news stories of public servants who are quietly striving to improve performance on government’s front lines.
February 22nd, 2011
I have an HP Color LaserJet (CM 1015MFP) Printer and it’s bankrupting me. The black toner cartridges cost $100 for 2500 pages, which is reasonable. The devil-in-the-details are the three (cyan, yellow, and magenta) color cartridges, which together cost $300 for 2000 pages. (If you do the math, that’s $.04 per page for black and $ .15 per page for color).
Even if you do all your printing in black and white, the toner level in the color cartridges mysteriously, but inexorably, declines. And when the toner in the three color cartridges runs out, the printer stops printing, even if you are only using black. To restart the printer, you must buy another $ 300 pack of the three color cartridges.
I called HP about this problem and their advice was to go to the printer properties dialogue box and under advanced preferences enable the option to print all text as black. I did this, but it still doesn’t prevent the printer from sucking out the $.15 per page color toner even when I am printing text in black.
I bought the printer because, even though I print mostly documents, I wanted to have the option to occasionally print in color for the kids. Big mistake! I had thought that if I did that the color cartridge would last several years. The longest a color cartridge seems to last, even if I do all my printing in black, is 6 months.
I would advise anyone reading this – and I hope there are many people who do – that HP color laser jet printers are designed to force you to use the really expensive color toner even if you don’t want to. I would never buy another one, and I urge you not to make my mistake.