December 6 – December 13, 2007 Edition

Higher Court Voids
Ruling to Pay Writers
for Web Reproductions

WASHINGTON, DC/12/4/07–The United States Court of Appeals in Manhattan Friday voided a 2005 court settlement that provided modest payments to freelancers for electronic reproduction of their work. According to The New York Times, the appeals panel ruled that courts had no jurisdiction over the copyright dispute and that the lower court had erred in hearing the writers’ case and approving a negotiated payback settlement.

Judge Chester J. Straub wrote in the latest appeals decision that that federal copyright law allows claims for damages only by writers who have registered their work with the United States Copyright Office. The courts have no jurisdiction over the disputes of writers who did not register, the judge said, thus the case should not have been heard as a class-action suit by the lower Federal District Court in Manhattan.

National Writers Union President Gerard Colby, a plaintiff in the appeals case, called the 2-to- 1 decision is “an outrage” that hopefully can be appealed to the Supreme Court.

In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that publishers cannot digitally reproduce newspaper, magazine and other articles without writers’ explicit permission. Publishers have since required many writers to contractually give up electronic rights to their work. The 2005 case was an attempt by writers to recover monies due after the 2001 ruling became effective. The 2005 settlement, now voided, would have capped publishers paybacks at a total of $18 million. Without the 2005 settlement, each writer in the class action suit will now be left to sue individually for back payments.

Interestingly, the ruling comes as the Writers Guild of America (WGA) enters its fourth week of strike against Hollywood production studios for not paying fair royalties on reproduction and distribution of writers’ works in digital media.

Veteran screen and TV writers joined some 200 Guild members at demonstration at Sony Pictures last week. Jeff Hermanson, assistant executive director and strike coordinator for the WGA, said on the organization’s website this week that, “We will get the fair deal we deserve. There is no time to turn back, or give in, or let up, until the ink is dry on a fair contract.”