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Friday, October 13, 2006

Major Victory for Canadian Freelance Writers

Yesterday was a pretty exciting day for freelance writers in Canada. The long-awaited Supreme Court decision in the landmark Heather Robertson vs. Thomson Corp. dispute finally came down — in writers' favour. It's been a long time coming. Canadian freelancers have been waiting ten years since Robertson first launched her $100 million class action lawsuit on behalf of an estimated 10,000 Canadian freelance writers against Thomson newspapers for copyright infringement.

Financed out of her own pocket, and helped by donations from writers, Robertson took Thomson to task over the unauthorized duplication of two articles she wrote for the Globe & Mail. These were reproduced in various online databases and CD-ROMs, along with the work of thousands of other writers (including yours truly), without her knowledge or consent.

The issue of electronic rights has been a contentious one that has profoundly impacted the livelihood of freelance writers. The heart of the conflict has been whether freelance material is covered by Canadian copyright as individual works, and thus owned by the writer or — as publishers claim — as part of a collective work owned by the publication.

Canadian writers have watched developments in the US (such as Tasini vs. the New York Times) with interest, waiting on tenterhooks as this case worked its way through seemingly infinite appeals. Debate in all of these battles has tended to center on whether online databases merely constitute a form of archiving, as publishers argue, or whether they represent a new distribution medium. These articles are re-sold on a subscription or pay-per-download basis, and creators argue that they should have the right to share in profits generated from subsequent uses of their work.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court announced its ruling, in a split decision in favour of writers (except on the CD-ROM issue, which they ruled was a different matter). For more information, see the PWAC web site.

2 comments:

Rose said...

Wonderful News!

Pam said...

Not as wonderful as I initially thought, unfortunately. Turns out that Heather is headed for another round of court battles to resolve the issue of "implied consent."