Today I’m putting out one more, ideally one last, call for contributions to The Cranky Copyright Book. I have to survive day to day between now and the receipt of tens of thousands of dollars in a copyright settlement. This settlement has cast a shadow over my life for the last 16 years.
I wrote hundreds of freelance articles for Canadian newspapers in the 1990s. (Among other work, I was a columnist for the Star and also for the Globe and Mail.) Starting in the ’90s, Canadian newspapers illegally reproduced freelance writers’ articles on electronic databases, to which they charged access. We took them to court and won at the Supremes. Hence what they did was indisputably wrong. This is one of those rare copyright issues that are open and shut. There’s no room for debate.
Publishers and database owners settled the lawsuit – but rich, detached lawyers are now dragging out the payment process. This is merely the latest indignity I have had to suffer in a decade-and-a-half-long process.
Newspapers’ duplication of our articles was illegal because it was unauthorized. So newspapers attempted to extort post-facto and perpetual authorization from freelancers. I was the first person to get the Globe and Mail’s freelancer contract in the mail.
Years ago, I attended exactly one information meeting about the court case, chaired by representative plaintiff Heather Robertson and her lawyer. She wrote her address (in King City) and phone number on the blackboard, but has never actually returned a phone call or E-mail from me. I find this bothersome because I am one of the larger claimants, she seems not to actually need the money, and she gets an extra payment as the representative plaintiff.
The settlement had to be approved by a judge. For weeks last summer I planned to attend the approval hearing and report on it. An old lady and I showed up at the courthouse to watch the proceedings, but the courtroom location was unlisted everywhere we looked. (We looked everywhere. We also asked everyone, and had them check their databases, and did all the same things at neighbouring courthouses. We left no stone unturned.)
Whaddya know: The details had been hidden on the lawyers’ Web site the whole time, which I couldn’t load on my iTouch in the courtroom or anywhere nearby.
There have been quite a few postings of late by freelance writers incensed at another publisher’s contract. All those postings tend to take the form “Why I won’t sign the Transcontinental contract.” Their cause is just, but their tone is a bit precious, for this is the same cause for which I’ve been suffering for these last 16 years. (I’m not the only one. And how many of those new writers have spouses or other sources of income?)
Adding insult to injury, well-heeled lawyers (abetted by a fellow lawyer, Howard Knopf) have talked the judge into extending the filing deadline. All this does is string us along and keep us poor longer.
So: I’ve got to keep my head above water between now and receipt of my long-delayed settlement funds. That’s why I’m asking for contributions again.
But there’s going to be a payoff. Even though the settlement money is mine and barely compensates me for the harm caused, I am going to turn right around and use part of that money to write, edit, and publish The Cranky Copyright Book, in print and electronically. I am transforming the ill-gotten gains of notorious copyright assholes into an original work of literature defending the rights of creators in a time of copyright reform. Do you see anybody else doing anything like that?
But I’ve got to get there from here first.