Globe, publishers agree to $11M settlement in freelancer lawsuit

CTVglobemedia Inc., Thomson Reuters Canada and The Gale Group have agreed to pay an $11-million settlement in a class-action lawsuit launched in 1996 by freelance writer Heather Robertson, the Globe and Mail newspaper said Tuesday.

CTVglobemedia Inc., Thomson Reuters Canada and The Gale Group have agreed to pay an $11-million settlement in a class-action lawsuit launched in 1996 by freelance writer Heather Robertson, the Globe and Mail newspaper said Tuesday.

The long-running case originated with Robertson, who disputed the inclusion of articles she submitted to the Globe and Mail's print edition into electronic databases without proper compensation.

A founding member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada, Robertson submitted articles to the Globe for its print edition that were then included in three electronic databases: Info Globe Online, an electronic version of the Canadian Periodical Index (known as CPI.Q) as well as in a CD-ROM that contained a year's worth of several Canadian newspapers.

She filed the class-action lawsuit over the unauthorized reproduction of her work as well as that of thousands of other freelance writers.

In 2006, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that newspapers and magazines do not have the right to transfer articles from their print editions into databases without the consent of the writers, saying that the result is "a different product that infringes" the creators' copyright.

However, the court did make an allowance for CD-ROMs that present articles in the same overall look of the printed newspapers or magazines.

"The CD-ROMs can be viewed as collections of daily newspapers in a way that Info Globe Online and CPI.Q cannot," the Supreme Court ruled.

The landmark case and a similar 2001 suit in the U.S. (New York Times Co. v. Tasini) have helped freelance writers gain more recognition of their copyright amid today's electronic distribution methods.

Calling the settlement "fair and reasonable," Robertson told the Globe the case "has really made people aware of the importance of our intellectual property and of getting fair compensation for it."

The defendants have made no admission of wrongdoing.

"We are pleased to have achieved this settlement agreement and agree that it is a fair one," Sue Gaudi, the Globe's vice-president general counsel said in Tuesday's paper.

"It is primarily a historical matter from the days before The Globe and Mail entered into written contracts with our freelance contributors. We value our relationships with our freelancers and are happy to move on."