A recent notice from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency indicates that the deadline to make a claim for compensation under the class action lawsuit on behalf of freelancers and other contributors to online databases launched by Heather Robertson has now passed.
According to the notice, the class action alleged that the creators were not properly compensated for the electronic reproduction of their works in online databases. The notice advised that Thomson Reuters, CTVglobemedia, and The Gale Group, agreed to pay $11 million to settle the lawsuit, while making no admission of wrongdoing. No reference was made to any other legal publisher in the notice.
At the heart of the dispute was whether the publishers acquired electronic rights to authored works originally published in print. Since electronic rights were not even contemplated at the time of publication, they could not have been conveyed to the publishers.
The list of legal publications covered by the settlement with Thomson Reuters includes a number of newsletters, articles in law reports, and law reviews either published by Carswell or by university law schools and distributed online by Carswell.
Needless to say, the lawsuit triggered a major review of licensing practices by the legal publishers who took immediate steps to ensure that the issue was addressed in publishing agreements negotiated after the date that the lawsuit was initiated. Consequently the law suit and the settlement relate primarily to archival material.
The notice did not provide any further details of the settlement, such as whether Carswell can continue to offer the archival data in the absence of a agreement with the legal holder of the copyright for each case comment, annotation or article in a law report or journal.
As a practical matter, given the difficulty involved in chasing down each copyright holder, this content could be lost to the legal profession. It is an ironic outcome in that little or nothing would have been paid to publish the content in the first instance.