Heather Robertson’s 13-year legal battle has finally come to an end.
More than two years after the former Globe and Mail freelancer won her class-action case at the Supreme Court of Canada in a nuanced and split decision, the paper and its pursuers agreed to an $11-million settlement to her and other former freelancers for the Globe’s illegal use of their works in a searchable electronic database.
This case is similar to that of a group of freelancers who are suing The Gazette and Canwest.
The court’s ruling essentially said that the Globe could reproduce copies of the paper in other media (microfiche, digital editions, CD-ROM, etc.), but that piecemeal repurposing of content (like in electronic databases) was not allowed unless permission was sought from the writer.
The Globe says this issue is “primarily a historical matter from the days before The Globe and Mail entered into written contracts with our freelance contributors.”
What that means is that the Globe (and other large Canadian newspaper publishers) now have strongly-worded freelance contracts that give blanket permission to the publisher to do whatever they see fit with a submitted piece – including putting it into a database or transmitting it through any media (even if it doesn’t yet exist).