Lawyer Writer News Flash: Freelance Writers' Settlement Screwed

The settlement has been nixed by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in a 2-1 decision, and now the Freelance Writers case, which argued that that freelance contracts do not allow for electronic publication (online, in databases) unless it's specifically stated, is back in the frying pan.

It's a 2-year-old settlement, with around $20 million at issue, and a Who's Who of Publishers as defendants: Knight Ridder Inc., Reuters, West Publishing, etc.

There are several well-known plaintiffs, as well: EL Doctorow, Gerald Posner, the National Writers Union, the Authors' Guild, the American Society of Journalists & Authors, etc.

And the basis for this? Jurisdiction.

Yep. The appellate court has found that the district court lacked federal jurisdiction to approve the settlement in this copyright infringement case. (Well, two justices did -- the dissenting judge said he wouldn't nix this settlement on jurisdictional grounds.) The majority opinion:

"The overwhelming majority of claims within the certified class arise from the infringement of unregistered copyrights ....We have held, albeit outside the class-action context, that district courts lack statutory subject matter jurisdiction over infringement claims arising from unregistered copyrights."

Read the opinion here.

So what happens now? Well, I'm betting that the Freelance Writers' counsel request a full-court review of this 3-justice panel decision - which may or may not get granted. After that, the Supreme Court is the next step, procedurally - and while it's very difficult to get heard by the Highest of the High Courts, they did hear Tasini ....