Top court sides with publishers on $18 million deal

Tue Mar 2, 2010 11:07am EST
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By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court overturned a ruling that threw out an $18 million settlement between publishers and freelance writers in a copyright case about work included in online databases.

The publishers had appealed to the high court in seeking to reinstate the settlement, reached in 2005 after about four years of negotiations over writers' claims that their contracts did not allow for publication of their work electronically.

The publishers included Reed Elsevier, New York Times Co, Thomson Reuters Corp, News Corp's Dow Jones & Co, and Knight Ridder, which was purchased by McClatchy Co in 2006.

The writers had sued the publishers and electronic database services, saying their contracts did not grant the publishers the right to electronically reproduce their work or license it for others to do so.

A federal judge in New York approved the settlement, which covered both freelance writers who registered the copyright to their works and those who did not.

A U.S. appeals court threw out the settlement, ruling the judge lacked jurisdiction over infringement claims arising from unregistered copyrights.

The Supreme Court unanimously overturned the appeals court ruling.

Justice Clarence Thomas said the law did not restrict federal court jurisdiction over copyright infringement actions.

A small group of authors had objected to the settlement, calling it inadequate. They said the authors who had not registered their works were treated unfairly because their share would be reduced if there was not enough money to go around.

(Reporting by James Vicini, Editing by John Wallace)