The $33 Million Lawsuit and the Twelve-Year Fight

On April 7, 1997, the Electronic Rights Defence Committee (ERDC) took the first steps toward a $33.3 million class action lawsuit in Quebec Superior court against Southam Inc, CEDROM-SNJI, Infomart-Dialog and Southam Business Communications for 37,000 instances of copyright infringement of freelancers’ work dating back to 1985.

Years later, the ERDC is still battling to win recognition of the fact that Southam acted illegally in reproducing freelancers’ work for years without seeking consent or providing compensation. While the ERDC is the plaintiff in this lawsuit and writer and journalist David Homel is serving as class representative, this action is on behalf of any freelance writer who ever wrote for The Gazette (Montreal). The newspaper has changed hands in the intervening years but the case continues against the Southam chain’s legal successors.

Too often in the decade since the dawn of the Information Age publishers have tried to rewrite copyright rules for their own benefit. Many are reusing freelancers’ property electronically without compensation or consent in open violation of copyright legislation. Many have introduced what we believe are abusive “take it or leave” contacts asking creators to surrender all or most e-rights.

Recent decisions in England (The Guardian) and France (Le Figaro) and several breakthroughs in the U.S. (The New York Times, for example) give cause for optimism. So does the establishment of an electronic rights arm to the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency, as well as the decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal in the case of Heather Robertson versus the Thompson Newspaper Chain. (This case is expected to be forwarded to the Supreme Court of Canada).

But the ERDC case must go forward.