Saturday, November 19, 2005

NWU: Wake Us Up When September Ends

The National Writers Union, all over the latest breaking news like ugly on an ape, posted on November 17 (last Thursday) a one-paragraph item at its website headlined “Electronic Rights Class Action Settlement Approved.” (The link is; notwithstanding its presence in the “members only” section, anyone can access it.)

The NWU alert notes that Judge George Daniels made the call on September 27, and offers a link to the plaintiffs’ brief. No mention of the fact that objectors on October 21 filed with the Second Circuit a notice to appeal Daniels’ ruling -- something acknowledged by the settlement website ( but not, as yet, by any of the author “associational plaintiffs,” which seem to be running as fast as they can from their “association” with this rotten deal. And that’s appropriate in a sense, because the settlement has exposed them as worse than irrelevant.

I also just caught up with the coverage of the settlement in the fall issue of the NWU house organ, American Writer (viewable online at The author of the article, Miryam Ehrlich Williamson (who later would opt out of the settlement herself), makes a complete hash of things. Among other things, she reports that and are still ripping off writers and quotes the NWU’s saber-rattling president, Gerard Colby, as saying, “The NWU will not tolerate continuing infringements. We’re prepared to continue to fight, and fight harder.”

Williamson’s deadline must have preceded the last-second amendment to the settlement agreement that would grandfather in the illegal practices of Amazon and (The settlement's release of the latter arguably also covers FindArticles.) Nothing like being informed by an organization on the inside of the action!

The Williamson analysis accepts at face value the narrative posited by American Society of Journalists and Authors flack Jim Morrison, including the line “Going to trial would have been a gamble for both sides…. The defendants [sic -- she means the plaintiffs] had to wonder if they could recruit enough writers with the courage to stand up to the publishing industry and form a class big enough to justify the suit.”

Huh? Wasn’t that suit already filed in 2001 -- a consolidation of several actions from a year earlier? Or was that just the worst-conceived bluff since Robert Shaw’s in The Sting?

Colby, the Saber Rattler In Chief, flashes another profile in courage in his president’s column, headlined “Corporate power allowed to run amuck.” Allowed by whom?

In the course of a rambling disquisition on the evils of capitalism, Colby asserts that the class action settlement “will have the effect of putting large publishers on notice, yet again, that copyright infringement is not acceptable.” Precisely how will it do this if, as Colby tells Williamson in her article, he takes “a more neutral stance” on the settlement than ASJA’s Morrison?

And by the way, what is a more neutral stance?

Finally, the Fall 2005 American Writer features an interview in which one of Colby’s predecessors, Jonathan Tasini, takes a victory lap for what the Supreme Court ruling in Tasini v. New York Times hath wrought. “Help us build so we can bring other victories to you,” Tasini says, four years after proclaiming the class actions to be worth billions, then $600 million, then $60 million, before settling for $10-to-18-million, less lawyers’ fees and costs, along with the giveaway of all freelancers’ future secondary rights, not only when done consciously but also by default.

What writers need at this point is not further blather from their associations. What they need is to be registering the copyrights for their past published works so that, after our appeal succeeds, the author community can make use of the real leverage in its grasp.


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