Friday, July 28, 2006

Jim Morrison, The $18 Million* Man (* With An Asterisk)

In her comment in the previous post, Judith Trotsky hits the nail on the head. Go back and read it. You can put it into your own paraphrase. Here's mine:

We were never informed by the writers' organizations that it was the defendants who insisted on including the unregistereds into the settlement. That was the only way to achieve "complete peace," in the words of defendants' co-counsel Charles Sims.

The people running the show on behalf of class members with Category A and Category B claims have painted a false picture for the super-majority of class members with Category C claims. The unregistereds aren't "lucky to be getting anything"; on the contrary, they're the key to the deal. Now, with the looming threat of the C Reduction, and thanks to some undetermined admixture of corruption and bungling, the C's may be getting exactly ... nothing.

Lots of readers of this blog ask me why I'm so hard on the writers' organizations that negotiated the UnSettlement. After all, they're nice people and they did the best they could, etc., etc., etc.

The main answer to that question is that at some point, after a giant redwood tree has been whittled down to a toothpick, life demands elemental accountability.

Take Jim Morrison, former president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. After the settlement was announced last year, an article in the ASJA magazine by Morrison's successor hailed him as "the $18 Million Man." The story was that Morrison, armed with indispensable inside data made possible by ASJA's thousand-strong army of freelancers, had fought the big, bad publishing industry and, if not brought it to its knees, at least won restitution for victims of infringements of works whose copyrights had been registered, and had even adroitly arranged "found money" for others.

How many ways can we asterisk this papier-mache Robin Hood? Let us count them. It's like following the leaderboard of the Tour de France, a day after the victory lap on the Champs d'Ellyses but before the drug tests.

Here's what we find in this particular urine sample:

* $18 million is really $11.8 million for writers after attorneys' fees and the costs of mediation, class notice, and claims administration. Less than twelve million bucks for decades of infringement of tens upon tens of thousands of freelancers, by every major database operator, in cahoots with every major newspaper and magazine in the land! All without executing a single litigation tactic after filing the original complaint and finding that the defendants were too arrogant even to dignify it with a formal response to the court.

* Ready for your next slice of baloney? That $11.8 million includes (for those who choose to accept the claim awards in their full paltry-ness) a license in perpetuity to the very entities that have been so insouciantly ripping us off, as well as to every other company to which they might choose to turn around and license our work. If you don't want to grant the future license, you get 65 cents on the dollar. And if you didn't hear about the settlement, or didn't know better, or weren't interested in collecting your claim award because you didn't think the small amount of revenue was worth the trouble, there's a stealth "License by Default" granting permission to the infringers to continue exploiting your work forever anyway, in any form, without any further compensation.

* Now for the unkindest cut: the scandal of the C Reduction, which the settlement lawyers were recently cornered by the objectors into admitting is possible. More than possible, we think; probable. But don't worry, it's not such a big deal -- only about 99.9% of the infringements in this case, by both sides' accounts, are of unregistered, or Category C, works. The writers who would get shut out are the writers who made the comprehensive settlement possible. The only people who would get anything would be the registereds, who used the unregistereds in a class action rather than going out and hiring their own lawyers and fighting their own real cases.

So, sorry to be so harsh. Really, truly.

We just want to know what ASJA, the Authors Guild, and the National Writers Union plan to do about all this. Did the lawyers dupe them into this atrocity? If so, tell the Court of Appeals and unwind this sucker. The heat you're feeling from Freelance Rights Blog LLP is nothing like the shameful legacy you're on the cusp of finalizing.

In upcoming posts, we'll once again publish all the contact info for the "associational plaintiffs." In the meantime, for those of you who can't wait to ask "What gives?" of the $18 Million Man himself, you can email him at jimmor@aol.com.

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