Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Class Action King Lerach Cops a Plea

San Diego lawyer Bill Lerach the king of class action, has pleaded guilty to a federal charge that he engaged in an illegal kickback scheme for plaintiffs of many of his cases. Lerach will do some prison time in addition to forfeiting $7.75 million in unlawful gains and paying a $250,000 fine.

Lerach's former firm, Milberg Weiss, was announced in 2005 as representing the Authors Guild in its class action against Google. I couldn't find the reference to Milberg Weiss when I browsed the Authors Guild website today. I am not charging that the reference was expunged; I just can't put my finger on it at a confusing and poorly organized site. If any blog readers have further information -- not only on the Authors Guild's representation, but also on the status of the Google suit itself -- drop me an email at

P.S.: End of TimesSelect Subscription Fees

Yesterday I reviewed The New York Times' coverage of its decision to begin free access to its article archives ( The story said future online advertising revenues were projected to be a more profitable model than the annual $2 million the newspaper was grossing in TimesSelect user fees.

Today's email to subscribers spins it a little differently:

Why the change?

Since we launched TimesSelect, the Web has evolved into an increasingly open
environment. Readers find more news in a greater number of places and interact
with it in more meaningful ways. This decision enhances the free flow of New York
Times reporting and analysis around the world. It will enable everyone,
everywhere to read our news and opinion - as well as to share it, link to it and
comment on it.

Again, the key legal and practical question for freelance authors is not whether The Times adopts a user-fee-based or an advertiser-based business model. Like other publishers, The Times has a new for-profit enterprise based, in part, on what the courts have clearly ruled is pirated material.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

New York Times Archive to Be Free ... To Make More Money for The New York Times

For all of you who keep asking, we're still awaiting the ruling of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to our appeal of the 2005 district court approval of the copyright class-action settlement. That decision should be handed down any time now, but we have no special information.

Meanwhile, The New York Times has announced that, beginning tomorrow (September 19), it will eliminate its subscription program for online access to archived articles, known as TimesSelect. The general manager of, Vivian L. Schiller, is quoted as saying that the two-year-old fee-based TimesSelect had drawn 227,000 paying subscribers and generated about $10 million a year in revenues, but "our projections for growth on that paid subscriber base were low, compared to the growth of online advertising."

Like the other entities comprising the copyright class action Defense Group, The Times continues to knock off the works of many thousands of freelancers. I personally wrote two articles for The New York Times Magazine -- with copyrights registered in my name -- that are marketed on the archive without permission or compensation.

Just to review here, the settlement to which I and others are objecting calls off the entire future of discussion of how to share new-media secondary rights revenue that, by law, belongs to freelancers, for the entire print and online publishing industry (for all practical purposes). The
settlement would give everyone in the world who knows that this is going on shares, of $5 or more, of what's left of a $10-million-to-$18-million settlement fund after attorneys' fees and administration costs are deducted.

What if the fund is overloaded with claims (and we believe there is good evidence, which has been covered up, that this is exactly what happened)? Well, then these whopping payouts get reduced, even to zero, for the category that comprises 99-plus percent of the infringements! Tough toenails.

Oh, and I almost forgot: there's a "license by default" that gives the Defense Group a get-out-of-jail-free card in perpetuity, even for the many authors -- certainly the vast majority -- who never knew about the settlement or chose not to waste time with its Byzantine and one-sided claims procedures.