Thursday, August 18, 2005

NWU, ASJA -- Time For an Exit Strategy

The new deadline to object to, or opt out from, UnSettlement 2.0 is 24 days away -- September 12. And we class members still can't rely on our putative representatives to publicize in a clear fashion the most basic information that would help us figure all this out.


I think one of the three associational plaintiffs, the National Writers Union, wants out of this deal. I think another association, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, may want out.

The NWU was never wildly happy in the first place about what emerged from the years of negotiations. They were spearheaded on their end by long-time president Jonathan Tasini, whose hand-picked successor was trounced in the last election.

ASJA initially was a big booster of the settlement. But the details that have come to light since the euphoric March 29 announcement have exposed the preliminary agreement's deep and fatal flaws. I won’t belabor those flaws, which have been reported and developed exhaustively in objectors’ court filings and on this blog. Right now I’m simply observing how the rank-and-file at two of the associations are teetering, if not revolting, and I’m going to suggest what the organizations should do about it.

Of course none of this applies to the Authors Guild. Led by ex-general counsel Kay Murray -- now an in-house lawyer for participating publisher Tribune Company -- the Guild remains rock-solid for the settlement. The Guild is the snootiest and least confrontational, and therefore the least representative, of the class rep associations.

ASJA would like to regard itself as the Guild’s little brother, but that illusion can no longer be sustained in the current scenario. Perhaps that's why former ASJA president Jim Morrison -- second only to the Guild's Murray as the most vocal proponent of the settlement -- now seems to be subtly undermining it. Under the settlement agreement, the associations aren’t supposed to be encouraging writers even to exercise their option to withhold future rights (and, in the process, accept a 35 percent reduction in their settlement claims). According to reliable reports, however, Morrison has commenced doing just that.

But the NWU and ASJA may feel trapped. They’re probably embarrassed by how badly the publishing industry, enabled by the Guild, has taken them to the cleaners. They may also be worried that backing out of the deal will expose them to legal action by the defendants.

Your humble blogger’s opinion is that the NWU and ASJA have less to worry about from pulling back than they do from making ineffectual gestures to their constituents that they’re following through under duress and with (justifiably) nil enthusiasm. A far more constructive tack would be for NWU and ASJA to bite the bullet, tell the court that their lawyers didn't adequately explain to them the implications of things like the License by Default, and reset the negotiations. I doubt that multibillion-dollar publishing companies would try to bludgeon these tiny nonprofits for their perfectly understandable refusal to take the UnSettlement to the finish line; they’d come off as the worst sort of bullies if they did.


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