Tuesday, May 05, 2009

History of Piracy: The Globe hauls down the flag

It's one small story in The Globe, one large leap for digital culture. The Globe and Mail, after thirty years of appropriating and reselling the work of freelance writers without permission or payment, has admitted defeat and negotiated a settlement with the class action led by Heather Robertson.

Trying to make the best of it after years of stonewalling, Globe counsel Sue Gaudi says,
It is primarily a historical matter from the days before The Globe and Mail entered into written contracts with our freelance contributors. We value our relationships with our freelancers and are happy to move on.
It is much more than that. In a decade and more of fighting the freelancers' claim to payment, The Globe's lawyers insisted on a right to steal. Since they did not have permission to take what they wanted, they created a figleaf called "implied consent." There would be no contracts, historically or going forward, if the court had supported this drivel.

With Google negotiating terms for sampling books online, with the Pirate Bay guys going to jail, with Kindle and iTunes and a million other systems demonstrating how access and rights co-exist in the digital world, that romantic moment when digital piracy seemed to be the wave of the future seems to be receding.

Congratulations to Heather Robertson and all her compadres; a difficult struggle, a remarkable victory. (Note: I'm pretty sure I contributed nothing to The Globe in the period covered by the lawsuit and settlement and do not expect to be claiming a share of the long-delayed payment.)

Addendum: My extended take on this story from a couple of years ago here.
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