CTVglobemedia Inc., Thompson Reuters Canada and The Gale Group have recently agreed to pay an $11 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit commenced in 1996 by freelance writer Heather Robinson. The case originated with Robinson, who disputed the fact that the Globe & Mail newspaper had included articles she submitted to the Globe's print edition into electronic databases without paying her what she felt was paid proper compensation for doing so.
Robinson, a founding member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada, submitted articles to the Globe for the newspapers print edition that were then included in three electronic data bases: InfoGlobe Online; an electronic version of the Canadian Periodical Index; as well as in a CD ROM that contained a years' worth of several Canadian newspapers. Robertson filed the class action lawsuit over the unauthorized reproduction of her work as well as that of thousands of other freelance writers.
In 2006, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that newspapers and magazines do not have the right to transfer articles from their print editions into electronic databases without the consent of the writers, ruling that the databases resulted in "a different product that infringes" the creator's copyright. However, the Court did make an allowance for CD ROMs that present articles in the same overall look of the printed newspapers or magazines.
The Supreme Court of Canada held, in a 5 - 4 decision, that newspaper publishers are not entitled to republish freelance articles acquired for publication in their newspapers in electronic databases without compensating the authors and obtaining their consent. Newspaper publishers have a copyright in their newspapers pursuant to the Copyright Act to "reproduce the work or any substantial part thereof in any material form whatever". The court held that a substantial part of a newspaper may consist only of the original selection so long as the "essence" of the newspaper is preserved. In online databases, the originality of the freelance articles is reproduced but the originality of the newspaper is not. The resulting collective work is of a different nature than the original newspaper.
By contrast, the Court held that CD ROMs, which were essentially a compendium of daily newspaper editions, remained faithful to the essence of the original work - (that line could be a direct quote from Colonel Jack Ripper in Dr. Strangelove).