In 2005 I learned about a class action lawsuit against Google through a writers’ organization. This one is different from the current lawsuit against Google for unauthorized digitizing of the world’s library. The one I’m talking about here is Literary Works in Electronic Databases Copyright Litigation. I received a notice yesterday (actually three notices by mail) telling me that I had filed three claims, two were disallowed, but the third was being processed. I filed my claims within the deadline and sent paper backups. In 2005. In the interim I heard not a word.
I remember filling out some of the paper work for this claim. Even more vividly I remember going through my files and listing every piece of published writing done within a certain period, and being very surprised at the number. I hadn’t realized I’d been so prolific in writing nonfiction on a variety of topics. A lot of the works were book reviews, and I have no idea how those will fare in this claim. I also recall receiving an email that certain works wouldn’t be allowed because they hadn’t been copyrighted. I sent them copies of the copyright registrations by registered mail.
This is the second class action lawsuit that I have found myself benefiting from. A few years after I published an article in Clues: A Journal of Detection (1996), I received a letter stating that the university had sold the rights to articles published in the journal without receiving permission; a group of writers (as I recall) had sued, and here was my piece of the settlement. In the envelope was a check for $750.
I don’t know what the settlement in this current lawsuit will be, but I do know that some of it will depend on my registration of copyright with the Library of Congress. While it is true that today a writer owns the copyright of a work the minute it is created, it is also true that those who register the copyright with the Library of Congress will collect more in the way of monetary damages than those who do not register their copyright.
I did nothing to bring about the settlement with Clues. I filed a lot of paper for the Database Litigation but I had nothing to do with filing the lawsuit and following up. I occasionally receive a request for information on whether or not I flew a certain airlines within a certain period, and after that I might receive a small check as part of a settlement. I’ve occasionally received a voucher for a small amount of money.
After the Snowden and NSA debacle, no one should be surprised that someone somewhere out there is misusing someone else’s information or work but it is still a surprise to me—a pleasant surprise—to find that others are fighting back, even as I wander about in ignorance, and that I have been included in the settlement.
And as a result, I will continue to register my copyrights even when others tell me it’s a waste of money. And I will also continue to pay my dues to the various writers’ groups who keep track of these things like lawsuits and let their members know that it’s now time to sharpen those fingernails and get clacking on those keys, and file those claims.
I don’t know if I’ll get much in the way of compensation, but I’m looking forward to getting a check in the next . . . few years.
The litigation is in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, in re Literary Works in Electronic Databases Copyright Litigation, M.D.L. No. 1379.