Here's an update on the class action law suit against the four big multinational record companies led by the Estate of Chet Baker. This update follows upon a report from March 8, 2011 by Drew Hasselback, himself a lawyer and the legal post editor of the National Post/Financial post. Here is my original blog about this from February 8, 2011.
It seems that certain matters had not been finalized at the time of the settlement approval hearing scheduled for February 15, 2011. I don't know whether these may have included some of the issues I raised in my earlier posting. Moreover, Paul Baker, the son of Chet Baker had raised an issue concerning the right of his mother, Carol Baker, one of the representative plaintiffs, to enter into an agreement on behalf of the estate.
The Robertson case took at least a dozen years from the statement of claim until the payout cheques were finally mailed just the other day and had to go to all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, where judgment was rendered in 2006. The Google class action is now about 5.5 years old and has probably not even reached the "end of the beginning" stage. Indeed, Judge Denis Chin - one of the most highly regarded and decisive trial judges in the USA (he was entrusted with Bernie Madoff) - has been deliberating on a decision on the amended proposed settlement for over a year. Few expect that his decision will be the end of the matter. Here's a possible flow chart for the aftermath.
By contrast, this "pending lists" matter will have been resolved - if indeed it does get approved by the Court as requested - relatively extremely quickly in about 2 1/2 years and without most of the normal and time consuming litigation stages. In fact, there is no reference on the settlement website to even a statement of defence having been filed. So, presumably there was no discovery. The publicly available documentation in support of the approval hearing is available here, and is not very extensive - though as noted above it now finally includes the important 36 page "term sheet" which is described on the settlement website as "Key Terms of Settlement". Presumably very few potential class members would have had a chance to see this essential document prior to it being posted. Some other significant aspects of the settlement have not been made public at all, as I noted earlier. One of the more interesting aspects of the settlement was that the opt-out threshold is to be provided to the Court on a confidential basis. The total fees sought for class action counsel have also not been disclosed. By way of contrast, the posted Google documentation is vastly more detailed, voluminous and informative.
Out of that, there will be a request for approval of what will likely be several million dollars in legal fees, disbursements and commissions deducted before any money reaches music composers. The total amount of deductions that will be sought has not been disclosed on the settlement website. While $45 million or so is indeed an impressive amount, it is a very small fraction of the originally estimated liability figure of more than $6 billion based upon potential statutory minimum damages. This $6 billion figure was originally announced and explained by Prof. Michael Geist, who who founded and oversees CIPPIC (the legal clinic located at and supported in part by by the University of Ottawa), that has been closely involved in this very big stakes case.
It would all work out to something less than $135 per song net in the hands of composers after deductions. The record companies apparently didn't pay for the necessary rights over the years, thereby allegedly infringing their own artists' and other artists' copyrights. The normal minimum statutory damages amount that a court would award is $500 per title, though the court has discretion to reduce this figure.There were allegedly more than 300,000 works in issue. So, a "volume" discount would have been conceivable if the court were to have found that application of the minimum of $500 was "grossly out of proportion to the infringement".
Interestingly, these are the very same commercial record companies that are saying that a proposed $5,000 cap on statutory damages per individual for non-commercial copying in Bill C-32 is a "license to steal".