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U.S. judge approves revised writers' settlement with publishers

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Tuesday signed off on a revised class action settlement between publishers and freelance writers, who for years claimed their work had been reprinted in online databases without their permission.

At a hearing in New York, U.S. District Judge George Daniels gave final approval to the settlement, worth at least $10 million, calling it "fair, reasonable and adequate."

Defendants in the lawsuit included Reed Elsevier [RDELGE.UL], New York Times Co, News Corp's Dow Jones & Co, Thomson Reuters Corp and Knight Ridder, which was bought by McClatchy Co in 2006.

The initial accord came four years after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2001 said publishers violate copyright law when they reproduce freelance works electronically without first obtaining permission from copyright owners.

Daniels had approved the initial deal, which would have paid writers up to $18 million. But the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal in New York rejected the settlement in 2011, ruling that it shortchanged authors who did not register copyrights in their works.

Those authors represented more than 99 percent of the claims covered by the initial 2005 settlement.

Lawyers for the freelance writers submitted a revised settlement proposal in November. Among other changes, the new deal removed the $18 million cap on what writers can receive for their archived work, including articles going back to the 1980s.

In court papers, attorneys for the plaintiffs say that claims to date, if valid, would result in about $12 million in payments.

"We are pleased that the court granted our motion for final settlement approval," Michael Boni, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in an email. "It appears the class members who submitted valid claims will, after nine years, finally get paid."

Charles Sims, an attorney for the publishers, did not respond to a request for comment.

Daniels also approved $3.9 million in attorneys' fees for the plaintiffs' lawyers, according to court filings.

The case is In re: Literary Works in Electronic Databases Copyright Litigation, U.S. District Court Southern District of New York, No. 1:00-md-01379-GBD.

(Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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