After being sued last fall for wrongly bylining
two articles written by freelancer Rob
Bundy, M Magazine has quietly
reprinted both pieces in its February issue, adding Bundy's credit and an
acknowledgement of the earlier publication error.
Federal court records show the
copyright-infringement lawsuit, which Bundy filed in September, was settled Dec.
27, and the suit was dismissed. Terms were kept confidential, but the timeline
suggests that the republication of the articles and the accompanying disclaimer
were part of the deal.
While Bundy is barred from
commenting on the outcome, it's safe to say that the result is a victory for
the writer, and by extension, for freelancers generally, who often complain of
being hopelessly outgunned in their dealings with wealthy and powerful
publications to which they contribute.
In his lawsuit, Bundy was
represented by lawyers from the Chicago firm of Kirkland and Ellis. (Local
representation was provided by Gass Weber Mullins.)
How did such high-powered legal talent come to his aid? Bundy's
lawyers were recruited through a Chicago
nonprofit with an unusual mission: Lawyers for the Creative Arts, which, as
its name implies, helps with legal services and advice for artists of all kinds,
including dancers, musicians, visual artists, filmmakers and writers.
Intellectual property cases like
Bundy's are only a small portion of LCA's work, executive director William E.
Rattner tells me. Many cases the group takes are more routine – providing legal
guidance to a painter or potter setting up a business to sell her work, for
instance, negotiating leasing deals for a nonprofit theater, and other such
mundane, but critical and potentially costly aspects of making a living from
“The only thing we turn away is
something that really has nothing to do with our expertise,” says Rattner –
such as a car crash injury lawsuit or handling an artist's divorce.
In the realm of journalism and
allied fields, LCA has represented filmmakers and other content creators on
matters such as using government freedom of information laws, says legal
director Marci Rolnik. Last year a
documentary filmmaker sought advice on how to film a public crowd at which
police were expected to be present without running afoul of an Illinois law
that has been used to prosecute people recording police encounters. (That law
has since been thrown
A group of Chicago lawyers looking
for a way to contribute to society started LCA 40 years ago. The organization
doesn't usually provide legal help directly. “We have hundreds of volunteer
lawyers,” Rattner says. The group steers inquiring artists to those volunteers,
who will work for free for low-income clients and at a discounted rate for
“It's a group of clients that's fun
to work with,” Rattner says. “These are interesting, educated people you're
dealing with. You're not trying to get some kid off who was arrested on
Saturday night for hijacking a car.”
Similarly named organizations are
found in some other cities, though Rattner says they're independent of each
other, not part of one overall national organization.
The digital revolution has made
disputes over copyright especially interesting and complex, Rolnik and Rattner
agree. Stealing the creative output of another person once took a certain
amount of time and effort, whether it was plagiarizing a book or copying a
painting. “It's that much easier when you can sit in your room and with just a
few clicks, steal somebody's work,” Rattner says.
Bundy's two stories, along with his photographs, were originally
published in M's July issue. One,
about the renovation of Bundy's Queen Anne house on Milwaukee's East Side, was attributed
to M magazine editor Janet Raasch and gave Bundy second
billing. The other, about a collection of rare pianos, was attributed to a
completely different writer, with Bundy's photos credited to another
While the stories were in
production, Bundy indicated he couldn’t agree to M's usual contract language, which forbids publication elsewhere
without the magazine’s prior permission, because each story had already been
committed to non-competing outlets. The lawsuit said Raasch agreed to permit
those other publications.
The suit said the Queen Anne home
story was assembled from two documents – Bundy's draft for the assignment and
his longer, original version of the same story, which he sent so the editor
could see if there were details she might want to add. As the piece went
through editing, the suit said, his inquiries on the editing process and
whether he could further assist in the story's final preparation were brushed
off. Not until he got the magazine did he know the story was now “By Janet
Raasch, with Rob Bundy.”
The suit said Raasch told Bundy the
piano-collection story was misattributed because of “a production error.” The
suit charged, however, that the misattribution of both articles was “willful,” though
it doesn't ascribe a motive for the mistake.
In their answer to Bundy's suit,
filed in October, attorneys for M's
parent Conley Publishing and for Raasch acknowledged the error on the piano
collection story but said it was accidental, not willful. The response denied
any wrongdoing on the part of the magazine in attributing the Queen Anne story
in part to Raasch.
With the settlement, why the
magazine made its mistake and what Bundy thought the motive might be, are now
But Bundy evidently was grateful
for LCA's assistance: The organization reports it's getting a four-figure
donation from the writer.
Neither M Magazine nor its legal representation returned a request for
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