Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Writer Heather Robertson, who championed copyrights of her freelance colleagues, dies at 72

Photo by Aaron Marshall
Heather Robertson, the Canadian magazine writer and author died Wednesday on her 72nd birthday. 
Her colleagues  and freelancers everywhere owe her an enormous debt of gratitude, particularly since she was the lead plaintiff in two long-running suits over the electronic rights of writers. These settled that newspapers and periodicals could not appropriate writers' work and publish them on databases without credit or payment. 
The magazine industry recognized her in 2012 with its highest honour,the National Magazine Awards Foundation's award for outstanding achievement. 
In a 40-year career, she wrote for most of Canada's best magazines, including Saturday Night, Equinox, Elm Street, Toronto Life, Chatelaine, Canadian Forum, Canada's History, Weekend, The Canadian and Maclean's
Her close friend Elaine Dewar summed up Robertson's life in this way. 
"She was an early bestselling author of Canadian non fiction books (Reservations Are for Indians and Salt of the Earth are two early works that found large audiences.) Early in her career she was a very well read and controversial columnist for Maclean's, as well as a writer of well reported and beautifully written feature stories for most of the magazines in the country.    
"She was also a co-founder of various writers' organizations including the Periodical Writers' Association of Canada , and The Writer's Union of Canada, and helped talk the Canada Council into recognizing non fiction writing as an art form." 
In Robertson v. Thomson, which reached the Supreme Court in 2006, Robertson brought suit in a class action on behalf of freelance writers whose work was being reproduced on certain electronic databases without permission or reimbursement. In May 2009, a settlement of more than $11-million was awarded to the writers involved in what is and was one of the most important copyright cases in Canadian history. A similar suit,Robertson v. ProQuest et al., was settled in 2011 with additional compensation. In all it took almost 14 years to prevail, during which Robertson was steadfast as the figurehead and spokesperson.
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