The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press news release states:
The $18 million settlement grew from a series of class-action lawsuits filed after the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York (2nd Cir.) ruled in 1999 in the Tasini case that the uncompensated use of electronic copies of articles constitutes copyright infringement. The lawsuits were stayed until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2001. After the high court ruling, Judge Daniels consolidated the cases and ordered mediation, resulting in the settlement.
The Tasini case caused content to be removed from databases because publishers had not gotten permission from freelancers to disseminate it in that way. The case caused publishers to explicity ask for permission and sometimes pay fees to writers in order to ensure that articles could be placed in online databases. I doubt that this ruling will change things going forward, but "cleans up" the past. However, it does reinforce the fact that not asking explicit permission can be an expensive mistake.