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Freelance writers must agree to electronic republication

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    NMU         SECON

    NMU         SECOND CIRCUIT         Copyrights & Trademarks         Oct 4, 1999    

Freelance writers must agree to electronic republication

  • Publications that include material submitted by freelance writers cannot be republished electronically without permission from those writers, according to a federal appellate court

Freelance writers who sell their stories may stop the periodical publishers who buy them from providing the stories along with the other contents of those publications to electronic database services such as NEXIS, unless the freelancers agreed to the transfer, a U.S. Court of Appeals in New York City (2nd Cir.) ruled in late September.

Reversing a decision by the federal District Court in New York City, the three-judge panel ruled for Jonathan Tasini, president of the National Writers Union based in New York City, and several other writers. The court rejected claims by The New York Times, Newsday Inc., Time, Inc., and several database provider companies, including Mead Data Central Corp., that the freelancers’ stories are protected as “collected works” when they appear in the databases.

Under the Copyright Act, freelance authors retain their copyrights unless they agree to transfer them when they sell their works to periodical publishers. However periodical publishers own copyrights in their “collected” works as a whole and may revise and republish them.

Tasini and the other writers sued periodical publishers who had made their works electronically available in December 1993, saying that as the writers of the articles, they owned electronic rights to them under copyright law.

The lower court ruled against Tasini in August 1997, saying that the publishers permissibly reproduced the articles as part of electronic revisions of the newspapers and magazines in which the articles first appeared.

(Tasini v. The New York Times; Counsel for the periodicals: Bruce Keller, New York City; Counsel for Tasini: Emily Bass, New York City)

© 1999 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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