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Freelancers lose claim over electronic publishing rights

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Freelancers lose claim over electronic publishing rights 08/25/97 NEW YORK--Freelance writers who sell their stories may not stop the periodical…

Freelancers lose claim over electronic publishing rights

08/25/97

NEW YORK–Freelance writers who sell their stories may not stop the periodical publishers who buy them from putting the contents of their publications into electronic databases or CD-ROMS, a federal District Court in Manhattan ruled in mid-August.

The court noted that its finding, that electronic versions are “revisions” of the original articles covered by the publishers’ copyright interest in the collective work of the periodicals they produce, is the first court decision to address the question of authors’ copyrights in electronic republication of their work.

Jonathan Tasini, president of the National Writers Union, and several other freelance writers lost the copyright infringement suit against The New York Times, Long Island Newsday and Sports Illustrated, and against electronic publishers who purchase the contents of the periodicals for electronic redistribution.

Although the writers retain copyrights in the original articles, the periodical publishers own copyrights to their collected works as a whole. The owner of a copyright in collected works can reproduce and distribute an article as a part of that particular collective work, in any revision of that collective work and in any later collective work in the same series.

Tasini and the other writers claimed that selling their stories for republication in a different medium exceeded the publishers’ copyright privileges for collective works.

The publishers argued that the 1976 Copyright Act was drafted to accommodate developing technologies. The court said copyrights of freelancers are not exploited because the periodical publisher cannot sell a particular article to a different publication. (Tasini v. New York Times; Writers’ Attorney: Emily Bass, New York City; Publishers’ Attorney: Bruce Keller, New York City)