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Freelancers lose copyright battle with Boston Globe

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    NMU         MASSACHUSETTS         Copyrights & Trademarks         Dec 9, 2002    

Freelancers lose copyright battle with Boston Globe

  • Newspaper did not infringe on freelancers’ copyright privileges by forcing them to sign disclosure agreements, a superior court ruled in late November.

A superior court judge in Boston dismissed a two-year-old lawsuit Nov. 26 filed by a group of Boston Globe freelancers who claimed the newspaper unfairly coerced them into relinquishing copyright control of their work.

Superior Court Judge Ralph D. Gants ruled that The Boston Globe had not breached its “implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing” when it asked its freelancers to sign an agreement that would have forced them to relinquish their rights to already published and future works before the newspaper would buy any more of their pieces.

The Globe instituted its policy after a federal appeals court in New York (2nd Cir.) ruled in September 1999 that, under the federal Copyright Act, publishers could not reprint freelancers’ materials without their permission.

The superior court ruled that the newspaper did not “extort” the freelancers to sign these agreements but was merely responding to new legal circumstances that forced them to change their freelance policy.

Other newspapers have taken a different approach. The Boston Herald, for example, does not require its freelancers to give up rights to previously published work, although future work is subject to similar restrictions.

Gants acknowledged that the Globe used the “substantial leverage in its dealings with freelancers,” in requiring them to give up rights to previously published work in order to be able to do future work for the newspaper. The court ruled that even though the Globe’s actions were “rough and tumble,” and that the paper was acting from a position of strength, its actions did not meet the threshold of extortion.

Indira Talwani, attorney for the freelancers insists that Gants erred when he ignored the fact that the Globe forced the freelancers to hand over the all their archived articles and photographs that the newspaper could then republish.

“This was a massive grab of the archives that the judge did not address,” Talwani said. The archives database goes back to 1980, and contains thousands of articles by freelancers.

So far, 2,696 freelance writers, photographers and illustrators have signed the agreement, according to the Globe. While the newspaper has not released the number of individuals that were asked to sign the new contract, Talwani estimates that as many as three quarters of freelance photographers have refused to sign it.

(Marx v. Globe Newspaper Company Inc.; media attorney: Indira Talwani, Segal, Roitman & Coleman, Boston, Massachusetts) GS

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© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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