Freelancers score on electronic re-use rights

Freelancers score on electronic re-use rights

National Writers Union vs. publishers, internet databases

From J.A. Kawell, an NWU-affiliated West Coast friend of the JJA:

[JAZZ JOURNALISTS ASSOCIATION MEMBERS NOTE: Our organization has an associate membership relationship with the NWU, allowing JJA members to buy health insurance through NWU' CSS program, but not partake of other NWU member activities.]

As you may have seen from press coverage, the National Writers Union's win in the Tasini case (see NYT article summarized below) means that many writers (and photographers and graphic artists) may be able to collect $$$ from publishers who have sold their work without the creator's permission to databases or put the work to other electronic uses.

NWU Contract/Grievance division member Russell Miller reports that at least one publication (not a party in the Tasini Suit) has this week contacted writers and spontaneously offered to settle up for electronic uses not provided for in the contract with writers.

According to Russell: "publishers may be contacting infringed writers [and other creators, I'd add] relatively quickly, and writers may be tempted to sign for what looks like quick free money (but is actually peanuts)."

So, he continues, "It looks like we should be advising writers to SIGN NOTHING for the next few weeks -- especially anything retroactive."

BUT NWU Journalism contract expert Todd Pitock says that, in wake of Tasini Decision, he alternatively expects "a lot of letters [from publishers] in coming days demanding retroactive rights from writers on threat of not giving them future work. If those writers sign en masse -- and I hope no one takes it personally when I say writers tend not to be too tough about these things -- our leverage will blow."

NWU member writers who are contacted by their publishers and asked to sign ANY statement related to past work should contact a grievance officer (or national office) immediately. Writers who think they might be owed money as a result of the Tasini Decision should do the same. Also look for updates on the NWU website.

Freelancers Win One!

(summary by HM)

In a September 28, 1999 article copyrighted by the New York Times, Felicity Barringer reported that the three judge panel of a federal appeals court in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has unanimously ruled that three major publishers cannot include the work of freelance contributors in electronic databases without the freelancers' permission.

This decision in a case brought by Jonathan Tasini, president of the National Writers Union, and four other writers, overturned a lower court decision that had agree with the arguments of New York Times Co., Newsday Inc. and Time Inc. Magazine Co. and their co-plaintiffs, University Microfilms International and Mead Data Central Corp., the former owner of the Lexis-Nexis databases.

According to Barringer, "It could force the companies to offer retroactive electronic-rights payments for everything from opinion pieces submitted for op-ed pages to full-length magazine pieces, and for photographs and graphics. Alternatively, it could force the publishers to go into their databases and pull out any freelance work covered by the ruling." She continues, "Lawyers involved in the case said it would almost certainly apply to publication of material on Web sites as well" as material published in print periodicals.

Elizabeth McNamara, a copyright law specialist, was quoted as saying: "Arguably, each individual freelancer will be able to go to the publisher and say you've got to compensate me." Following announcement of the decision The National Writers union sent letters to 22 publishers urging the widespread adoption of its licensing system, the Publication Rights Clearinghouse, modeled after music industry like BMI and ASCAP which license and monitor copyrighted materials. Officials of the American Society of Magazine Editors did not respond to the decision, while several of the publishers' lawyers said that since copyright violation statutes of limitations last only, in many cases writers will not be able to file a complaint.

J.A. Kawell is a Bay Area officer of the National Writers' Union, and a longtime friend of the JJA -- which provides its members with an associate member status in the NWU, through which to purchase health insurance.

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