|Author||National Writers Union|
|Dear NWU member:
Our recent victory in the landmark lawsuit Tasini v. The New York Times is
a very important step forward in our ongoing fight to guarantee that
writers are treated with dignity and respect.
But all writers must understand that this is only one small step. If
writers do not, today, join the National Writers Union, we will be no
better off a few years from now.
The growing power of the media industry, its consolidation across borders
and its use of its vast resources to force us to sign away our rights and
refuse to give us our fair share poses a great threat to writers. A threat
to our very survival.
Every writer must see this threat clearly. And he or she must understand
that the only way to take this victory and hammer it home, to build on it,
is to build a powerful, strong Union.
AND WE NEED YOUR HELP!
The document below is a brief Q&A covering few key points of the ruling
that are especially important for writers. Please copy this document and
post it on EMAIL LISTS, DISCUSSION GROUPS, WEB SITES and other venues
frequented by freelance writers. And please include the link at the bottom
to the NWU web site.
This is information every writer should know.
Thank you for your help.
TASINI V. THE NEW YORK TIMES RULING - WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR WRITERS?
On September 24, 1999, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a
federal district court decision against the plaintiffs in Tasini et al. v.
New York Times et al. The appeals court ruled that the reuse of freelance
work on databases and CD-ROMs without the authors' express permission
constitutes copyright infringement. This is a major victory for all
The purpose of this document is to explain the ruling and to suggest what
writers should do next both collectively and in our individual contract
WHAT THE DECISION SAYS:
Q. In a nutshell, what did the ruling say?
A. The judges ruled that, even when there is no contract relating to
electronic rights, a print publisher may not put the writings of
freelancers on databases (such as Nexis) and CD-ROMs that include the
entire textual content of the print publication.
Q. Does this mean that freelancers automatically retain electronic rights
to their printed work?
A. Yes, under the Copyright Act of 1976, the writer, in the absence of a
written contract, transfers only First North American Serial Rights and
retains all other rights. The right to electronically reproduce freelance
articles is not included in the transfer of First North American Serial
Rights. The judges also affirmed the lower court's ruling on publishers'
efforts to acquire rights by stamping a statement on the back of checks.
Writers do not transfer rights to an article by simply endorsing such a check.
Q. Why did the district court rule in favor of the publishers?
A. Judge Sotomayor based her conclusion on an interpretation of Section
201(c) of the Copyright Act of 1976, which deals with the copyright in
"collective works." She focused on the language in Section 201(c) that
gives the holder of the copyright in the collective work the limited
privilege of reproducing and distributing revisions of the compilation. The
judge came to the bizarre conclusion that certain kinds of electronic
databases amount to nothing more than a "revision." As the appeals court
pointed out, reading "revision" that broadly causes "the exception to
swallow the rule."
Q. How do my individual electronic rights in an article relate to the
publisher's collective electronic rights in all of the articles it has
A. If you have not expressly transferred to the publisher the right to
reproduce your work electronically, the publisher cannot legally license
your articles to databases. The publisher only has the right to license
database rights to articles that were written by employees and articles
written under contracts that transfer electronic rights.
Q. What about other kinds of electronic rights?
A. This decision reaffirms the NWU's position on websites. Publishers do
not automatically have the right to put your work on their own website. Web
rights are separate from print rights and must be licensed separately. See
the NWU Web-rights Policy.
Q. What does the ruling mean for the NWU's Publication Rights Clearinghouse
A. It means that publishers now have more reason than ever before to
negotiate collective licensing agreements with the PRC. As long as writers
stand together and refuse to sign electronic rights over to publishers in
their individual contracts, the PRC will be in a strong position to
negotiate additional fees for these rights. And that means that writers
will be able to share in the revenue generated by the use of their work in
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE "TASINI V. THE NEW YORK TIMES" RULING PLEASE
VISIT THE NATIONAL WRITERS UNION WEB SITE:
National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981