Freelance Writers Win Online Rights Case
The Supreme Court handed some the nation's biggest media companies a setback today when it ruled that publishers need freelance writers' permission before posting their articles on the Internet, on CD-Roms, or in electronic databases.
The 7 to 2 decision also applies to freelance photographers and illustrators who produced work for print publications that was later distributed digitally without permission. Publishers say the decision means they now must begin removing hundreds of thousands of articles, photos, and drawings from their digital archives.
The dispute is just one of several battles now being waged as traditional copyright law struggles to come to terms with the possibilities created by the information age. The laws were written at a time when ink and paper were the dominant means of storing and sending information, but since then computers and the Internet have arrived challenging many long-held views on intellectual property.
The law "does not authorize the copying at issue here," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the court majority. "Both the print publishers and the electronic publishers, we rule, have infringed the copyrights of the freelance authors." Justices Stephen Breyer and John Paul Stevens dissented from the opinion.
Jonathan Tasini, a freelance writer who first brought the case against the New York Times in 1993, called on the publishers to immediately begin negotiating with writers over fees for using the material in digital form without permission.
"Now, it's time for the media industry to pay creators their fair share and let's sit down and negotiate over this today," Tasini said. In addition to being one of six freelance writers who filed the lawsuit, Tasini is president of the National Writers Union.
In addition to the New York Times, the suit also names Newsday, Inc, Time Inc. and other publishers as defendants. The Washington Post Co. was among several publishing companies that filed legal briefs in support of the defendants.
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