U.S. Supreme Court sides with free-lancers
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Publishers must get permission from free-lance authors before repackaging their work for use on Web sites or in electronic databases, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday.
Media companies had argued that electronic versions of work already published in newspapers or magazines were mere revisions for which authors had already been paid. But the high court, by a 7-2 vote, sided with authors, who argued that they should be able to control how their work is used on Internet sites or in databases such as Lexis-Nexis.
"We want our work out there. We simply want to have our permission asked and to get paid a fair amount," said Jonathan Tasini of the National Writers' Union, a plaintiff in the case. He said the decision would apply not only to writers but also to photographers, graphic designers and illustrators.
Tasini and five other free-lancers had sued The New York Times, Newsday and Time Inc., arguing that they should be able to retain and control the copyrights on their work. (Time Inc. is owned by AOL Time Warner, parent company of CNN.)
Publishers had argued that they would remove free-lance material from Web sites and databases rather than deal with seeking permission from each author.
"Today's decision means everyone loses," said Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of The New York Times, in a statement. "The Times has lost this case and will now undertake the difficult and sad process of removing significant portions from its electronic historical archive."
"That is a loss for free-lance writers because their articles will be removed from the historical record. Historians, scholars and the public lose because of the holes in history created by the removal of these articles," he said.
Justices John Paul Stevens and Stephen Breyer dissented from the ruling. Stevens noted that when it drafted the copyright law in 1976, Congress didn't anticipate electronic distribution, but he argued that Congress clearly did not intend to limit the ability of publishers to produce compilations of work.
Stevens warned that the ruling "will provide little, if any, benefit to either authors or readers."
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