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Freelance Writers' Copyright Case Before Supreme Court

On March 28, 2001, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral argument in The New York Times Co., et al. v. Tasini, et al., (No. 00-201). The Court will have to consider whether a publisher of a newspaper or periodical has the right to electronically disseminate articles which have appeared in prior print editions without seeking additional permission from the freelance authors.

In 1993, a group of freelance writers sued the New York Times, Newsday, Time, and other publications, that published their work in print editions and then placed the content in electronic news databases like Lexis-Nexis or via CD-ROM.

The freelancers argued that they hold the copyright of their work and the publishers are required to seek additional permission from them, as well as provide additional compensation, to distribute the work electronically in addition to the version which appeared in print. They maintained that the electronic reproduction infringed upon their copyright of the individual articles.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled against the freelancers and found that the Copyright Act grants the right to publishers to reproduce the individual articles as part of a revision to a collective work. On appeal, the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the decision by ruling that the databases do not constitute a revision to a collective work.

The publishers petitioned the Supreme Court arguing that by enacting Section 201(c) of the Copyright Act Congress intended for publishers to be able to disseminate their publications and revisions to those publications to the public. They argued that the law was drafted in neutral terms to allow for the development and use of new technologies.

U.S. Supreme Court Docket Sheet

Decision from Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals from Find Law

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