Writers Bloc to Defend Their Rights

Article excerpt

Print journalists are calling-usually in vain-for additional payment when their articles are reused in the electronic media

With Internet spreading like wildfire, authors around the world have been clamouring for protection of their copyrights. However, this has resulted in an increasingly tough battle with publishers who want writers to sign a contract giving away all rights, including electronic.

Until a few years ago, authors and journalists may not have bothered to scan through their work contracts with regard to copyrights. In fact, many magazines did not even send contracts to authors. Now both sides are careful about the mention of "copyrights" in the contract for reuse of articles and other creative work in Internet and electronic database systems.

Authors argue that print publishing is a one-time event bringing in one set of revenues, including advertisements. On the other hand, materials in electronic publications can be used repeatedly, each time potentially generating new advertisement revenues. "So we tell authors that it's a big mistake to grant permanent rights for a one-time fee," says Dan Carlinsky, vice president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), NewYork.

While some publishers are ready to pay, others maintain that once authors cede their rights they cannot claim additional payments for reuse of their material. In a case filed in 1993, a group of freelancers in New York challenged publishers and electronic reusers of published work, claiming copyright infringement. The case, better known as "Tasini Vs The New York Times", attracted widespread attention as this was the first new media copyright case of its sort in the United States. In 1997, a lower court ruled in favour of the publishers, saying the existing US copyright law allowed the publishers to reuse contributions "in any revision of that collection." The case has now moved to the appeals court.

"The present US copyright law does not state explicitly anything about electronic rights. Courts have just begun to consider writers' claims and there are demands to include electronic rights in the existing law," says Carlinsky.

On the other side of the Atlantic, though there are no specific regulations as yet governing the use of journalistic material in the electronic media, journalists and authors in many Western European and Scandinavian countries have reached partial or full agreements with publishers over copyrights and the Internet. …