National Writers Union Reaches Agreement with Contentville

Article excerpt

The National Writers Union (NWU; http://www.nwu.org) has reached an agreement with Contentville.com, the recently launched content e-commerce site (http://www.contentville.com) [See the July 17 Weekly News Digest and Paula J. Hane's February 14, 2000 NewsBreak.], which will compensate freelance writers for their works sold on the site. Royalties to the writers will be distributed through the NWU's Publication Rights Clearinghouse (PRC). Under the agreement, writers who register the copyright for their work through the PRC will receive 30 percent of the fees paid by Contentville.com customers. The archived articles on Contentville (provided by EBSCO) sell for $2.95.

"This is an important breakthrough," said Jonathan Tasini, president of the NWU and a lead plaintiff in Tasini v. New York Times et al., the lawsuit that established the principle that writers must approve and be paid for the electronic use of copyrighted works [See Stephanie C. Ardito's October 4, 1999 NewsBreak.] "Steve Brill has acted responsibly and ethically, and we applaud him for laying down a standard that all publishers can emulate. Through the direct dialogue and negotiation that led to this agreement, Steve Brill is working with us to kick open a door to a new set of ground rules to establish fair and stable relationships between creators, consumers, and distributors. We hope and expect that the deal will be a model for other publishers to address the significant liabilities they have incurred as the result of the unauthorized sale of copyrighted material."

As in the Tasini ruling, this arrangement for royalty payments from Contentville only applies to cases where the authors have retained copyright, but not to articles produced as works for hire or cases where all rights have been transferred to the publisher by the author. If there was no contract signed, then an author retains copyright and the publisher does not have the rights to resell the article to an electronic database.

Freelancers, who were exuberant about the Tasini case, have greeted the Contentville agreement with great enthusiasm. Carmen Miller, a writer and information industry consultant, said: "I've always found it somewhat ironic that in an industry that is as copyright sensitive as the online information industry is, or should be, so few people are willing to stand up for the rights of freelance authors. For the past 25 years, U.S. copyright law has made it quite clear that freelance writers own the rights to their works if they have not signed contracts to the contrary. Unfortunately, the online information industry has, for the most part, ignored these rights. That's why the National Writers Union agreement with Contentville is so exciting. Authors are finally going to be compensated for the electronic reuse of their work at the Contentville site. And the 30-percent royalties authors will receive for each download seem very equitable."

The National Writers Union reportedly has over 5,000 members nationwide, representing journalists, book authors, technical writers, and poets. It claims to be the only union dedicated solely to advancing the interests of freelance writers. The NWU is affiliated with the United Auto Workers Union.

The NWU's Publication Rights Clearinghouse has negotiated other agreements besides that with Contentville. According to the PRC site: "Each agreement the PRC makes with its partners is unique. Our agreement with UnCover calls for the company to set aside 30 percent (currently $3) of its fee for every article it faxes to a customer. That fee then goes to the PRC, which takes an administrative cut of 20 percent (60 cents) and sends the remaining 80 percent ($2.40) to the writer. Typically, an UnCover customer pays $13 per article ($10 plus the $3 copyright fee).

"Our agreement with the Copyright Clearance Center [CCC] enables writers to set their own royalty rate for each CCC program. By registering with CCC, writers are able to collect royalties each and every time a licensed user photocopies their work. …