Magazine article Information Today

Letter to the Editor

Magazine article Information Today

Letter to the Editor

Article excerpt

In a November 13, 2000 NewsBreak by Paula J. Hane regarding the Supreme Court's decision to hear Tasini et al. vs. The New York Times et al., Barbara Quint was quoted, saying, "The pennies authors could get for online use don't justify the disastrous burden that counting those pennies and mailing them to authors would create for publishers, aggregators, search services...." Unfortunately, Ms. Quint misrepresents the potential for authors and conjures up a fictional burden, thereby damaging the cause of writers and all creators everywhere. [See the original NewsBreak at http://www.infotoday.com/newsbreaks/nb001113-1.htm and on page 10 of the December issue.]

First, it is simply untrue, as a matter of economics and fact, that authors' potential revenues from online republication are small. Today, authors are already negotiating for additional payments for reuse by online publishers, Web sites, and electronic databases, many of which are making money. Specific formulas vary for how writers should be paid for second and third uses of their work in online formats, but some freelance contracts already specify payments at 50 percent and higher. Many writers today will not sign a contract that does not offer reasonable payment for additional uses of their work. And it's a fact that fair-minded publishers (that are, unfortunately, not yet the majority) already take into account reuse by presenting reasonable contracts to freelance contributors. Moreover, working authors view the potential as an aggregation of many uses.

No one will get rich from the reuse of one article by one database. But the multiple uses, over time, will mean a stream of royalties for authors. For authors not living off a trust fund or a spouse's salary, that extra money could add a modicum of economic security to their lives--and make the difference between the ability to create more works for our culture vs. turning to another profession.

Second, it is just false to suggest that this will create a terrible burden for the industry. History brings us a not-too-distant lesson on the same subject. When radio was first popularized and proliferating, station executives complained about having to track and pay royalties each time a song was played on the air. The result was the formation of ASCAP [American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers] and BMI [Broadcast Music, Inc.], organizations that ensured that musicians and other musical copyright owners could make a living from their life's work through a managed royalty-collection system. So, what was seen as too difficult for radio stations then is now a standard business practice. …

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