2001-06-25: Copyright Decision Good for both Writers and Readers

New York, NY, June 25, 2001 -- Leaders of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) said today they were heartened by the Supreme Court's ruling on June 25, 2001 that reaffirmed the value of copyright for freelance writers. The decision promises to benefit both writers and readers. Writers now will be properly paid for extra sales of their work in online databases, CD-Roms and other media.

"We hope that writers themselves, many of whom too often undervalue their own copyright, will realize that their work is worth fighting for," said Rich Marini, ASJA's vice president for Contracts. "At the same time we realize that the question the Supreme Court ruled on is no longer at the forefront of the rights battles for some writers.

The Supreme Court ruled by a 7-2 vote that publishers infringed and violated freelance authors' copyrights by reproducing and distributing their articles in online and CD-Rom databases without their explicit permission. The ruling stemmed from a 1993 lawsuit filed by six free-lance writers led by Jonathan Tasini, who accused the media firms of copyright infringement by reproducing work online without permission.

For the past few years, some publishers have demanded that writers sign all-rights contracts that would effectively negate the main point of Tasini -- that posting a work on an electronic database such as nexis.com is a violation of copyright.

"In other words, the battle for writers' rights has been neither lost nor won with this decision," Marini added. "It continues unabated."

The decision offers an opportunity to create a viable copyright licensing system, akin to ASCAP for songwriters, that delivers payments to writers whose work is reproduced again and again online and offline.

The decision comes as ASJA launches a new campaign to educate writers and publishers about the value of secondary rights. "We believe this decision will place a new focus on the contracts being offered to writers," said Jim Morrison, ASJA's president-elect. "As more writers realize there are good alternatives to signing bad contracts, we are convinced that publishers will be forced to act more fairly and offer payment for such valuable, secondary uses as inclusion in databases."

Morrison said he hoped publishers would realize that quality writers are walking away from all-rights contracts. He joined Jonathan Tasini, the National Writers Union president, in urging them to come to the table and work out a new, fair industry standard contract for freelancers.

ASJA, the premier organization of freelancers with more than 1,000 members worldwide, will continue to inform writers about good and bad contracts through Contracts Watch (www.asja.org) and its burgeoning Creators Network, linking creators' organizations large and small. "I look forward to working with The National Writers Union, The Authors Guild and other creators organizations in the coming year," added Morrison, who takes office on Thursday, June 28, 2001.

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