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Writers Copyright Argued in the Supreme Court

2 April 2001

The US Supreme Court has been hearing arguments relating to the landmark case brought by members of the National Writers Union against the New York Times Company, Newsday Inc, Time Inc, Lexis/Nexis and University Microfilms Inc. The charge is that the publishers violated freelance contributors' copyrights by republishing their work electronically without permission or paying further compensation. The case hinges on whether publishers have the right, in the absence of a contract, to reproduce and redistribute freelance work in electronic databases. For the publishers this is a huge threat to their business, as they claim they would have to remove large amounts of material from their databases, leaving gaps in the historic record.

Jonathan Tasini, the President of the National Writers Union, said ' Copyright is supposed to protect authors, to allow them to make a fair living... The First Amendment ensures that no one entity can control information. Publishers are blaming the victim. We're not Luddites; all writers want their work out there. They just want to be paid fairly. It won't be easy, but with bargaining we can figure this out.'

It seems that some sort of compromise is needed, so that publishers can republish and writers can get their share of the revenue generated by their copyright material. The Supreme Court ruling is awaited with interest.