In the wake of the June 25 Supreme Court ruling that publishers have infringed the copyrights of freelance writers by reusing their work in electronic databases without their permission (News, July 2), further lawsuits have been filed against the New York Times in response to its efforts to get freelancers to waive their rights to the articles covered by the ruling.
The New York Times and its codefendants have said that they are deleting freelance work from their digital archives rather than negotiating future compensation for the use of the material. The Times has also published print ads and set up a Web page offering to restore deleted articles to its database if the freelancers waive their rights to compensation for past infringement and give the New York Times permission to continue to use the work without further payment.
Jonathan Tasini, president of the National Writers Union and lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case, has filed a suit challenging the NYT's efforts to induce freelancers to sign away their rights, and the Authors Guild, along with freelancers Derrick Bell and Lynn Brenner, filed a class action copyright infringement suit against the Times July 3.
Catherine Mathis, spokesperson for the New York Times, told PW, "We will continue to talk with counsel for the freelancers in order to reach an agreement that would allow us to restore all our material to our database." Asked if the Times was negotiating future compensation for the continued use of the materials in question, Mathis declined to elaborate.
Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, said that the suit was filed as a direct result of the Times's action. He acknowledged that the guild was in direct negotiations with the Times, but declined to provide more details. Author and legal professor Derrick Bell noted, "The Supreme Court didn't say the Times had to remove articles, it said the Times had to pay for them."
Tasini told PW the Times's "so-called release is illegal and unenforceable," adding, "the Times is now demanding that people waive exactly the rights that the Supreme Court vindicated." Both the NWU and the Authors Guild have emphasized that the Supreme Court ruling urged publishers to make use of licensing systems to resolve this issue. The NWU has set up the Publication Rights Clearinghouse, while the Authors Guild offers the Authors Registry, both of which allow publishers and writers to track permissions and payments for the use of copyrighted material.