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Copyright

In a major business decision, New York Times v. Tasini (2001), the Court by a 7-2 vote gave writers and artists greater control of their work under copyright law. Jonathan Tasini, a freelance writer, had in the early 1990s written several articles for The New York Times, for which they owned the copyright. The Times and other print publishers—without the consent of Tasini and other writers - licensed these articles to electronic publishers who made the articles part of their databases that contained thousands of articles that haddatabases could, usually for a fee, access any of these articles, which could be found through an extensive cross-indexing system. These fees would then be split with the print publisher, but not with the original author. In 1993, Tasini and other freelancers filed a civil action in federal district court, alleging that their copyrights had been infringed when the print publishers permitted the articles to be put into the data bases, and although losing in district court won in the court of appeals.

The Supreme Court agreed, giving writers an important victory, and severely limiting the ownership rights of print media to material that appeared in print form. According to Justice Ginsburg, electronic publication infringed the writers' copyrights by reproducing and distributing the freelancers' articles in a manner they had not authorized. The print publishers had further infringed on the writers' copyrights by authorizing republication in the data base, a power they lacked under the law.

The decision was a major victory for writers, who in the future would have to authorize their articles being transferred to electronic data bases, and would share in the profits of sales from those articles. The Times and other print media immediately stopped their practice of transfer, and had to negotiate new contracts with writers in order to transfer the articles.

     

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