ASJA Contracts Watch

From: ASJA/Alexandra Owens <75227.1650[_at_]CompuServe.COM>
Date: 03 Sep 96 09:59:09 EDT

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ASJA CONTRACTS WATCH CW960903 Issued September 3, 1996

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Some recent press clips:

In a six-page story headed "Cops Versus Robbers in Cyberspace," FORBES (Sept. 9) decries Internet copyright thieves and predicts that in the end "the good guys are going to have the upper hand in the battle over digital property." In his editor's column, James W. Michaels argues that the early Internet culture view that digitized information should be free for the taking is an idea whose time has passed. "That attitude changes," Michaels writes, "as digital content becomes more valuable...." A bit of irony from a publisher whose freelance contracts (for AMERICAN HERITAGE, AUDACITY, FYI and others) insist that creators of that "valuable" content hand over the right to make continuing use of it forever.

Forbes itself has the distinction of being the first publisher, as far as ASJA's files know, ever to lose a lawsuit over electronic rights. The case, about an article the writer discovered on Nexis, was fought in a small claims court in 1986, before the publisher began to insist on taking e-rights by contract. A writer, lawyerless but with an ASJA official as her expert witness, beat Forbes on a contract breach, collecting $600 for her troubles.

A report in the LOS ANGELES TIMES (Sept. 2) by Nan Levinson, a freelance writer, and Donna Demac, a lawyer, tells all about how "New Media Bring New Problems to Copyright Arena." For those who may still be wondering why publishers are interested in e-rights, the article quotes a market researcher from Simba Information, who estimates that online services brought in $15.7 billion last year.

According to K.K. Campbell in EYE WEEKLY, a Toronto arts newspaper, a consortium of writers' groups in Canada has hired a Toronto law firm to launch a class action suit against the giant THOMSON NEWSPAPERS chain, whose parent company also owns INFORMATION ACCESS COMPANY, WESTLAW and other database developers, as well as GALE RESEARCH, other specialty and textbook publishers and travel services. Concerned Writers of Canada, Campbell says, is raising a war chest for the lawsuit, which asks damages, court costs and a permanent injunction against unauthorized reselling of freelance articles via digital databases. Thomson's general counsel, Michael Doody, responded to a preliminary letter from Michael McGowan, the writers' attorney, with a hardline rebuff. Doody, the paper reports, "wraps himself in `brave new world' info-tech babble, branding freelancers `Luddites' for thinking they should get paid anything extra for being the heart and soul of the new digital medium."

In the U.S., a multi-plaintiff, multi-defendant lawsuit supported by the National Writers Union has been pending in federal court for nearly three years, but no class action suit on electronic thievery has ever been filed here.

Two lawyers, writing in the September issue of CORPORATE LEGAL TIMES on "Legal Issues in Establishing a Presence on the World Wide Web," counsel caution when reusing editorial matter. Jonathan D. Hart and David J. Wittenstein advise: "A content provider should not assume that it has the right to publish on the Web the material it owns or uses in other media. There is currently litigation over the extent to which publishers and other users can use material (such as syndicated and freelance material) in electronic format based on traditional license agreements and clearances. Generally, providers of copyright material, such as wire services, are now seeking additional payment if their material is posted to a Website...."

Many ASJA members and others send a steady stream of contracts, information and scuttlebutt so that these ASJA Contracts Watch dispatches can be as informative as possible. Thanks to all.

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Received on Tue Sep 03 1996 - 14:07:20 GMT

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