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Supreme Court Grants Cert in NYT v. Tasini

(November 7, 2000) The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in New York Times v. Tasini, a case regarding the application of copyright law to the republication of the articles of free lance writers in electronic databases.

Related Documents
Amended Complaint, 2/24/94.
Opinion of the U.S. District Court, 8/13/97.
Opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals, 9/24/99.
Order List [PDF] of U.S. Supreme Court containing Order granting cert., at page 2, 11/6/00.

The Supreme Court of the U.S. granted defendants' petition for writ of certoriari in New York Times Co. v. Tasini, without opinion, on Monday, November 6.

The plaintiffs are free lance authors whose articles were previously published in periodicals. The defendants are publishers and owners of electronic databases which have republished their articles in electronic form.

Plaintiffs filed a complaint in U.S. District Court (SDNY) in 1993 alleging copyright infringment. U.S. District Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor issued her Opinion in 1997 holding that defendants are protected by the privilege afforded the publishers of "collective works" under Section 201(c) of the Copyright Act.

The U.S. Court of Appeals (2nd Cir) issued its Opinion reversing the District Court on Sept. 24, 1999.

The Supreme Court's order granting the petition for writ of certiorari contained no explanation. However, it did state the following:

"00-201 NEW YORK TIMES CO., ET AL. V. TASINI, JONATHAN, ET AL. The motion of Northern Light Technology, Inc. for leave to file a brief as amicus curiae is granted. The petition for a writ of certiorari is granted."

See, Order List [PDF], November 6, 2000, at page 2.

None of the six plaintiffs who remain in the case were employed by the periodical publications in which their articles appeared. Nor did they have work for hire contracts. All registered a copyright in each of the articles at issue in this proceeding. The authors' ownership of the copyright in their individual works is not in dispute.

17 U.S.C. 201(c)
(c) Contributions to Collective Works. - Copyright in each separate contribution to a collective work is distinct from copyright in the collective work as a whole, and vests initially in the author of the contribution. In the absence of an express transfer of the copyright or of any rights under it, the owner of copyright in the collective work is presumed to have acquired only the privilege of reproducing and distributing the contribution as part of that particular collective work, any revision of that collective work, and any later collective work in the same series.

Subsequently, the periodical publications licensed much of the content of their periodicals, including the plaintiffs' works, to one or more of the electronic database providers.

The defendants have argued that they own the copyright in the "collective works" that they produce and are afforded the privilege, under Section 201(c) of the Act, of "reproducing and distributing" the individual works in "any revision of that collective work" pursuant to 17 U.S.C. 201(c).

District Court Judge Sotomayor ruled on cross motions for summary judgment that the electronic databases are a "revision" of the individual periodical issues from which the articles were taken, and hence, granted summary judgment for the defendants.

Judge Winter, writing for a three judge panel of the Court of Appeals, reversed, holding that the privilege afforded authors of collective works under Section 201(c) does not permit the publishers to license individually copyrighted works for inclusion in the electronic databases.

 

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