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On the heels of a landmark 7-2 U.S. Supreme Court decision, National Writer’s Union President Jonathan Tasini is playing chicken with publishers again, this time beginning with the New York Times Co. Tasini fired off a letter to the Gray Lady and other media Thursday in which he threatened to file a lawsuit Friday, alleging that actions taken by the Times against free-lancers affected by the Tasini v. New York Times decision are “illegal and unenforceable.” Tasini’s letter also called for negotiations between the National Writer’s Union and the rest of the media industry in order to hash out “reasonable solutions” for free-lance compensation of work reproduced online. The letter comes less than two weeks after the Supreme Court handed down a ruling affirming that a broad spectrum of publishers, including The New York Times Co., Time Inc. and electronic database firm Lexis-Nexis, had infringed on free-lance copyrights after reproducing stories in electronic databases without express written permission from the authors of those stories. The decision put an end to an 8-year case that has pitted writers against major media companies, a legal battle that has become a touchstone of the digital copyright debate in the information age. Since the June 25th decision, which covered works between 1980 through 1995, publishers including the New York Times have begun the time-consuming task of deleting the works of affected freelancers from their databases. The Times also has offered freelancers the option of signing away rights to compensation for their work published online, in exchange for having their work remain archived in myriad databases. “We think it’s sad and unfortunate that we will have to remove these articles,” says Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis. “Given the potential liability that we face, we don’t believe we have any choice. The Supreme Court has said we have to have permission. That’s why we’re asking for permission if the free-lancers choose to have their articles remain in the database.” According to an internal memo sent to members of the Times editorial staff that was obtained by The Industry Standard, The Times already has removed 115,000 articles written by 27,000 freelancers from Nexis’ database. The memo also states that, going forward, no free-lance material will be published without a signed contract. “This means you should not make assignments to writers who do not have contracts, and you absolutely cannot run the work of writers who have not returned signed contracts,” the June 25th New York Times memo reads. “Any story scheduled for publication and written by a free-lance writer who does not have a contract will be killed immediately, even if it requires remaking the page and using house ads.” Although contracts at major media organizations including the Times have been revised in light of Tasini v. New York Times to include electronic rights since 1995, the decision raises sticky issues for longtime Times free-lancers who continue to write for the paper, as both their current and past work is affected by the decision. In an interview with The Standard, Tasini said that at least one current Times free-lancer has been told that “unless [the writer] signed this, [this writer's] current work would be pulled.” “Through threats and intimidations, the Times is trying to get beneath the Supreme Court decision,” Tasini charges. “We won’t stand for that.” At press time, the Times’ Mathis said she was unaware of any specific examples related to Tasini’s assertions. Related Articles from The Industry Standard: Aimster Gets Full Napster Treatment BSA Offers ‘Truce’ in Software Piracy Fight Not Much to Advertise Copyright � 2001 The Industry Standard

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