DPE Asks Congress to Rebuke New York Times Appeal

For Immediate Release
July 17, 2001
CONTACT: Paula McKenzie

Urges Affiliates to Demonstrate Against Publisher in New York

Washington, DC – The Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO (DPE) announced today its support for the National Writers Union (NWU) efforts to fight the New York Times attack on free-lance writers by lobbying Congress to change copyright law to their benefit and apply it retroactively in order to eradicate any financial liability to compensate authors for past copyright violations. In addition, DPE called on affiliates to encourage their local unions in the New York City area to participate in a rally and demonstration [see below].

“We hope that Congress will refrain from taking any such precipitous action,” said Paul E. Almeida, DPE President. “U.S. copyright law should be revised in a way that would disadvantage writers and other creators from negotiating a fair price for their work. Rather, DPE urges members of Congress to encourage the parties to this dispute to work out a fair and equitable agreement that assures the ready availability of these written materials to the public.”

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that some of the nation’s largest magazine and newspaper publishers violated the law by republishing articles for the Internet without the approval of the authors. In the landmark ruling in copyright law Tasini v. New York Times, the Court rejected the defendant’s contention that all they were doing was merely publishing a revision of the original work. By a 7 to 2 ruling, the Court unequivocally ruled on behalf of the free-lance writers, the “creators of the written materials.” In effect the Court said that there was no implicit contract regarding the electronic publishing rights. Thus, without the explicit permission of the writer, print publishers may not make these works available on databases or other forms of electronic reproduction. While the original lawsuit was against certain publishers, all publishers and data aggregators are affected by the Court’s ruling.

The NWU has invited publishers to meet and negotiate a settlement regarding both past copyright violations and future sales. Unfortunately, the industry has shunned the offer. In addition, lead plaintiff and NWU President Jonathan Tasini has suggested that a mechanism already in place, called the Publication Rights Clearinghouse (PRC), be used to assure both the timely electronic publishing of written works and equitable compensation to their authors for reproduction. Similar to ASCAP in the music business, the PRC enables free-lance writers to license the necessary electronic rights to publishers and receive appropriate compensation for both new articles and materials previously put on-line. The PRC is open to any free-lance writer. The DPE affiliate helped bring the Tasini and parent organization – the UAW – action against the publisher. It is also a party in a class action lawsuit against several publishers for damages related to copyright infringement.

The National Writers Union (affiliated with UAW, United Auto Workers, in 1981) along with the DPE will sponsor a public demonstration at the New York Times to send a message to treat free-lance writers fairly. The rally is scheduled for Thursday, July 19th from 12 Noon to 1 PM in front of the New York Times Building located at 229 West 43rd Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues; Times Square and Port Authority Sub Stops). The event is endorsed by the Working Families Party, Novelists INK, New York Jobs with Justice, the Graphic Artists Guild (UAW 3030), Pride at Work, the New York Central Labor Council, and the Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO.

The NWU is a small organization of some 7,000 writers and authors. Most of the writers they represent and who earn a living from licensing their copyrighted works earn less than $7,000 yearly from their writing; few, if any, have health insurance or pensions.

The Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO represents 23 unions comprising over four million white collar workers. Over 250,000 members are in the media and entertainment industries. The Department was chartered by the AFL-CIO in 1977 in recognition of the dramatic rise in professional and technical employees among union members.