Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Supreme Court Okays CD-ROM Reproductions Of Magazines In Annoying Formats Only

from the the-less-useful,-the-better dept

A few years ago, in a famous case, the Supreme Court ruled that newspapers and magazines that put out CD-ROMs containing searchable databases of their archives violated the copyrights of freelance authors who never approved that their content be used that way. The publications were told they would need to pay the freelancers again to publish this kind of archive, which is a bit of a shame. The Court's argument was that this really was a "new" use of the content. This has scared off many publications from putting out electronic archives if it includes the work of freelancers from an age before electronic republishing rights were included in any contract. This has resulted in publishers putting out CD-ROMs that are annoying to use. Both National Geographic and the New Yorker tried to skirt the earlier ruling by publishing CD-ROMs that display the old magazines as scans of the magazine, rather than as searchable databases. You can't copy and paste the text. You can't jump easily from article to article or issue to issue. Basically, they've tried to make it act as much like the old magazine as possible, to fit in under the earlier ruling. However, some freelance writers still didn't like this and sued National Geographic. Both the federal court and the appeals court ruled against them, saying that republishing the scans was perfectly fine -- and now the Supreme Court has refused to hear the case, meaning we can all look forward to other annoying to use CD-ROM archives of old publications -- at least until the copyright runs out on these articles (as if that will ever happen).

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 12th, 2005 @ 11:31am

    No Subject Given

    Copyrights are good until the author dies and/or 75 years have passed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Mike (profile), Dec 12th, 2005 @ 11:52am

    Re: No Subject Given

    Copyrights are good until the author dies and/or 75 years have passed

    Or until some copyright owners, afraid of their content going into the public domain, convince Congress to extend the timeline again. Because nothing incentivizes a dead man to write more like the fact that the content he wrote 100 years ago is still protected.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 12th, 2005 @ 12:14pm

    Re: No Subject Given

    I could be wrong but I thought that the last go arrouind extended it to 95 years.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Andrew Strasser, Dec 12th, 2005 @ 12:24pm

    A inch

    At least they gave the idea of on-line library systems an inch in this ruling. There is a vast need for this not just on the magazine level, but on the book level as well. There will always be a purpose for paper resources of this sort of in an age of Ipods and Laptops. I'd rather read the local paper on-line than sift through a bunch of huge pages falling all over the place. To give access to all information out there makes it available to advance technology far faster than we could if we don't start making these incentives. We have to take into consideration these are the same people that are making rules that are literally destroying our environment as we know it.

    We need the mile it's time to start taking it. Google has been very forthcoming in keeping at pushing for legislation along these lines. I would hope that maybe the public library system could see how that integrating into an on-line source of every written work could help to advance society a touch. Of course there can always be fees...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Bits, Dec 12th, 2005 @ 12:28pm

    It's All about Disney

    It is the Mickey Mouse copyright that started this whole thing. Perhaps creating a new copyright for "corporations" to retain rights to trademarks, logos etc. So that PEOPLE who write, compose, produce have a reasonable copyright that will expire within a reasonable timeframe . . or perhaps this is a bad idea.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    evan morris, Dec 12th, 2005 @ 1:20pm

    No Subject Given

    and the problem with media conglomerates paying authors is ... what? The problem here is not copyright, it's the publishers' greed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Mark, Dec 12th, 2005 @ 1:33pm

    Copyright to protect writers

    This is really just the law of unintended consequences at work. The writers who brought the original suit against The New York Times and others were simply looking for a cut of any additional revenue print publishers might get from redistributing their work. But instead of agreeing to pay them something, most publishers just rewrote contracts so that they'd be buying rights in all media including any "yet to be invented" and in locales "throughout the universe." And instead of offering some kind of token payments for older works, they just looked for ways to game the system. So, let's not be so quick to blame the writers for the fact that publishers have chosen to go with scans. They were just trying to make a living in a very competitive field, and the publishers have managed to get the last laugh.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    drew, Dec 12th, 2005 @ 3:53pm

    why don't they...

    ...just write up new releases for these freelancers to sign?

    surely these freelancers have more to lose from not being published than the likes of National Geographic has to lose from not publishing a few works from freelancers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    lar3ry, Dec 12th, 2005 @ 4:55pm

    So... when will it be illegal to use OCR software?

    The HP Scanner I purchased has some greate OCR software included for free. Applying it to the archives in "obnoxious" formats will work wonders for end users!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    dak, Dec 12th, 2005 @ 7:54pm

    'F is for Freelancers.

    If the freelancers don't come to some reasonable agreement, then I say F'them. Don't print them. I would probably be so annoyed at the writer, I would choose NOT to read any of their stuff. They're only doing themselves a disservice by restricting their readership. How stupid is THAT?

    I rather read articles of authors that WANT TO BE READ, than read something from some greedy whiner.

    I highly recommend that publishers just skip or black out the crap that doesn't get approved by their authors.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    zcat, Dec 13th, 2005 @ 1:34am

    Re: It's All about Disney

    " Perhaps creating a new copyright for "corporations" to retain rights to trademarks, logos etc."

    This is what frustrates me the most;

    The character of Mickey Mouse that Disney claim to be protecting is a trademark. This is a completely different issue from the copyright of movie where Mickey first appeared, and letting that or any early film fall into the public domain would -not- result in open-season on the Mickey Mouse trademark.

    The character of Mickey Mouse, along with the ears logo, Walt's name and the distinctive Disney font, will continue to be protected as a trademark of Diskey for as long as Disney want and defend it/them as a trademark. Confusing the issue of trademark and copyright is a total red herring.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Hedwig, Dec 13th, 2005 @ 2:01am

    I'm on the writers' side

    If I get this correctly, the situation is the following: a freelance writer has sold an article to a publishin company for printing in their magazine. Now that company wants to publish a CD/DVD that includes the story by and they want to publish it in a "new way" (make is searchable, add an index, whatever).

    I think that the main point is in the "new way" it is published. Consider this: you sell a story to a company for publication in a magazine, and they decide to also make a radioshow with that text. Surely you expect to get paid for this 'new way' of using your story.

    And the fact that the company doesn't want to pay the freelancer is just a sign of greed on their part. Because they sure as hell will charge you, the customer, for the CD/DVD publication and the added functionalities!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Elzeard, Dec 13th, 2005 @ 9:42am

    The Courts got it Worng!

    Hedwig is correct.
    The Publishers are in business to make money. Hopefully by doing something useful. Knowing what they might profit from their magazine, they made a deal with a Writer for some portion of those expected profits, at that time.
    Later, they imagine a whole new Pile 'o Profit unforeseen back when. What makes this current Profit 'Useful' - in part - is the value of the writer's work back then. Why should the writer not share in the new-found value of his work?
    There's surely many other factors related. If the disks are used only as promotional items, or are priced very low for consumers, then there's not such a big profit issue for publisher or writer.
    Why not publish in a more convenient, more responsive mode, price the product appropriately, and give a proper share to All involved? {{Greed?}}
    As far as Cut&Paste, Screen Capture, OCR, etc., who thinks that the Publisher is not also taking measures to defeat such, or that they would be unlikely to to go after 'pirates' that do such things?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Sharon McVay, Aug 31st, 2006 @ 3:48pm

    National Geographic as reference

    I am a reading teacher and artist. I have every copy of Geographic from the mid 60's forward. They take up many feet of shelf space. An elementary school where I worked discarded their copies of Geographic about 6 years ago because they believed they could get then on CD's. Today I was outbid on e-Bay for a set of Geographic CD's. The court made a mistake. Publications on CD are a huge help to educators and researchers like me! I taught many middle school boys to read using the Geographic.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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