High Court Action

Freelancers to Have Day in Court Labor Dispute Reaches High Court Court Passes on Multiple Defendant Case Court Stays Out of Cellular Dispute

Court to Decide Copyright Case

Taking on an Internet-age dispute, the Supreme Court agreed today to decide whether The New York Times and other publications violate freelance contributors’ copyrights by putting their articles in electronic databases.

The court said it will hear arguments by the Times, Newsday, Time Inc. and two database companies that they can put freelance articles—already published in their print editions — in online and CD-ROM databases without separate permission from the authors.

The authors contend the newspapers and magazine paid for the right to publish the articles in their printed versions, but that they did not have the right to republish them electronically.

The companies said a lower court ruling in the authors’ favor “sets a national rule requiring the destruction of decades’ worth of articles” stored in electronic archives.

The lawsuit was filed in New York by six freelance authors who sold articles to the Times, the Long Island newspaper Newsday, and Sports Illustrated between 1990 and 1993. Sports Illustrated is published by Time Inc. Also named in the lawsuit were the electronic database companies Lexis/Nexis and University Microfilms.

The lawsuit said those companies violated the authors’ copyrights in their articles by republishing them in online databases or CD-ROMs.

The federal Copyright Act says newspapers and magazines can republish such articles in a “revision” of the original publication.

The Times and other companies said the electronic versions were a “revision” of the original newspaper or magazine, and therefore they did not need separate permission from the authors to put the articles in their databases.

A federal judge agreed with the companies. But the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed in September 1999 and ruled for the authors. The court said publications cannot put freelance articles in online databases without specific permission from the authors.

In the appeal acted on today, the companies’ lawyers said the 2nd Circuit court’s ruling would be “disastrous for the nation’s libraries, academic institutions and publishers.”

The authors’ lawyers said the companies exaggerated the possible effects of the ruling.

The case is New York Times Co. vs. Tasini, 00-201.

Court Hears Arbitration Case

The Supreme Court heard arguments today on whether employers can require workers to resolve labor disputes through arbitration rather than litigation.

Arbitration is the preferred method of settling disputes for a growing number of companies, so the case is being watched closely by civil rights and business groups.

The case before the court stems from a lawsuit by Saint Clair Adams, who was required to sign a document agreeing to settle any potential labor grievance through binding arbitration before Circuit City Stores Inc. would hire him in 1995.

A year later he quit, then filed a lawsuit that alleged co-workers at a Santa Rosa, Calif., store harassed him because he is gay, and the company did nothing when he complained.

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