Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

Freelancer Litigation from 1990s Has No End in Sight

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Front page of an old New York TimesAs Jonathan Tasini’s lawsuit against HuffPo and Arianna Huffington for unpaid blogging is still in its early stages, we have a story by Joe Mullin of PaidContent.org that reminds us how slow the wheels of justice turn: Court Rejects Freelancer Settlement: Still No Payment From Tasini Court Win

Ten years ago, Tasini won his landmark U.S. Supreme Court case against the New York Times for infringing the copyrights of freelance writers by putting material they had written in an online database. Huh? How could that happen? Well, when the NYT contracted with those freelancers back in the Stone Age (early 1990s), the geniuses at the NYT only bought rights to reproduce the stories in the printed newspaper. They had no clue they might want someday (i.e., just a few years later) to republish them electronically.

While Tasini himself has been paid, there’s still no settlement of the subsequently filed class action that sought to use Tasini as precedent to get recoveries for all the other freelancers against the New York Times and likes of Westlaw and Lexis/Nexis. The latest is that the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has just thrown out a settlement agreement that seemed like it might actually put everything at rest. Now its time for a fresh start back in district court.

The original Tasini lawsuit goes back at least to 1997, when some district court judge name Sonia Sotomayor granted summary judgment to the New York Times. She got the analysis wrong, by the way. That’s not only my opinion, it was also the opinion of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in overruling her in 1999 and the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the appeals court in 2001. The good news is that Sotomayor may get a second chance to get it right, since, of course, she is sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court. That’s because Sotomayor has moved on in life, even if this litigation hasn’t.

This is how Mullin sums it up:

What looked like a solid and promising win for writers in 2001 may just be another indication of how copyright in the digital age is turning into an overcomplicated mess, to no one’s benefit but lawyers. It may still be years before the writers get paid.

That’s a rosy view. But as much as I would agree that copyright in the digital age is an overcomplicated mess, I don’t think this suit is an indication of that. The truth, in my view, is far worse: This suit’s another indication of how our entire civil litigation system is an overcomplicated mess.

New York Times on Milblogs

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

James Dao of the New York Times has a good article about milblogging, and how milblogs have moved mainstream.

[T]he Pentagon, which once tried to control or even shut down bloggers, has now joined the social media craze. Generals blog, the armed services all have Twitter accounts, and scores of company and battalion commanders maintain Facebook pages.

What once had the hint of sassy independence or even underground rebellion has gone mainstream.

New York Times on Blog Freedom in Syria

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

thumbnail image from the New York Times storyAn article in today’s New York Times describes a “slim margin” of freedom for Syria’s bloggers and “an ever present fog of fear and intimidation” that surrounds practitioners in Syria’s online press. Several bloggers have been jailed, and a draft law would mandate registration of those who blog and would require their writing to be submitted for review.

The article, by Robert F. Worth, is “Web Tastes Freedom Inside Syria, and It’s Bitter.”

Pulse RSS Reader and the New York Times

Monday, July 26th, 2010

Kimberley Isbell at the Citizen Media Law Project blog tackles claims by the New York Times regarding pay-for-access RSS readers that provide viewing of NYT web content without the Gray Lady’s permission. (RSS readers allow access to blogs and similar online media through a dedicated application that is not a general web browser.) Isbell asks, Is the New York Times Really Claiming That All Paid RSS Readers Infringe its Copyright?

The particular flap here involves the Pulse RSS reader, available from the Apple Apps Store.

Alan Schwarz: “I have no problem with bloggers.”

Friday, July 9th, 2010

I got a call today from New York Times sports reporter Alan Schwarz. He read my post from yesterday – via his Google alert – which discussed a recent podcast interview he did.

Mr. Schwarz took issue with something I wrote.

In introducing the blockquote in that post, I originally used this sentence: “Like many mainstream journalists, Schwarz sees bloggers as endangering traditional journalism.”

Mr. Schwarz disagrees with that characterization. I listened to the podcast in its entirety, and I chose my words carefully. I think my characterization was fair. Nonetheless, no one knows better what Mr. Schwarz thinks than he does. So if other words better reflect his opinion, I’m happy to use them. Indeed, the flexibility and updatability of blogging is one of its great attributes. Thus, I replaced the contested sentence with: “Schwarz is critical of bloggers who go too far in using copyrighted content.”

In his phone call with me, Mr. Schwarz emphasized that the gravamen of his complaint is copyright infringement.

“I have no problem with bloggers. I have a problem with thieves,” Mr. Schwarz said on the phone. In general, he sees value in blogging, and he does not regard blogging itself to be a threat to the continued existence of the traditional news media. His problem is with what he characterizes as stealing.

“Thieves endanger traditional journalism,” he said, regardless of whether they are bloggers, other traditional journalists, or whomever.

So noted. But Mr. Schwarz’s distinction points to a deeper question: What counts as theft? There are, after all, usually two sides to a copyright dispute.

We might be tempted to say that some cases are easy. What about when someone, who is not the copyright owner, takes an entire newspaper story and posts it online? You might figure that is clear case of theft, but that is exactly what the New York Times did in the case of New York Times v. Tasini.

In that case, the New York Times uploaded articles written by freelance writers to an electronic database, accessible to paying online customers, despite the fact that the freelancers, who owned the copyright to their stories, never provided the New York Times with the relevant permission. Of course, the New York Times argued that what they did was entirely proper.

As it turns out, the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed and sided with the freelancers. But it goes to show, what one person regards as theft, another person may regard as being productive.

The questions, of course, will continue.

Podcast on Bloggers’ Use of Mainstream News

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

A podcast from the Legal Talk Network tackles the issue of bloggers’ legal and ethical obligations regarding use of material from mainstream news sites. In the piece, lawyers Robert J. Ambrogi and J. Craig Williams interview Alan Schwarz, sports reporter for the The New York Times. Schwarz is critical of bloggers who go too far in using copyrighted content. Schwarz says:

When you create your own work, you have rights to its dissemination. You know, this whole information, you know, “wants to be free” business is a bunch of hooey. It’s preposterous. And an entire generation of Americans has grown up with no respect for copyright law.

For the purpose of policing his own material, Schwarz has a Google alert set to notify him when a blog uses his name. I would assume many reporters do the same. (Hi, Mr. Schwarz!)

Note: This post was revised July 9, 2010, as explained here.