Monday, December 3, 2007

Freelance writers’ claims nixed for works published on Internet; NWU president calls court decision ‘an outrage’

The U. S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan voided a settlement on Thursday, resulting in widespread implications for freelance writers. The New York Times reported Judge Chester J. Straub contended in his decision, “… federal copyright law allows claims for damages only by writers who have registered their work with the United States Copyright Office. The vast majority of freelancers did not register, so he said the courts had no jurisdiction over their disputes, and the case should not have been approved as a class-action suit.”

An original agreement had been brokered in 2005 and approved by the courts, whereby publishers would reimburse writers for Web use. Straub apparently contradicts the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2001 that digital reproduction without permission violates the author’s rights.

Straub’s ruling also contradicts information listed in F.A.Q. on the U.S. government Copyright Office site declaring that copyright exists from the moment the work is created. Bear the fine print listed on the U.S. government Copyright Office Web site in mind, however:
Do I have to register with your office to be protected?
No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration.”

Why should I register my work if copyright protection is automatic?Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney's fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within 5 years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration” and Circular 38b, Highlights of Copyright Amendments Contained in the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA), on non-U.S. works.

The courts typically favor creative workers in the entertainment industry, but when it comes to writers, it’s a sad tale of abandonment and woe. It’s this writer’s opinion that courts have little idea of the intricacies and practices in the publishing industry. Gerard Colby, National Writers Union president, called the latest decision an “outrage,” and he told the Times he hopes the decision can be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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