Friday, December 10, 2010

The Good Fight

Inivite Your Publisher to Sit Down
With You-
But Not on You


"Union grievance officers have recovered more than $1.4 million for NWU members and have represented members in non-monetary grievances as well."

Source: The Nationa Writers Union website.


J.K. Rowlings probably doesn't need a union.  Stephen King can buy and sell the state of Maine, and Stephanie Meyers is probably looking at buying the Virgin Islands.  They can afford to to stand up for themselves.  How about you?

Let's say you sold an article a few years back to the New York Times.  You sold them First North American print rights.  You beam.  You glow.  Your friends and neighbors ask to be photographed with you and you begin to get holiday cards not addressed to "Occupant."  Things are going well.

Then, someone tells you that they saw your article on the web, or accessed it on an electronic database.  You start to think.  Maybe it's a mistake.  Maybe they misunderstood the deal.  You contact them.  They say they're exercising their rights under the contract.  You point out that the contract is for print, not electronic publications.   They hang up on you.

A quick check of your bank account reveals that you can afford to buy a new blender, but unfortunately can't afford to sue the New York Times. 

You've been proud of your independence.  You take on the world with your laptop.  Your brain and you against the world.  You're published.  By a big publisher.  But now that big publisher is pushing you around.

If you were both a freelance writer and also a member of the National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981, you could contact your Union.  If you weren't, well, you'd have a long, uphill and expensive legal fight that just might be more than you could afford.

Here's the story, taken from the National Writers Union Website of "Tasini et al vs. The New York Times Company, Newsday Inc., Time Inc., Lexis/Nexis, and University Microfilms Inc. et al":


"Tasini v. New York Times

Tasini et al v. The New York Times et al is the landmark lawsuit brought by members of the National Writers Union against The New York Times Company, Newsday Inc., Time Inc., Lexis/Nexis, and University Microfilms Inc., charging copyright violation regarding the electronic reuse of work produced and sold on a freelance basis.


For decades when freelance writers sold stories to American publications, it was understood by all concerned that they were selling only First North American Serial Rights which allowed the newspaper or magazine to publish the story in print one time. For freelance authors, retention of all other copyrights is crucial to their economic survival because a significant additional source of income comes from their ability to sell secondary rights such as syndication, translations, anthologies, and so forth, to other publications.

With the advent of electronic media including databases like Nexis, publishers such as Time/Warner and the Times/Mirror Company, the parent companies of Time and Newsday, have been selling freelance-authored material to electronic databases such as Nexis/Lexis without any additional payment or purchase of electronic rights from the original authors. They claim, without justification, that by purchasing First North American Serial Rights they automatically gain electronic republication rights. Tasini et al v. The New York Times et al established that they are violating the copyrights of writers."


Now that's what I call a happy ending.  Oh yes, there was a financial settlement involved.  Guess how much?

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Jai Joshi said...

It definitely makes a lot of sense to have a writers union. I'm glad to know that there's one place in the nation to go to for help.


Rick said...

Hi Jai! Yes, it would be hard to imagine taking on the New York Times by yourself.

Jules said...

Makes perfect sense to me.

Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

the walking man said...

Send me the tool Rick and I think like most other people I will likely join the union.

Nevine said...

Yes, I've learned my lesson and I will join, Rick. We have to be bitten once to learn, you know. But I've learned and learned well.

And hey, thanks for all your support with my plagiarism issue. I really can't thank you enough.


JR's Thumbprints said...

Funny thing about J.K. Rowling is how she had her publishing contract redone to include merchandising rights before her first Harry Potter book hit the states.

Your post reminds me of the contract I signed a few years back giving the publisher North American Serial Rights; the contract was longer than the published piece I had submitted. Still, writers need protection. Now we've got to keep an eye on Google, especially if they get into the e-reader business.

Rick said...

You are prescient, JR. My next post is about the Google settlemenmt. Most writers don't even know that Google was scanning their work to make it available on the web without writers getting paid for their work.

By the way, the National Writers Union Christmas Party is tonight in Detroit between six and nine. Let me know if you want to come.

Rick said...

I was so happy to see a positive result for you, Nevine. Your poetic work is so moving that it was doubly offense to see it taken. I know it is legally copyright infringement, but it really is a form of identity theft, too. But isn't it wonderful how other bloggers came to your defense?

And we would be proud to have you in the union, Nevine. Absolutely proud.

Rick said...

Hey, Jules! It was hard for me to comprehend the idea for awhile- being an independent writer (essentially an independent business owner) and a union member. But when it finally hit me that my dad was both and happier for it, I started seeing the light. Years later, I can report nothing but good has come from my being a union member.

Rick said...

I'll shoot you an email after I finish this very large cup of coffee, WalkingMan. I really do love your work and after attending your reading a few weeks ago, I actually thought, "I wish Mark was in the Union."

Charles Gramlich said...

glad to hear it. I know a couple of writers this has happened to.

Rick said...

Kind of hard to fight big publishers by ourselves, Charles. I hope things turned out well for the other writers you're talking about.

Lana Gramlich said...

Nice to have back up when you need it. (Did you get my e-mail Dec. 7th?)