Authors Sue Media Giants Over Database Story Use

A group of freelance writers is seeking a halt to the use of their articles without permission or compensation by five corporations that operate online database services.

In the second case of its kind filed this week in the U.S., the Authors Guild Inc., which has approximately 8,000 members, along with several individual authors filed a lawsuit in New York Federal District Court Tuesday alleging the five companies used their works without consent. The authors of articles for newspapers and magazines are seeking to make their case a class-action suit.

The five companies named in the suit are Dialog, which is owned by the Toronto-based Thomson; Reed ElsevieR, which publishes the Lexis/Nexis database; Dow Jones Reuters Interactive; Bell and Howell, which offers the Proquest online information system; and Thomson, which also owns the Westlaw database.

Thomson spokesman Jason Stewart said the company has no comment on the lawsuit.

Similarly, Judi Schultz, a spokeswoman for Lexis/Nexis in Dayton, Ohio said the company's attorneys just received the suit and could not comment. A spokesperson for Dow Jones Reuters Interactive could not be reached for comment.

Dwight Mater, a Bell and Howell spokesman, said the company had no comment on the pending litigation, but added that the firm has had a long relationship with the publishing community and will continue to comply with copyright laws.

Attorney Michael Boni, who is representing the Authors Guild and is with the law firm of Kohn, Swift and Graf in Philadelphia, said he believes the authors have a strong case of copyright infringement against the media companies. The suit seeks a halt to the use of freelance material without consent or compensation, he said. No U.S. dollar figure has been attached to the suit and Boni said damages will be determined during the discovery phase of the legal proceedings.

"We are on very solid ground because of the Tasini decision," Boni said. "We are on very solid ground because of the copyright laws. We would like the online databases and publishers... to stop doing it and negotiate fair contracts."Tasini, et al. vs. New York Times was a case filed in December 1993 by 11 writers, including Jonathan Tasini, current president of the National Writers Union, that alleged that their works were reproduced electronically without permission and sought damages from the likes of the New York Times, News Day , Time, Lexis/Nexis and others. In late September 1999, the U.S.

Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that publishers could not place an author's work on an electronic database without their permission and compensation.

Another group of freelance writers Monday filed a suit in federal court in San Francisco seeking compensation from three online publishers. The group, which includes the estate of author Jessica Mitford, is seeking payment from Northern Light Technology, Thomson, the Bell and Howell Information and Learning Co., a unit of Bell and Howell. Gary Fergus, an attorney representing the writers, said in a statement that the class action suit may affect as many as 10,000 writers.

In a similar vein, freelance photographers, writers and illustrators for the Boston Globe newspaper filed suit in June against the paper's parent company seeking an injunction against a new licensing agreement that gives the paper control of the Internet access to their work without paying them more money.

The Boston Globe Freelancers Association wants compensation for their works being put online.

Richard Gulla, a Boston Globe spokesman, said the newspaper sought to make its paper edition mirror its online edition, Boston.com. The license agreement when signed, however, would not allow the Globe to resell the materials to a third party, Gulla said.

"We asked the freelancers to give us permission with no additional cost," he said. "We would have the right to use that material in any Globe-branded materials."Gulla said freelancers would retain the copyright to the work and could sell it outside of the Globe's New England coverage area. The agreement also did not allow the Globe to provide the freelance content to its owner, The New York Times Co., he said.

So far, 575 of the Globe's freelancers have signed the license agreement.

"Our agreement we believe is a lot more friendly to freelancers than others around the country," Gulla said. "Some of the agreements will take the copyright. We allow them to retain that agreement."The Authors Guild, in New York, can be reached at +1-212-563-5904 or at http://www.authorsguild.org/.

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