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Monday, June 25, 2001
U.S. court rules for free-lancers in online case

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that publishers violated free-lance authors' copyrights by putting their articles in electronic databases, extending the reach of copyright protections in an online age.

The high court, by a 7-2 vote, ruled that the publishers infringed on the copyrights of the free-lance writers by reproducing and distributing their articles in online and CD-ROM databases without their express permission.

The decision was a major defeat for The New York Times Co; The Tribune Co.'s Newsday; AOL Time Warner's Time Magazine Inc.; Lexis/Nexis, a unit of Anglo-Dutch publishing group Reed Elsevier and ProQust Co.'s University Microfilms International.

The law ``does not authorize the copying at issue here,'' Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said for the court majority. ``Both the print publishers and the electronic publishers, we rule, have infringed the copyrights of the free-lance authors.''

The dispute applied mainly to electronic news databases and involved free-lance authors, who are not employed by the publications and sell their work to individual buyers. The dispute began before the exploding use of the Internet to make information available.

The ruling stemmed from a 1993 lawsuit filed by six free-lance authors led by Jonathan Tasini, president of the New York-based National Writers Union, accusing the media firms of copyright infringement by reproducing their work online without their permission.

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