The Tasini Six, opened the door to a brighter future for writers and creators of content as it applies to their works life outside of the Television screen. Today’s writers strike seems to be an extension of the 1999 Tasini vs. New York Times Co. in which the Supreme Court decided the Times had infringed various copyrights by putting individual articles previously published in periodicals on electronic databases.
The two cases are very similar. The current Hollywood writers strike revolves around giving writers more money from the sale of Internet distribution as well as delivery of the content they create being displayed on cell phones and other digital platforms. At stake is the writers ability to continue to profit from their work, far into the future. Which isn’t such a far fetched concept, considering when a writer publishes a book, they continue to receive royalties from sales until there are no further printings.
The Tasini Six ruling made it clear where this strike is heading, straight back to court. The Times answer to the ruling? They announced plans to remove more than 115,000 freelance articles from its database unless the authors of those articles agreed to let them remain in the database without additional payment, and freelancers were threatened with never getting another assignment if they didn’t sign a draconian new all-rights contract. Evenutally lawsuits made them change their policies.
Copyright is tricky in the digital age because the opportunity for distribution seems to change and be appended every 6 months. My guess is that the issue of continuing rights in works will become a tracking issue. The Tasini opinion written by Chief Justice Ginsburg specifically noted that nobody was demanding removal of articles and that there are more than enough licensing precedents to establish mechanisms for paying extra fees for additional use. ASCAP, the system which pays royalties to songwriters whenever their songs are played, is an example.
So what does it all mean, well if you want my opinion, it simply means writers will either have to accept all-rights or work for hire agreement to continue to practice their craft, or get on the bandwagon for copyright reform at the legislative issue.
If you want to learn more, watch this video by Lawrence Lessig. In it he cuts to the heart of the matter that both the Tasini Six and the Hollywood writers have in common, that today’s media environment is about the creative having a life of its own that may not always be under the control of the author directly nor of its previous leasee’s. The issue is not going to go away, but merely litigated into a settlement but no real change will be effected until the corpse of Walt Disney turns over in his grave and US Copyright Laws look a lot like Creative Commons licenses.