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Freelancers Lose Copyright Battle

By July 7, 2008

A new ruling favoring the National Geographic Society has left freelancers on the losing end of a battle over copyrights and future earnings. A federal appellate court in New York backed an earlier ruling in an Atlanta court, stating that magazines and newspapers can resell collective works and not owe additional royalties to contributing freelancers.

According to this article from the Daily Report, the ruling ended a long-standing legal battle between National Geographic and a Florida-based freelance photographer. The gist of it is that the magazine repackaged earlier issues in a digital (CD) version, selling it as "The Complete National Geographic." The photographer's original work was included, but he received no additional payment for the use of the image. The court says, that's okay.

Why, you ask? The final decision concludes that as long as the product (in this case a CD) being resold is a duplication of the existing product (the magazine) - considered a "collective work," then there is no copyright infringement. It's essentially the same product. However, if a photograph (or an article) is taken from the original product and used on its own, such as on a website, or is assembled as part of a new work that differs from the original, then the freelance photographer or writer is owed additional monies for use of the copyrighted materials.

What do you think? Does the final ruling seem fair - or are freelancers getting the short end of the moneybag?

July 8, 2008 at 3:00 pm
(1) Jena Taylor says:

Absolutely, it’s unfair! This is just one of the reasons why the actors are voting NO to AFTRA agreement & AMPTP. This should be considered “new media” as well. The original payment was for the work that was agreed to at the time, not for future distribution in a new media.

July 8, 2008 at 8:18 pm
(2) Al Case says:

I don’t think it’s unfair at all. Copyright protects the work. It doesn’t protect the medium. IF the magazine is reproduced in its entirety, on DVD or the web as it appeared in print – it’s the same work, just as if they put them all in a huge, hard-bound table-top book. The medium changed, not the image, organization or intellectual property. But your articles does NOT address a new opportunity! Write media clauses into your contracts. A written contract CAN supercede the copyright law. For example, negotiate that your image or words are sold for PRINT but not for web or DVD distribution. A contract silent on the issue will default to the legal ruling.

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