New York Times Company v. Tasini
533 U.S. 483 (2001)
A number of freelance
journalists (including Tasini) wrote articles that were published in
various publications (including the NY Times). Contracts were written and
the journalists were paid for their work.
Later, the publishers
contracted with database services (like LEXIS/NEXIS) to put all the
articles in searchable, online databases. The journalists sued for copyright
The journalists argued that
they had never contracted for their work to be put into a database,
especially since they weren't going to get paid anything extra.
The publishers argued that 17
U.S.C. §201(c) said that,
"copyright in each separate contribution to a collective work is
distinct from copyright in the collective work as a whole."
The Trial Court found for the
publishers. The journalists appealed.
The Appellate Court reversed.
The publishers appealed.
The US Supreme Court reversed
and found that the publisher did not have the right to put the article in
The US Supreme Court found
that §201(c) allowed a publisher
to republish a contributor's work in three special circumstances:
In the collective work
In a revision of that
In a later collective work
in the same series.
The Court found that the
database was not the same as the original publication format, therefore
it did not count as part of the original collective work, or a revision.
In a dissent it was argued
that reprinting the periodical in Braille or on microfilm would have a
different form than the original, but those would be ok under §201(c), so why not a searchable database?