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 infringement.
    • 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 a database.
    • 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 itself,
      • In a revision of that collective work,
      • 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?