Welcome to the National Writers Union

The National Writers Union UAW Local 1981 is the only labor union that represents freelance writers.

Now, more than ever, with the consolidation of power into the hands of ever-larger corporate entities and with the advent of technologies that facilitate the exploitation of a writer’s work, writers need an organization with the clout and know-how to protect our interests. One that will forge new rules for a new era.

Combining the strength of more than 1,200 members in our 13 chapters with the support of the United Automobile Workers, the NWU works to advance the economic and working conditions of all writers.  Our members also directly benefit from the many valuable services the Union offers—including grievance assistance, contract advice, and much more—while actively contributing to a growing movement of professional freelancers who have banded together to assert their collective power.

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Special Announcements

02/16/2013 - 7:56pm

NWU Files Amicus Against Google Scanning Project

Today the NWU joined other organizations of writers to file a friend-of-the-court brief with the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in support of allowing copyright infringement litigation against Google's scanning of entire libraries of books to proceed as a class action.

The brief opposes Google's appeal of the trial judge's ruling certifying the class of authors whose books were scanned without their permission. The judge also allowed the Authors Guild to represent its members in  the law suit.

"The ability to join together to pursue collective grievances, and to represent our members in class actions and group grievances, is central to the role of the NWU as a labor union," says NWU President Larry Goldbetter. "Writers should not have to go it alone or bring separate lawsuits when we confront a corporation as large as Google which has engaged in the same pattern of theft from millions of authors."

A proposed settlement of the lawsuit against Google was opposed by the NWU and many other writers, and was rejected by the trial judge as unfair and inadequate. Following that ruling, the lawsuit has continued toward a trial or resolution on the merits. "The NWU opposed a specific proposal that was made to settle this lawsuit," Goldbetter notes. "But we have always believed that Google's wholesale book scanning infringes our rights. As the filing of this friend-of-the-court brief makes clear, we continue to oppose Google's book-scanning without permission or payment, and to support this legal challenge to it."

Read the amicus brief here.

02/12/2013 - 4:34pm

NWU Delegation at UAW CAP conference

Six NWU members attended the national UAW CAP Conference in Washington, D.C. from February 3 through Feb 6 to lobby Congress for the union's agenda. They lobbied their own congressional delegations for the UAW's top 2013 priorities, which are: no benefit cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security; tax fairness; create a pathway to citizenship for all immigrants, and keep Japan out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Photo: National Writers Union members at UAW CAP in Washington, DC, February 3-5.

Front row: Anthony Zeli (ME), First VP Ann Hoffman (DC), UAW Region 9A Director Julie Kushner and Gail Kinney (NH)

Back row: Recording Secretary Dan McCrory (CA), NWU president Larry Goldbetter and Boston Steering Committee member Barry Hock (MA)


02/12/2013 - 4:19pm

Conde Nast Contracts Cut Author's Share in Film Deals (by Christine Haughney, New York Times)

"Condé Nast, whose magazines are battling a punishing business environment, wants to capture more of the film and television profits, which previously went to writers who owned the rights to these works. The new contracts have angered writers and their agents who argue that it’s another cut at their already rapidly shrinking compensation..."

"...According to copies of the various contracts provided and described to The New York Times, those exclusive rights ranged from 30 days to one year. The contracts also show that if Condé Nast decides to option the article, writers receive $2,500 to $5,000 for a 12-month option. If an article is developed into a major feature film, writers receive no more than 1 percent or $150,000 toward the purchase price.

"Television programs and made-for-television movies are capped at even lower amounts, especially for less experienced writers. These arrangements are agreed to before an article has even been published."

Read more here.

02/04/2013 - 11:17am

In response to an inquiry by the U.S. Copyright Office, the NWU has filed comments opposing proposals to legalize copying and use of so-called "orphan works" without the permission of the writers or other creators of those works:

The NWU believes that the so-called "orphan works" problem has been greatly exaggerated. This "problem" has been to a significant degree manufactured as a polemical device, and to a greater degree appropriated and misused to serve commercial interests antithetical to those of writers and other creators. Regardless of the benign intentions of many scholars, academics, and librarians, the (false) perception they promote of an "orphan works crisis" primarily serves Google, other search engines and Web spiders and distributors of digital content, print publishers, and other commercial "partners" and profiteers in copyright-infringing mass digitization and digital distribution schemes. These for-profit companies are the real parties of interest in this inquiry, and these would be the principal potential beneficiaries of a statutory financial windfall from "orphan works" and/or mass digitization legislation – at the expense of the incomes of working writers and other creators....
In addition, the NWU believes that any "orphan works" legislation similar to the bills considered by Congress in 2008, or any legislation or regulation purporting to authorize mass digitization and distribution of digital copies without the permission of the holders of the rights to digital copying of the works being copied, would contravene the intent of the copyright clause of the U.S. Constitution and the letter of the Berne Convention and the WIPO Copyright Treaty....  Any "orphan works" scheme, even one that involves genuinely diligent, individualized manual searching for rightsholders, will inevitably conflict with ... normal modes of exploitation by writers of our copyrights, and will therefore violate the Berne Convention.

Following a second round of written "reply" comments (due March 6, 2013), the Copyright Office plans to hold hearings on this issue, in which the NWU expects to particpate, later in 2013.

Read the complete NWU submission to the Copyright Office (PDF)

More on "Orphan Works" and related issues from the NWU Book Division

"Kidnapped" (blog post by NWU member Ursula K. Le Guin, January 21, 2013)

01/29/2013 - 2:02pm


In all of the hoopla over fiscal cliffs and debt ceilings, we're hardly hearing a word about the outrageous economic toll of America's endless wars. It's time for labor's voice to be heard loud and clear: We agree with the AFL-CIO National Executive Council that: “The militarization of our foreign policy has proven to be a costly mistake. It is time to invest at home.” We call on Congress and President Obama to fund jobs, education, health services, and other basic needs by increasing taxes on corporations, financial speculators, and the wealthiest individuals; and by redirecting our nation’s resources from war and uncontrolled Pentagon funding.

The JOBS NOT WARS petition campaign is sponsored by U.S. Labor Against the War in cooperation with several other national organizations. Please sign the petition and forward this link

01/22/2013 - 11:42pm

Kidnapped: Ursula K. Le Guin’s Blog on "orphan works"

You know those poor orphans starving in the snow on your doorstep that Google wants to put to work for Corpocracy Inc? Well, the Brits are after them too. Parliament is considering an “enterprise regulatory reform” bill containing extremely permissive provisions concerning “orphan works.”

What is an “orphan work’? The definition is pretty clear: a copyrighted work (most often a book, story, or photograph) for which the “parent” — the author or copyright holder — cannot be located.

Finding a copyright is easy: the Copyright Office has it on file. Finding copyright holders (heirs who don’t know they’re heirs, etc.) can take time. It’s not always quick and easy to identify an orphan as such.

And here’s where the definition is vulnerable to deliberate manipulation and obfuscation. (I like that word, obfuscation — “making dark.”)


The operative term is cannot be located— which does not mean “hasn’t been found,” or “nobody bothered to look for.”

Increasingly often books are called “orphans” just because nobody is bothering to locate the copyright holder, or even make a copyright search. If stringent requirements for identification aren’t upheld, anyone who wants to exploit the rights to an older work can, after the most cursory search for the copyright holder or no search at all, just declare the book, the story, the photograph “orphaned.”

And if this practice isn’t questioned, they can go ahead without concern for copyright, reproducing and exploiting the so-called “orphan.”

It’s not an orphan at all. It’s been kidnapped.

By now kidnapped works probably far outnumber genuinely orphaned ones. The Google Book Settlement allowed Google to declare books orphaned with little or no pretense of search and then reproduce them busily, steadily, and no doubt profitably. The Internet makes it incredibly easy to do so. The U.S. Copyright Office has generally failed or refused to interfere, leaving the entire onus of proof that the work is protected by copyright to the individual author.


Now the Brits are trying to legalize this injustice — a dangerous precedent for decisions yet to be made in the U.S. And worse yet, if Parliament passes the bill, many American works published on both sides of the Atlantic will be misidentified as “orphaned,” scanned and put online by British libraries and others without the permission of the digital rights holder.

Once that happens, you might as well kiss your copyright goodbye. Your book has not only been kidnapped, but handed over to the pirates. As Parliament lurches along hand in hand with Blind Pugh and Long John Silver, somebody else will be burying your treasure. Arr, arr. Isn’t that funny?

At this point, most of the organized opposition in the U.K. is coming from photographers, photo licensing agencies, distributors of news photographs. This also happened in the U.S. in 2008, when photographers got together and stopped “orphan works” legislation in Congress.

It’s hard to understand why writers, who are just as directly affected, are hard to stir up on this issue. Maybe we’ve had copyright so long that we thought it was genetic, or something?

What’s happening is that the Corpocracy — first Disney, then Google, to be followed by Amazon and the rest — has been working for over ten years now to dismantle copyright in practice and destroy it in principle — and to get government sanction for doing so.

Copyright Office seems to be paralyzed; the Department of Justice is looking away; the present Congress is hardly likely to protect art or artists against corporate greed. It’s up to us, the artists, the photographers, the writers, to defend our rights.

At this point, I don’t know any organization working to co-ordinate us into an effective movement except the National Writers Union. However you feel about unions in general, if you’re a writer of any kind, you might look into this one. It’s small, it’s active, and it’s on our side. Nobody much else is.

21 January 2013

Click here for the original blog and additional resources.

01/08/2013 - 7:30pm


It appears that the NWU has a settlement with the publishers of Heart & Soul magazine (H&S). NWU first got involved in this fight in October 2011. H&S focuses on health and wellness issues for black women -- unless, that is, you are one of the unpaid black women writers and editors who works there.

H&S will sign a confession of judgment and pay the writers in six installments. The first payment was wired to an NWU member owed half the total amount and facing imminent foreclosure. As a result, she will keep her home. Another payment next week will keep another NWU member in her home.

This is a big win and a good start to the New Year. It was made possible by the H&S writers themselves, who stuck together and kept organizing more writers to join the fight; the persistence of the NWU; and the UAW Legal Dept. closing the deal.  As one writer said, "Thanks [to] the whole NWU team! Your work is invaluable. I'm renewing my membership."

11/20/2012 - 5:38pm

Journalists Stand Up in Solidarity with Turkish Jailed Reporters ahead of ODA TV Trial

"The two Turkish journalists who are appearing before the Istanbul Özel Yetkili 16th Specialized Heavy Penal Court in the Oda TV case today [11/16/12] on charges of perverting the course of justice have no case to answer and should be released immediately, according to International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its European group the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)." -continued-

10/16/2012 - 10:25pm

October 17, 2012

The National Writers Union joined the International Fedearion of Journalists in support of today's strike of Tunisian journalists. Read the NWU letter here (pdf)

The International Federation of Journalists explained that: "Our colleagues are calling for a specific labour legislation, legal protection against the increased physical attacks, the implementation of the various laws regarding the media sector, in particular the setting up of an independent authority to regulate broadcasting and the separation of the administration and editorial departments in public media. They also demand that all their sacked colleagues are reinstated. Read IFJ's letter here. (pdf)

10/09/2012 - 11:44am

For immediate release: October 9, 2012

American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA.org)

National Writers Union (NWU.org)

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA.org)


Writers Slam Secrecy of Book Publishers' Deal with Google;

Call on Dept. of Justice to Investigate Antitrust Implications

National writers’ organizations representing authors of books in a variety of genres believe a secret deal between Google and major book publishers may encourage Google to digitize, use, and sell copyrighted books illegally. The writers groups ask the Department of Justice to review whether the terms of the secret deal may violate federal antitrust law.

Google and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) announced October 4 that they had signed a settlement agreement that means the publishers no longer are litigants in an ongoing suit against Google for copyright violations. Since early 2005, Google has been scanning library books for use in its Google Book Search project. Some 20 million books have been scanned, all without permission.

The American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), the National Writers Union (NWU), and Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) all opposed two attempts to settle the suit -- as did the Department of Justice, myriad individual authors, organizations, attorneys general of many states, and even foreign governments. We now stand with the Authors Guild in believing Google violated authors’ copyrights. This new, secret settlement with Google may do writers further damage.

We call on publishers to make the settlement terms public: Which books are included, and how much money is changing hands?

“Writers are partners with publishers in the joint venture of royalty publishing. We are contractually entitled to full disclosure of a deal that affects our books, rights, royalties, and livelihoods,” said ASJA President Minda Zetlin.

We have written to the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice today to ask that they re-open their investigation of this case, and review the terms of the settlement for possible violations of federal law.

“Settlement negotiations should not be allowed to serve as a cover for otherwise-impermissible collusion by parties to litigation against the interests of other stakeholders, such as the writers of these books, who were excluded from those negotiations,” said NWU President Larry Goldbetter.

Copyright law declares the creator of a work retains all rights not spelled out in the publishing contract. Until very recently, book contracts had no language whatever about e-books or digital rights. So when a publisher agrees to give Google access to its backlist of books, it’s very likely that the publisher is taking money for rights it doesn’t own. The authors own them.

Our organizations believe many publishers, including some of those who settled, have been engaged in the systematic theft of writers' electronic rights and e-book revenues where digital rights were never assigned by authors to publishers. They have been licensing e-book editions of works to which they hold only print rights.

The industry needs an open process whereby authors can challenge ownership of any rights in question.

Whether Google Can Legally Copy Millions of Books Is Still in Question

With 20 million books already scanned, Google continues scanning books daily. In The Authors Guild, Inc. et al. v. Google, now before the U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, writers say this is illegal, since those who hold the rights to the books haven’t given permission. Whether the publishers’ settlement with Google will affect the lawsuit is unclear.

We are concerned that this new, secret agreement will give Google erstwhile permission to ramp up its illegal scanning. Even for those books to which publishers can legitimately license e-book rights, many questions remain. The secrecy of the deal lends itself to abuses.

ASJA, NWU, and SFWA urge Google, the AAP, and the publisher litigants to do the right thing: disclose the complete terms of this settlement immediately. If the parties won't do so voluntarily, the Department of Justice needs to use its authority to investigate this agreement.

See ASJA/NWU/SFWA letter to U.S. Department of Justice here (pdf)



Minda Zetlin, president, American Society of Journalists and Authors, 845-481-0252, president@asja.org

Larry Goldbetter, president, National Writers Union, 212-254-0279 x14, 773-551-7021 (cell), larryg601@gmail.com

Michael Capobianco, past president, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, 301-274-9489, michael@michael-capobianco.com


Union News

12/28/2009 - 8:00pm

If you've ever written anything that might be in the collection of a major library—not just books—you might be affected by the proposed settlement of the Google Book Search ("GBS") copyright infringement lawsuit.

To help inform NWU members and other writers, the NWU has posted a new set of answers to Frequently Asked Questions about the revised Google Book Search settlement proposal and the choices all authors need to make by the new deadline of January 28, 2010.  This also includes a sample letter writers can use if they want to opt out of the proposed settlement.  This document (FAQ) is on the Google Settlement page of the website. 
12/25/2009 - 12:05am

Award Winning Author Supports National Writers Union.  Award-winning author Ursula Le Guin, a member of the National Writers Union since 1990, has resigned from the Authors Guild after 37 years of membership.  Her Dec. 18 letter to the Authors Guild follows:

To Whom it may concern at the Authors Guild:

I have been a member of the Authors Guild since 1972.

At no time during those thirty-seven years was I able to attend the functions, parties, and so forth offered by the Guild to members who happen to live on the other side of the continent. I have naturally resented this geographical discrimination, reflected also in the officership of the Guild, always almost all Easterners. But it was a petty gripe when I compared it to my gratitude to the Guild for the work you were doing in defending writers’ rights. I went on paying top dues and thought it worth it.

And now you have sold us down the river.

11/16/2009 - 7:51pm
           On Nov. 14, 2009, NWU released the following statement:   “The proposed revised settlement of the Google Books copyright infringement lawsuit fails to address the concerns of several writers’ organizations and many American writers, and allows Google to get away with violating writers’ constitutionally protected rights,” said Larry Goldbetter, president of the National Writers Union.
            “While the new proposal might appear to answer some objections, it still offers American writers a pittance for their already-scanned books, still requires writers to ‘opt out’ of the Google Books program, and still interferes with author-publisher contractual relationships,” Goldbetter said.
11/01/2009 - 12:23am

Sarah E. Wright, a novelist, poet, teacher, writer, social and political activist and founding member of the National Writers Union died from cancer on September 13, 2009.  A memorial service will be held for Sarah on Saturday, November 14, at the Ethical Culture Center on 64th St. and Central Park West, at 2:00 p.m.

10/24/2009 - 7:55pm

On October 12, 2009, NWU President Larry Goldbetter wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times in response to an OpEd written by Google co-founder Sergey Brin ("The Library That Lasts Forever," October 9). Brin praised the Google Book Settlement (GBS) and boasted of having copied "10 million [books] and counting." He forgot to mention he never got the authors' permission or that the settlement has been opposed by the Department of Justice and the U.S. Copyright Office.

10/07/2009 - 5:54pm

On Oct. 7, 2009, the National Writers Union issued the following press release:

At a status hearing today in federal court in New York City, the Authors Guild, speaking on behalf of Google and the Association of American Publishers, told U.S. District Court Judge Denny Chin that a new agreement to a four-year old copyright infringement case could be worked out in a matter of weeks, that the parties involved should be kept to a minimum, and that notification of the new agreement for authors to opt out should be kept to a minimum.

 Also, regarding the Reed Elsevier v. Muchnick case that was argued today before the Supreme Court of the United States, Larry Goldbetter, president of the National Writers Union said: “On October 29, 2007, two members of a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decided that writers who had not registered their works with the U.S. Copyright Office are denied any access to federal court for copyright protection and cannot make claims for damages for infringement of their work. The Appeals Court also claimed the U.S. District Court had been wrong to accept Re Literary Works in Electronic Databases Copyright Litigation and approve the settlement."

09/25/2009 - 1:15pm

On September 25, 2009 the National Writers Union issued a statement in response to the Department of Justice filing in the Google Book Settlement.  NWU President Larry Goldbetter stated, “We support the Department of Justice recommendation and call on the Authors Guild to withdraw from the current settlement, so that they can join in new negotiations with the many voices that have up to now been excluded.”

09/09/2009 - 1:11pm

NEW YORK, NY -- On September 8, the National Writers Union filed legal objections to the proposed settlement of the Google Books copyright infringement lawsuit.  In the brief filed today in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, the NWU joins as a “friend of the court” in support of objections also being made by the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and 58 individual authors.

09/09/2009 - 1:00pm

On September 1, the National Writers Union called on former Vice President Al Gore to use his considerable influence to urge Google Inc. to seek a delay in the proceedings of the Google Book Settlement. 

09/09/2009 - 12:54pm

Submissions are being accepted between September 1 and October 2, 2009, for this year's Bellwether Prize for Fiction. The Bellwether Prize is awarded in even-numbered years, and consists of a $25,000 cash payment to the author of the winning manuscript in addition to guaranteed publication by a major publisher.

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