The National Writers Union has been on the front lines in the battle to defend copyright protections for writers. With the popularization of digital formats, large publication databases, and the use of the Internet as a broad distribution medium, writers have been subjected to large-scale electronic infringement of our rights.
In confronting this electronic theft of our work, the NWU has confronted some of the biggest names in publishing: The New York Times, Time Warner, and the largest electronic database archives.
The union takes a number of approaches to defending copyright, enumerated below:
Know the law. Existing copyright law is on our side — if we can enforce our rights. We encourage writers to know the copyright law, register their works, and individually defend their rights.
Challenge Unfair Contracts. The contracts we confront daily often do not pass legal muster, and frequently violate established standards of fairness. The union trains writers to resist such contracts and offers contract advice, especially important in the area of electronic rights.
Legally Contest Copyright Violations. The union took on The New York Times and other companies that were violating copyright law in illegally profiting from sale of articles in electronic databases. The historic Tasini v. New York Times Supreme Court ruling confirmed writers’ exclusive right to their works unless expressly transferred to publishers. The 2002 ruling resulted in a successful $18 million class action lawsuit that was settled in 2005.
Work to Establish Industry Standards. The effort to establish industry standards regarding contracts has come in conflict with anti-trust law. We, as individual freelance contractors, are subject to anti-trust sanctions in organizing to improve our collective rights and working conditions. Several years ago the union launched a legislative initiative, the Freelance Writers and Artists Protection Act, to exempt writers and similar professions from anti-trust law.
Mobilize Support for Copyright Protection. Experience has shown that the public “gets” the fundamental fairness issues we face in getting paid for what we write. The efforts of publishers to force “all-rights” contracts upon writers–contracts in which the publishers obtain all rights to our work–undermine our livelihoods, threatening the viability of independent voices so necessary in a functioning democracy. The union has been involved in several efforts to combat all-rights contracts.
Collaborate with other organizations of writers. Our frequent coalition partners have included the American Society of Journalists and Writers (ASJA), the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), and other genre-specific writers organizations, along with allies among creators of other types of copyrighted works such as photographers, illustrators, musicians, etc. The NWU is a member of the Authors Coalition of America (ACA), the International Authors Forum (IAF), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), and the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations (IFRRO).
Lobby Congress, the U.S. Copyright Office, and international organizations. NWU leaders and rank-and-file members have been meeting regularly with Congressional staff and attending Congressional hearings to make sure that our copyright reform agenda is considered by Congress during its ongoing review of the Copyright Act. The NWU and our membership have participated actively in Copyright Office hearings, workshops, and public consultations. The NWU, both directly and through its membership in international coalitions, has also raised these issues when other countries such as the U.K. and international entities such as the European Union and the UN-affiliated World Intellectual Property Association (WIPO) have been considering laws and treates that would affect the rights and livelihoods of NWU members and other US writers.