Tasini v. New York Times – The National Writers Union’s Role in the Historic Case on Electronic Copyright

Tasini et al v. The New York Times et al is the landmark lawsuit brought by members of the National Writers Union against The New York Times Company, Newsday Inc., Time Inc., Lexis/Nexis, and University Microfilms Inc., charging copyright violation regarding the electronic reuse of work produced and sold on a freelance basis.


For decades when freelance writers sold stories to American publications, it was understood by all concerned that they were selling only First North American Serial Rights which allowed the newspaper or magazine to publish the story in print one time. For freelance authors, retention of all other copyrights is crucial to their economic survival because a significant additional source of income comes from their ability to sell secondary rights such as syndication, translations, anthologies, and so forth, to other publications.

With the advent of electronic media including databases like Nexis, publishers such as Time/Warner and the Times/Mirror Company, the parent companies of Time and Newsday, have been selling freelance-authored material to electronic databases such as Nexis/Lexis without any additional payment or purchase of electronic rights from the original authors. They claim, without justification, that by purchasing First North American Serial Rights they automatically gain electronic republication rights. Tasini et al v. The New York Times et al established that they are violating the copyrights of writers.