Monday, October 03, 2005
COPYRIGHT: Should writer be paid when print article is in digital database?
February 5, 1998 7:41 AM PST
Online indexer under attack
By Martha Stone
Northern Light Technology, which is trying to become the Lexis/Nexis
of the Web, is under attack from multiple sources over copyright
The National Writers Union and Hachette Filipacci, a French magazine
publisher, this week sent cease-and-desist letters to Northern Light,
claiming the Web site, which indexes millions of articles, infringes
on their copyrights.
The Supreme Court ruled that freelancers are entitled to full company
benefits at Microsoft.
In separate letters, the union and the publisher implored Cambridge,
Mass.-based Northern Light to stop indexing articles written by
freelancers. The freelancers claim their articles were only meant for
one-time use in specific magazines or Web sites, and not for
republication on the index site.
Northern Light, a six-month-old indexer, lets users search for
subjects and authors through links to multiple databases. Northern
Light holds licensing agreements with the database aggregators
covering some 2 million articles from 3,000 sources. Some of the
articles are available for free, while others reside in the site's
"Special Collection" and cost $1 to $2 to access.
It's the fee that writers take issue with: If the writer owns the
copyright after a publisher exercises its "one-time use," then the
writer should reap royalties for an article's subsequent use, they
But Northern Light executives don't agree. They say they have
purchased rights to millions of articles either directly from
periodical publishers, or from a dozen or so database aggregators,
with appropriate copyrights intact (ziff-Davis is one of the companies
that has licensed articles to Northern Lights).
"We pay royalties to our own suppliers. It's up to the publication if
they pay a royalty to the writer," said David Suess, CEO of Northern
Jim Docherty, president of Hachette Filipacchi New Media, says that's
not so. The magazine publisher of Elle, Car&Driver, George, and
Premiere and 14 other magazines says it has no such deal with Northern
Light. And the cease-and-desist letter demanded it stop linking to
articles, including a collection never before published
"Those brands are everything to us," Docherty said. "There is a
question of whether our brand is accessed improperly without our
permission. We told them to stop, and they have agreed to stop selling
Meanwhile, the New York-based National Writers Union has sent a
cease-and-desist letter to Northern Light on behalf of dozens of
freelancers among its 4,800-plus members, who have complained that
their articles are being republished for profit without their
permission and without royalties to which they say they are entitled.
A letter from Naomi B. Zauderer, the National Writers Union's
Publication Rights Clearinghouse director, to Northern Light, states
that the company "must either cease and desist, or negotiate an
agreement acceptable to the copyright holder. Anything else is willful
Northern Light's Suess (pronounced ceese) says it is covered by
copyrights that come from publishers and database aggregators, and
furthermore, it is doing exactly what Lexis/Nexis has been doing for
20 years, only at a lower price to users.
The NWU also has taken action against Lexis/Nexis and United
Microfilms International, among others.
Suess argues that the matter is out of Northern Light's hands. "If the
article is coming from an aggregator, or directly from a magazine, we
don't determine who gets the copyright; it is determined before it
gets to us," he said.
Zauderer also complains that its members who have personally asked
Northern Light to remove their articles from their files have been
refused, and have been told to complain to their original publisher.
Suess confirmed this, saying if a publisher requests that files be
removed, Northern Light will comply immediately.
"The Web makes infringement much, much easier, but as the Northern
Light case illustrates, it makes detection much easier. Now that
[information] is more publicly accessible, writers are becoming more
aware and there's a movement to fight it," Zauderer said in an
Martha L. Stone teaches New Media & Technology at Roosevelt
University in Chicago. She frequently writes about online issues.
Some of her articles in the Northern Light collection have been
licensed by publishers to Northern Light and others have not.
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