Court and spark

THE US Supreme Court has, in effect, once more upheld the right of freelance photographers to negotiate when and how their work is used. Jerry Greenberg sued National Geographic when he found that it had re-used his unique underwater pictures in a CD-ROM set of its first 108 years - without even asking, let alone paying.

National Geographic claimed that the CD-ROM was a mere "revision" of the original magazines. A court held, and the relevant Court of Appeal upheld, that this was cobblers. And on 9 October the US Supreme Court declined to hear the publisher's appeal, which leaves the precedent intact.

The International Federation of Journalists welcomed this victory. "It reaffirms our position, " said General Secretary Aidan White, "that the rights of individual creators cannot be set aside in the rush to exploit new technologies."

Meanwhile in Berlin the Kammergericht, the highest court in the Land, has reaffirmed that when a photographer licenses a picture to a newspaper that does not imply a license for the Web edition. So negotiate.

And in New York a leaked memo from the Times of that ilk instructs editors not to commission any of the 11 writers who originally sued - and won - over the unauthorised re-sale of their work. "It is a sad day when the paper of record resorts to the kinds of tactics that have left deep scars on the soul of this country," National Writers Union President Jonathan Tasini said: "Since our victory in the Supreme Court, we have tried to negotiate with The New York Times. In response, the newspaper tried to scare writers by forcing them to sign away rights they had won in the highest court in the land. Now, it appears that... The Times decided to take us back to the darkest days of the McCarthy era." Senator Joe McCarthy was (for younger readers) a leading figure in the campaign to "blacklist" alleged communists in the US media in the 1950s.

Last modified: 25 October 2001 - © 2001 contributors
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