Reprint Rights and Wrongs
After eight years and much controversy comes retribution—for freelance writers, at least. The digital rights case against The New York Times Company and National Writer Union (NWU) President Jonathan Tasini is over. Now, publishers are reconsidering how to distribute digital content since the Supreme Court ruled that freelance writers are entitled to payments for files repurposed from print. And while the latest dialogue between content creators and publishers is the first to legally address digital rights in the publishing market, the question of repurposing is not new. Reprints have long-time been examples of how content can be reused for profit. But in light of the Tasini verdict, will the reprints market also be affected? And will reprints (or at least e-prints) become increasingly expensive if freelance writers are to be compensated?
Chris Ceynowa, president of Rapid Reprint, says no. He explains, "We don't deal with e-prints because we're mainly on the [print] production side." He says that publishers handle digital reprints themselves if they make PDFs or want to distribute content online. As a result, cost increases will be incurred by publishers, not necessarily by customers, while reprint providers, such as Rapid Reprint, manage to stay clear of copyright cases. Because reprints are a value-added service, additional costs still allow for profit no matter how sticky copyright laws have become.
Ceynowa explains, "We don't have to deal with copyright directly as much as publishers do. We're not producing anything specifically ourselves; the agreements are made on the publishing side." Ceynowa admits that since he started sending PDFs to customers to proof, he began watermarking digital files. "There are definitely individuals out there who are savvy enough [to redistribute content] if they get their hands on it. People are ripping off [content] left and right." He says at one point, he tried to lock files, but found, "People don't like to read content on screen as much as we sometimes think." So, for about a year, Rapid Reprint has implemented watermarking to protect e-mailed files. Ceynowa says it's the only step his company has needed to take to protect digital rights for its customers. In the courts, however, freelance writers proposed that when publishers reuse content without permission from the content creator, it's virtually the same as anyone reusing content without permission. Reprints have suddenly fallen into a more ambiguous category: collective copyright or separate entity?