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?
Learning from the past
ForeWord magazine editor-at-large, Gene Schwartz, says, "While there are gray areas, I believe it is always ethically safe to go back to the analog practice for which electronic form is a metaphor. There are numerous analog metaphors—the clipping service is a good one, as are microfim editions—which enable the user to separate out for their purposes a single article from its context."
But using the same logic for digital content didn't satisfy Tasini, who compared creative copyright to merchandising. He claims, "Rather than negotiate with freelancers, The Times is using threats and intimidation to further exploit writers labor. The Times is telling writers that unless they sign a retroactive rights contract—that takes away all past and future rights to their work without additional pay," negotiations will be halted. This includes reprints.
Dan Brill, publisher of Canadian-based Graphic Exchange, disagrees with the claim. Brill believes that collective copyright laws solve ownership qualms for digital asset repurposing and reprints. "Content is free," he says. "Value equals content over relevancy, where's Shakespeare's a one and anything to do with Timothy McVeigh is a zillion." He explains that to somehow label content the same across the board (be it digital data or reprints), is the same as "applying a value standard," which he also says is "ludicrous."
But according to United States title 17, U.S. Code, copyright itself is "a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to the authors of original works of authorship." As copyright relates to digital assets, the Copyright Office has denied a request from the Digital Media Association to initiate a rulemaking proceeding to decide whether a Webcasting service becomes interactive when a consumer exerts some influence on the programming offered by the service. It did recognize, however, that the amount and type of influence a consumer has on the programming offered by the transmitting entity will affect whether the activity is characterized as interactive or non-interactive. On this point, the Office determined that it would be unable to fashion a set of criteria or guidelines beyond those already set forth in the law, despite the latest Tasini verdict. The reaction from reprint companies varies, although a recent move suggests that the market is paying close attention to copyright.
A team effort
Recently, Reprint Management Services (RMS) and iCopyright.com partnered to establish parameters between digital rights initiatives and reprint profiteering. The alliance with the copyright licensing agency, according to Michael Biggerstaff, president of RMS, will provide publishers and reprint buyers with licensing online. "Publish-ers can focus on creating content," says Biggerstaff. "RMS and iCopyright will help them sell it and attract new readers in the process." The agreement comes under the auspices of reducing additional cost for monitoring licensing issues for which iCopyright is known. The company invented Instant Clear-ance Service, the only digital rights management solution that licenses and fulfills digital content instantly. It includes iCopyright Publisher Central, a suite of Web-based tools and services that enable publishers to implement the Clearance Service independently, as well as manage their online licensing and reprints business. By partnering with RMS, Biggerstaff explains that users will have options, including e-mail, formatted Web reprints, PDFs, custom and traditional reprints. "We believe we have the ultimate solution for both reprint buyers and those in need of online licensing. We're providing the ability to obtain customized reprints and e-prints in addition to copyright clearance," he says. The partnership marks a turning point for the reprints market.
And while some companies prefer to produce reprints the old-fashioned way, digital solutions are becoming more necessary to secure non-print rights. Though Tasini notes in a recent statement through the NWU, past infringement must also be compensated.
-Natalie Hope McDonald