Thursday, July 03, 2008

Copyrights and Back Issues

An important decision on a dispute that has been rumbling for years in the US

Back-to-back rulings by federal appellate courts in Atlanta and New York favoring the National Geographic Society will allow magazine and newspaper publishers to transfer their published archives to computer discs and sell them commercially without infringing on freelance contributors' copyrights. ....... the 11th Circuit majority determined that because National Geographic's digital library reproduced complete magazine issues "exactly as they are presented in the print version," publishers retained the privilege of reproducing them under federal copyright laws without renegotiating contracts with their writers and photographers. (see report at

The British courts may not follow the American courts in this decision, but we have always felt that it is common sense that a magazine which is an exact and faithful replica of a print edition should be treated in the same way as the print issue from the point of view of licensing and copyrights (we especially like the phrasing of the court "exactly as they are presented in the print version," could the judge have taken out a subscription to Exact Editions before he coined his phrase?).

Photographers and picture agencies will feel that profitable exploitation of digital editions should have some beneficial consequences for photographers and illustrators. That should happen, provided publishers are able to develop effective digital publishing strategies. Not being able to include photographs or illustrations for rights reasons is not a practical way of developing a digital service. Without an effective digital publication publishers will be less able to afford fees for photos and illustrations. Lets hope that the British courts and the British picture agencies take notice of these specifically american rulings. Movement along these lines is in the interests of all the rights holders.

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