New York Times Co. v. Tasini
533 U.S. 483 (2001)

Annotate this Case

OCTOBER TERM, 2000

Syllabus

NEW YORK TIMES CO., INC., ET AL. v. TASINI ET AL.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

No.00-201. Argued March 28, 200l-Decided June 25, 2001

Respondent freelance authors (Authors) wrote articles (Articles) for newspapers and a magazine published by petitioners New York Times Company (Times), Newsday, Inc. (Newsday), and Time, Inc. (Time). The Times, Newsday, and Time (Print Publishers) engaged the Authors as independent contractors under contracts that in no instance secured an Author's consent to placement of an Article in an electronic database. The Print Publishers each licensed rights to copy and sell articles to petitioner LEXIS/NEXIS, owner and operator of NEXIS. NEXIS is a computerized database containing articles in text-only format from hundreds of periodicals spanning many years. Subscribers access NEXIS through a computer, may search for articles using criteria such as author and subject, and may view, print, or download each article yielded by the search. An article's display identifies its original print publication, date, section, initial page number, title, and author, but each article appears in isolation-without visible link to other stories originally published in the same periodical edition. NEXIS does not reproduce the print publication's formatting features such as headline size and page placement. The Times also has licensing agreements with petitioner University Microfilms International (UMI), authorizing reproduction of Times materials on two CD-ROM products. One, the New York Times OnDisc (NYTO), is a text-only database containing Times articles presented in essentially the same way they appear in LEXIS/NEXIS. The other, General Periodicals OnDisc (GPO), is an image-based system that reproduces the Times' Sunday Book Review and Magazine exactly as they appeared on the printed pages, complete with photographs, captions, advertisements, and other surrounding materials. The two CD-ROM products are searchable in much the same way as LEXIS/NEXIS; in both, articles retrieved by users provide no links to other articles appearing in the original print publications.

The Authors filed this suit, alleging that their copyrights were infringed when, as permitted and facilitated by the Print Publishers, LEXIS/NEXIS and UMI (Electronic Publishers) placed the Articles in NEXIS, NYTO, and GPO (Databases). The Authors sought declaratory and injunctive relief, and damages. In response to the Authors' complaint, the Print and Electronic Publishers raised the privilege ac-


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corded collective work copyright owners by § 201(c) of the Copyright Act. That provision, pivotal in this case, reads: "Copyright in each separate contribution to a collective work is distinct from copyright in the collective work as a whole, and vests initially in the author of the contribution. In the absence of an express transfer of the copyright or of any rights under it, the owner of copyright in the collective work is presumed to have acquired only the privilege of reproducing and distributing the contribution as part of that particular collective work, any revision of that collective work, and any later collective work in the same series." The District Court granted the Publishers summary judgment, holding, inter alia, that the Databases reproduced and distributed the Authors' works, in § 201 (c)'s words, "as part of ... [a] revision of that collective work" to which the Authors had first contributed. The Second Circuit reversed, granting the Authors summary judgment on the ground that the Databases were not among the collective works covered by § 201(c), and specifically, were not "revisions" of the periodicals in which the Articles first appeared.

Held: Section 201(c) does not authorize the copying at issue here. The Publishers are not sheltered by § 201(c) because the Databases reproduce and distribute articles standing alone and not in context, not "as part of that particular collective work" to which the author contributed, "as part of ... any revision" thereof, or "as part of ... any later collective work in the same series." Pp.493-506.

(a) Where, as here, a freelance author has contributed an article to a collective work, copyright in the contribution vests initially in its author. § 201(c). Copyright in the collective work vests in the collective author (here, the Print Publisher) and extends only to the creative material contributed by that author, not to "the preexisting material employed in the work," § 103(b). Congress enacted the provisions of the 1976 revision of the Copyright Act at issue to address the unfair situation under prior law, whereby authors risked losing their rights when they placed an article in a collective work. The 1976 Act recast the copyright as a bundle of discrete "exclusive rights," § 106, each of which "may be transferred ... and owned separately," § 201(d)(2). The Act also provided, in § 404(a), that "a single notice applicable to the collective work as a whole is sufficient" to protect the rights of freelance contributors. Together, § 404(a) and § 201(c) preserve the author's copyright in a contribution to a collective work. Under § 201(c)'s terms, a publisher could reprint a contribution from one issue in a later issue of its magazine, and could reprint an article from one edition of an encyclopedia in a later revision of it, but could not revise the contribution itself or include it in a new anthology or an entirely different collective work. Es-


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