May 1996

Electronic rights in the USA

Atlantic Monthly throws in the towel

ATLANTIC MONTHLY has settled a two-and-a-half-year-old federal lawsuit, brought by a writer after the magazine licensed his article to an electronic database without consent.

The complaint against Atlantic by Rutgers University professor H. Bruce Franklin was part of a suit filed in 1993 with the support of the National Writers Union. The action pitted 11 writers against four publishers and two database producers.

Five of the six defendants -- the New York Times, Newsday, Time Inc. (for Sports Illustrated), and database companies Lexis-Nexis and UMI -- mounted a joint defence, while Atlantic fought alone... until it threw in the towel. The others so far are holding to the position that they were within their rights.

No-one's talking about how much Atlantic paid -- the settlement agreement gags both sides -- but the publisher pledged to negotiate with freelances for e-rights in the future.

The Wall Street Journal reported the development, but oddly enough, the story has been missing so far from the Times and other major media.

Atlantic seemed to be undercutting its own defence in December 1994, after computer users noted that many articles weren't to be seen in its America Online edition.

The online staff explained innocently: "Unfortunately, we do not have the electronic rights to articles published before November 1993."

Dan Carlinsky, ASJA, New York

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