US authors win in court

A US federal court in San Francisco has ruled against the Dialog Corporation's UnCover service on the issue of authors' rights in commercial copying as part of a class-action copyright infringement lawsuit by freelance authors. In a summary judgement order issued October 13, United States District Court Judge Fern M. Smith ruled that, under Section 201(c) of the Copyright Act, permission from authors is required for reproduction of their articles from collective works such as magazines and journals.

In October 1997, the authors sued UnCover, which is owned and operated by the CARL Corporation and Dialog, charging that UnCover violates authors' copyrights by reselling previously published articles without permission. UnCover sells over 1000 articles a day via an Internet index from 17,000 magazines and journals. Customers pay up to $10 per article copy.

The district court's ruling coincided with the emergence of new evidence that UnCover's practices included permanent storage of scanned articles on optical disks. The evidence called into question sworn statements made to the court by Ward Shaw, chairman and CEO of CARL and one of the founders of UnCover. Shaw had stated that articles were electronically stored for resale only when publishers granted permission. John D. Shuff, an attorney for the plaintiff-authors, described the practice as "a classic case of piracy against both publishers and authors."

UnCover was started by CARL in 1988. Both Denver-based companies were purchased in 1995 by Knight-Ridder Information, Inc. Last year Knight-Ridder Information was sold to the British information company M.A.I.D, which renamed the combined entity the Dialog Corporation plc.

THE San Francisco ruling may help in the US National Writers Union appeal against a judgement that members could not sue newspapers over unauthorised sales of articles through online databases. To the bafflement of many, a New York judge ruled that databases are not separate publications.

Nov/Dec 1998
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