Tasini is well known for the successful 2001 class action in which he was the named applicant against the New York Times. In that case the issue was the unauthorised digitisation of journalists’ content by the NY Times – a case in which the authors successfully affirmed their rights over digital publication of their works, and the consequent right to remuneration for it.
In April this year a class action against the Huffington Post over blogging content as part of a deal with AOL was initiated with Tasini again the named applicant. The claim values the blogging content (predominantly of established journalists) at $US 105 million. Tasini argues that he and other journalists provided content to the Huffington Post unpaid because it was being offered for the public good, and not for commercial profit of a corporation. On selling the Huffington Post, including the content journalists had provided on this understanding, the Huffington Post was unjustly enriched, and under this equitable doctrine should share in the commercial profit with the authors.
In a wide-ranging discussion, Tasini stated that the basis of his commitment to these causes is pursuit of fairness. He acknowledged that self-publication may not be the most advantageous economic strategy for individual authors – with publishers supplying the vital marketing and exposure for the works they trade. However, he asserted that digital offered greatly reduced costs for publishers in bringing works to market (warehousing and printing in this environment not required), and therefore the relative share to authors should increase.
I suggested that the share of rights between authors and publishers would need to take into account the different circumstances of different types of publishing. In particular works which are highly interactive – like a lot of commercially produced educational publications. In this area publishers often have to invest large sums for IT specialists, animators, and other audio-visual content creators for the production of content. Another audience member also stated that the role of professional editing supplied by traditional publishers must also be taken into account.
Tasini countered that while he may not be aware of the particular circumstances of all types of publishing, the basic premise that authors must be paid fairly for their work would always apply.
We can expect to hear a lot more from Tasini in the near future: he is moving to Sydney from February 2012 with the intention of staying for at least a year and maybe five.
– Post by Zoe Rodriguez, Copyright Agency