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Information Today letter

Dear Friends,

Below is my letter to the editor reprinted in its entirety
from the September 2001 issue of Information Today, with
the permission of Information Today, Inc., 143 Old Marlton
Pike, Medford, NJ 08055, 609/654-6266,


Barbara Quint's NewsBreak, "Stop the Trash Trucks: A *Tasini* Case
Damage-Control Proposal" [see
http://www.infotoday.com/newsbreaks/nb010716-1.htm as well as Quint's
Online on page 8], is characteristically thorough and sensible. As a
former assistant director of the National Writers Union and consultant to
the plaintiffs' attorneys in *Ryan v. CARL* -- a class action whose $7.25
million settlement similarly turned on Section 201(c) of the Copyright Act
-- I have only one point to add.

Ms. Quint is right to insist that the information community hold database
aggregators' feet to the fire by demanding an accounting of deleted
content. This, however, is not a new problem brought about by the latest
round of litigation results. As long ago as 1994, I was part of a writers
union campaign called "Operation Magazine Index," through which we
confronted, among others, Information Access Company (now Gale Group). Our
experience was that when authors, individually or collectively, questioned
the offering of their works in for-profit products, the operator simply
deleted those articles. Sometimes the person registering the complaint was
so informed; however, users never were. Indeed, this was a source of some
frustration for us, since our objective was to spur comprehensive
negotiations, not to turn databases into undisclosed Swiss cheese. We
overestimated the conscience of the putative keepers of the historical
record when it came to maintaining its integrity.

In the wake of *Tasini*, information consumers need to know that writers
are not the enemy. There was a new revenue stream from which only
publishers profited, without the permission of the rights holders. We
thought that was wrong, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia, and five
other justices agreed. As the American Library Association recognized,
there is ultimately an overall benefit to public access in giving
individual creators, as well as large corporations, the right to exploit
previously published works in new media. Far from feeling compelled to
charge every kind of user for "every bit and byte," we are now simply free
to choose to give our stuff away in appropriate circumstances -- but from
a foundation of dignity and respect.

Irvin Muchnick
Berkeley, CA

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