The Society of Professional Journalists is one of several journalism organizations to sign on to an amicus brief in support of National Geographic in Faulkner v. National Geographic Society, a case on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The appeal stems from one of the many cases in the last decade relating to publishers’ rights to produce collective works.
This appeal specifically addresses contract law claims brought against publishers by contributors for the reproduction of previously published works. Standard contracts for a contributor’s works today allow for the republication of those works without additional payment to the contributor when the republication is done in the same context as the original work. Conversely, however, such contracts implicitly call for additional payment to a contributor when republished works are presented in a different context than the original.
The lower court in this case found that ambiguous contracts between National Geographic and its contributors should be interpreted in this spirit, and that this interpretation is consistent with the protection afforded to publishers by the Copyright Act. In doing so, the court held that this interpretation cannot be overcome except by express contractual language stating to the contrary.
The amicus brief on appeal will argue that the lower court was right in protecting publishers under the Copyright Act except in those situations were the contract specifically calls for payment when a contributor’s work is reproduced in the same context. It will also argue that maintaining the status quo is especially important in light of the multimedia age where works move fluidly among publishing platforms because it will encourage predictability for contributors and publishers alike.
This case does not harm a contributor’s ability to receive payment for the reproduction of his work when published in the same context of the original. It merely affirms that any such understanding must be expressly written into the contract.