By Guest Blogger, Larry Goldbetter, President of the National Writers Union
The National Writers Union is the nation’s only labor union and advocacy organization for freelance writers in all genres, media, and formats. In addition to print media writers, NWU represents electronic writers and editors of blogs, e-newsletters and web sites. NWU is affiliated with the United Auto Workers (UAW) and the AFL-CIO.
On March 2, the US Supreme Court voted 8-0 to uphold the $18 million settlement stemming from their landmark 2001 decision in New York Times Co. v. Tasini. In that case, brought by a former president of the National Writers Union (NWU) and others, the court ruled that publishers may not reproduce freelance works electronically without the specific permission of the authors. It was a major breakthrough for the NWU.
On February 18, NWU, the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) formally filed objections in Federal Court to the Google Book Settlement, asking the judge to reject the biggest theft of copyright in history. We plan on working more closely with both ASJA and SFWA in the future. Our participation in the fight attracted the attention of many writers and is already yielding new opportunities to organize.
We have been contacted by book authors in Canada, who joined us in opposing the Google rip-off and collected the signatures of 500 authors as part of their objection, which was entered in court. They are interested in building NWU in Canada. NWU member and award-winning author Ursula Le Guin organized 370 authors to sign a petition against the settlement, after publicly quitting the Authors Guild and sticking with the union. She has since sent them all a letter asking them to join NWU. Journalists in Ithaca, NY and New York City have also approached us about organizing. We will aggressively follow up on every opportunity.
And we are advancing the fight of 60 freelance writers, editors, graphic artists and translators who built a textbook for the Texas school systems and are owed over $360,000. The publisher, Houghton Miflin Harcourt (HMH), contracted the work out to a “development house” called Inkwell Solutions. Inkwell refused to pay the workers for three months, saying they were waiting for the money from HMH, and then closed their doors after the project was done. NWU and our parent union, the United Auto Workers (UAW), has provided a law firm to handle the case.
In the coming weeks and months we will be reaching out to writers in many ways. On March 27, we will be at the Columbia School of Journalism Job Fair, the largest journalism job fair in the nation. That same weekend we will be at the 10th Annual Black Writers Conference at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, NY. At both events we hope to sign up new, young writers and journalists. In April, we will participate at the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) annual meeting, which draws hundreds of writers to New York City. We have signed on to the Alliance for Labor and Immigrant Rights and will march on May Day in NYC with thousands of others. And we will be in Detroit for the US Social Forum, June 22-26, where we will lead some workshops and reach out to many writers, including international and immigrant writers and writers of color.
The hard times for writers, unions and all working people can be exciting times of opportunity. Our door is always open.