The case of Tasini v. New York Times, which the Supreme Court will hear soon, turns on technical language in copyright law, but it has raised a larger issue between historians and freelance writers, whose work might be said to be the raw material of history. The freelancers, led by Jonathan Tasini, president of the National Writers Union, challenge the Times‘s and other newspapers’ claim that they have the right to post articles on databases like Lexis-Nexis without compensation to the writers. The writers argue that they should be cut a share of the revenue generated by this recycling of their work. The publishers and databases say that Internet or CD-ROM compilations of newspaper articles are simply an extension of the original publication, as permitted by copyright law. If the writers win, the publishers fear they’ll be vulnerable to lawsuits by ink-stained wretches and so will be forced to excise freelance articles from their databases. That specter haunts the historians, who bemoan the loss of this material from the historical record. We respect the historians’ farseeing dedication to historical truth, but we also believe writers deserve compensation in the here and now. As George Bernard Shaw told Sam Goldwyn, who made an unsatisfactory offer for the screen rights to his plays: “The trouble, Mr. Goldwyn, is that you are only interested in art, and I am only interested in money.”


Doug Ireland writes: Paris became the first national capital to choose an openly gay candidate for mayor, in the second round of municipal voting on March 18 (see Frédéric Martel, “Retour du Socialisme?” March 19). Socialist Bertrand Delanoë led the “plural left” coalition to a resounding victory, giving the left a sizable governing majority on the municipal council (which actually elects the mayor), carrying two-thirds of the city’s arrondissements against a divided right (although the two conservative tickets’ scores, if combined, would have given the right a majority of votes cast). About half of the 10,000-plus crowd that celebrated Delanoë’s victory in front of the Hotel de Ville were gay. Lyons, France’s second city, also fell to the left for the first time since 1957. But where the right was united, it won: Forty cities and towns with incumbent left governments passed to the conservatives. All this spells trouble for Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in next year’s presidential and legislative elections. Biggest winner: the Greens, who scored heavily everywhere in the first round of voting, becoming the second-largest force in the left coalition.


The Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional a South Carolina public hospital’s policy of requiring women in a prenatal care program to take drug tests (see Rachel Roth, “Policing Pregnancy,” October 16, 2000). If the women (mostly poor and African-American) tested positive, they were threatened with arrest unless they entered a treatment program. Some thirty women landed in jail. Writing for the 6-to-3 majority, Justice John Paul Stevens ruled that the policy was an unconstitutional search and seizure. It’s no secret that the fetal-rights groups inspired the policy. The Supreme Court’s decision affirms the proposition that pregnant women do have rights–even if they are poor and black.


Nation Associates are taking action against Big Pharma (see John le Carré, page 11) by bombarding the CEOs of multinational drug companies with protest letters, signing Internet petitions and supporting legislation to stop sanctions on countries that import or produce generic versions of patented drugs. To find out more about Nation Associates, e-mail associates@thenation.com