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Free-lance writers group sues for online royalties

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A group of free-lance writers has filed a federal suit arguing they should get part of the fees that online publishers charge customers for downloading articles on the Internet.

The group wants royalties from Illinois-based Bell & Howell Information & Learning Co.; Massachusetts-based Northern Light Technology Corp.; and Toronto-based Thomson Corp. and its subsidiaries, Gale Group Inc. and Thomson Business Information.

Database operators often pay publishers for the material and then charge online users to download them. Writers generally do not receive a cut of the money. The writers in the suit claim that is a violation of copyright law because they never signed away the rights to their work.

The writers are seeking class-action status, which means as many as 10,000 writers could be affected.

The suit lists four articles the publishers allegedly resold without permission: an excerpt from the book "Citizen Perot: His Life and Times," by Gerald Posner; "Roberto Clemente Went to Bat for All Latin Ballplayers," a Smithsonian magazine article by Jay Feldman; and an excerpt from the book "The American Way of Birth," by Jessica Mitford.

David Seuss, chief executive of Northern Light, one of the companies named in the suit, said the company has 20 million articles in its database and has no way of knowing what contract terms writers and publishers agreed to before the company bought the material.

He said the company will delete copyrighted articles from its database.