Major media companies say the 7-2 decision means they now must begin removing hundreds of thousands of articles, photos, and drawings from their digital archives.
The dispute is just one of several arising as traditional copyright law struggles to come to terms with the possibilities created by the information age, according to the Washington Post.
Most copyright laws were written at a time when ink and paper were the dominant means of storing and sending information; but the arrival of computers and the Internet has created challenges to many long-held views on intellectual property.
The law "does not authorize the copying at issue here," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the court majority. "Both the print publishers and the electronic publishers, we rule, have infringed the copyrights of the free-lance authors."
Justices Stephen Breyer and John Paul Stevens dissented from the opinion.
Jonathan Tasini, a freelance writer who first brought the case against The New York Times in 1993, called on the publishers to immediately begin negotiating with writers over fees for using the material in digital form without permission.
"Now, it's time for the media industry to pay creators their fair share, and let's sit down and negotiate over this today," said Tasini, who besides being one of the six plaintiffs in the suit is president of the National Writers Union.
The Times, however, has indicated that it may simply remove freelance material from its public databases.
The suit also names Newsday Inc. and Time Inc. as defendants.
To view the Washington Post story, click here.
lishers must get the permission of freelance writers, photographers, and illustrators before making their work available on the Internet, on CD-ROMs, or in electronic databases, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday.