Category Archives: Reaching Readers

Making In-Copyright Works Open Access:
A Report From Iceland

Posted November 15, 2017
Typewriter with Icelandic keyboard

Photo by Rob McKaughan | CC BY-NC-SA

The island nation of Iceland—about the size of Virginia, and with a population of around 300,000—might be one of the smallest in the world, but it enjoys a robust influence on literature and culture that’s out of all proportion with its size. Thanks to a long tradition of universal literacy, a booming publishing industry, and an enthusiastic reading public, Iceland is home to a great many authors, some of whom are eager to make their books available online.

To help address this need, Professor Ian Watson of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology undertook a project to help some of these authors release their out-of-print books online under Creative Commons licenses. His article, “Assisting Living Authors in Opening Access to Their In-Copyright Works: A Report From Iceland,” details his experience with author-by-author rights clearance. Watson worked with authors to digitize their books (if they were not already part of Google Books) and ensure that their permissions status in HathiTrust was fully open. Watson’s results were successful overall, with 31 of 36 authors responding favorably to the idea of opening their works. Ultimately, 28  works were made newly available online. (The difficulties that did arise were most often bureaucratic or technological, rather than the result of unwillingness by authors or publishers to cooperate.)

Head shot of Ian Watson

Authors Alliance: You are a longtime advocate for open access, as well as the former editor of an OA journal [Bifröst Journal of Social Science]. How did you first become interested in OA?  What do you see as its main benefits?

Ian Watson: I got interested in open access in 2008, originally because I saw that it was the best way to publish written work by scholars at the university in Iceland where I was working. The university wanted to start a journal to help its employees get their research published. If we had held their work back and given it out only to those willing to pay for a paper copy, very few people would have ever read what they wrote, and administering payments and subscriptions would have taken hours of work. I offered to set up an open-access website for the journal using OJS, in addition to printing a few paper copies. This appealed to our open-minded rector. Later on, I also realized that open access was the right approach for many books and monographs in Iceland.

AuAll: How do you view the current state of OA? What changes have you observed over the years? What would you like to see in the future of OA publishing?

IW: Open access is well accepted and supported these days, and that’s wonderful. Still, too much new scholarship is being published behind toll barriers. Too many books and papers are still published in the old guard of high-prestige, toll-access presses and journals.

The rise of sites like SciHub that circumvent the existing legal framework signal that the market for scholarly journal articles is not yet in equilibrium; in the long run, I think it will just be very hard to sustain charging high prices for things that have a zero marginal cost. Just as users have long used public and university libraries for free, I think it’s inevitable that digital libraries will tend towards being free too.

It’s tremendously important to get the word out to authors that they can change the rights status of their work. At the same time, open-access advocates should be comfortable with the fact that there are many books that are still written to be sold and to make money, and that’s OK.

AuAll: You found that the majority of the authors that you contacted wanted to open up access to their works.  Why do you think these authors were enthusiastic about making their works newly available online?

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The “Sonny Bono Memorial Collection” and U.S. Copyright Terms

Posted November 7, 2017
Page spread from The Dictionary of American Slang

A Dictionary of American Slang, 1926 – One of the books in the Internet Archive’s new Sonny Bono Memorial Collection

Last month, the Internet Archive announced the launch of the “Sonny Bono Memorial Collection” — a set of digitized full-text books published in the U.S. between 1923 and 1941. The collection takes advantage of an obscure section of U.S. copyright law, section 108(h), which allows libraries and archives to reproduce, distribute, and display books that are in the last twenty years of copyright, provided that the work is neither obtainable at a reasonable price nor being commercially exploited.

The provision was included in the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA), which extended U.S. copyright terms for works by individual authors by twenty years.  CTEA resulted in a twenty year delay in some works entering the public domain: Works that were protected by copyright at the time the CTEA passed will not enter the public domain until 2019 or later. (The legislation is also known as the Sonny Bono Act because of Bono’s support of longer copyright terms during his tenure in the House of Representatives.)

The term extension had the effect of locking away countless works that would have been eligible to enter the public domain just as the promise of digitization and online access was beginning to emerge. Section 108(h) was added as a safety-valve to help ensure that the extended copyright term did not restrict public access to commercially unavailable works, providing a limitation on copyright that allows libraries and archives to rescue these works and make them available for research, scholarship, and preservation.

While section 108(h) allows for a step in the right direction, it’s not a cure-all. Determining a work’s eligibility is time-consuming and labor-intensive, and there are a number of variables to consider. But thanks to automation, the Internet Archive plans to add thousands of volumes to the collection. Professor Elizabeth Townsend Gard’s new paper gives libraries and archives guidance on how to implement section 108(h).

If your books are not eligible for inclusion in 108(h) collections, but you would like to see them freely available online, Authors Alliance can help.  Our rights reversion and termination of transfer resources provide strategies you can use to regain your rights in order to make them newly available. And together with Internet Archive, Authors Alliance can even help you to scan previously undigitized works to add them to our online collection just ask!

We hope that the Internet Archive’s leadership in implementing 108(h) inspires other libraries to create more “Last Twenty” collections and gives a second life to previously unavailable books.

Spotlight on Open Access & Innovative Academic Publishing Models

Posted October 25, 2017

Just in time for the start of the new academic year, Authors Alliance featured a series of Q&As with our members on the topic of open access and innovative academic publishing models. In celebration of Open Access Week, we’ve collected what these authors had to say about the benefits of making their works openly accessible.

 

Eric von Hippel (MIT) on the benefits of making his books, Free Innovation, The Sources of Innovation, and Democratizing Innovation, openly accessible:

“The increase in readership I have experienced by going OA is really worth it to me—it makes me very happy. Evidence to date is that about 10 times more eBooks are downloaded than print copies are sold, so I guesstimate that I am reaching about 10 times more people with the ideas I find exciting than I could have done in the pre-OA era.”

“It especially makes me happy that now teachers can assign even a single chapter of one of my books in a class in a developing country if they wish, without worrying about burdening students with any purchase costs.”

 

Read the full interview with Professor von Hippel here.

 

James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins (Duke) on the benefits of openly publishing their law school casebook, Intellectual Property: Law & the Information Society – Cases & Materials:

“…[T]he benefits of openness come out in other surprising ways. For example, visually impaired students have told us they really appreciate an open electronic text that can be customized using their favorite programs—to produce a machine-generated audiobook, for example, in whatever format they choose.

“[I]t is striking how much tangible benefit in terms of citation, influence, and so on that [making our book openly accessible] has yielded. When it comes to open access to scholarship, doing good can be very compatible with doing well.”

 

Read the full interview with Professors Boyle and Jenkins here.

 

Barton Beebe (NYU) on the benefits of publishing Trademark Law: An Open Source Casebook as an open access work:

“I sort of love that so many students are using my book and that they didn’t have to pay for it. That’s worth more to me than whatever royalties I would get through the for-profit model.”

“I think the main result of using the open access model is that a lot more people have used the book and so maybe it has had more influence than it otherwise might have.”

 

Read the full interview with Professor Beebe here.

 

For more information about open access, including our guidebook and more success stories, check out our Open Access resource page.

ICYMI: Books on Open Access & Copyright Featuring
Authors Alliance Members

Posted October 24, 2017

Here at Authors Alliance, we like to keep up our copyright chops all year ’round, and we know that many of our readers do, too. In honor of Open Access Week, we’re re-posting this list, originally shared over the summer, of new books featuring Authors Alliance members. Best of all, three of the four titles are openly accessible and available to read in full online!

Screen-Shot-2017-06-13-at-11.29.05-AMFirst up is Creativity without Law: Challenging the Assumptions of Intellectual Property,  edited by Kate Darling and Aaron Perzanowski, and published by NYU Press. This collection features essays about diverse creative communities by a number of noted IP scholars (and Authors Alliance members!), including David Fagundes, Aaron Perzanowski, Christopher Sprigman, Katherine Strandburg, Rebecca Tushnet, and Eric Von Hippel.

The book demonstrates how creative endeavors, from cinema and fanfic to fine cuisine and roller derby, push the boundaries and assumptions of intellectual property through community norms and self-regulation. As Perzanowski and Darling write in their introduction, “While IP is a crucial tool for maintaining creative incentives in some industries, scholars of creativity already understand that the assumptions underlying the IP system largely ignore the range of powerful non-economic motivations that compel creative efforts. From painters to open source developers, many artists and inventors are moved to create, not by the hope for monetary return, but by innate urges that are often quite resistant to financial considerations.”

In a similar vein is Made by Creative ComMade With Creative Commons - Covermons, by Paul Stacey and Sarah Hinchliff Pearson. It’s a collection of real-life examples that highlights the advantages of using CC licenses, both for sharing work and for building a sustainable business model. Case studies include everything from the party game Cards Against Humanity to the Public Library of Science (PLoS) to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

“Part analysis, part handbook, part collection of case studies, we see Made With Creative Commons as a guide to sharing your knowledge and creativity with the world, and sustaining your operation while you do. It makes the case that sharing is good for business, especially for companies, organizations, and creators who care about more than just the bottom line. Full of practical advice and inspiring stories, Made with Creative Commons is a book that will show you what it really means to share.”

The book is available as a free download (under a CC license, of course!), and may also be purchased in a print edition.

9781760460808-b-thumb-copyright Out in paperback from Australian National University Press is What if We Could Reimagine Copyright?, a collection of essays by international scholars about the possibilities of copyright, edited by Authors Alliance members Rebecca Giblin and Kimberlee Weatherall. Like Creative Commons, ANU Press offers the book as a free download, as well as in print.

“What if we could start with a blank slate, and write ourselves a brand new copyright system? What if we could design a law, from scratch, unconstrained by existing treaty obligations, business models and questions of political feasibility? Would we opt for radical overhaul, or would we keep our current fundamentals? Which parts of the system would we jettison? Which would we keep? In short, what might a copyright system designed to further the public interest in the current legal and sociological environment actually look like? Taking this thought experiment as their starting point, the leading international thinkers represented in this collection reconsider copyright’s fundamental questions: the subject matter that should be protected, the ideal scope and duration of those rights, and how it should be enforced.”

Free Innovation - CoverFinally, we recommend Free Innovation by Eric Von Hippel, available in full as an open access title from MIT Press.

“Free innovation has both advantages and drawbacks. Because free innovators are self-rewarded by such factors as personal utility, learning, and fun, they often pioneer new areas before producers see commercial potential. At the same time, because they give away their innovations, free innovators generally have very little incentive to invest in diffusing what they create, which reduces the social value of their efforts.

The best solution, von Hippel and his colleagues argue, is a division of labor between free innovators and producers, enabling each to do what they do best. The result will be both increased producer profits and increased social welfare—a gain for all.”

 

Authors Alliance Teams Up With UC Berkeley for Open Access Week

Posted October 23, 2017

cover of Understanding Open Access guide

This Open Access Week, Authors Alliance is partnering with the UC Berkeley Library for a panel on dissertation publishing and impact, to be held on Tuesday, October 24. (To attend, please register here.) Earlier this year, the UC Berkeley Library published two posts that highlight the challenges of open access publishing—and what can be done to address those obstacles.

Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, Berkeley’s University Librarian (and an Authors Alliance board member), is also a professor of economics. His statement about the economics of scholarly publishing discusses the scholarly publishing landscape in the context of unsustainable licensing fees that place an ever-increasing burden on libraries. Publishers’ profits are soaring while library budgets are being slashed.

But there is support for open access (“OA”) publishing, and new funding models provide badly needed financial support for authors who wish to publish their works openly. Berkeley’s Scholarly Communication Officer, Rachael Samberg, explains the Berkeley Research Impact Initiative (BRII) program, which offers subsidies to authors wishing to publish open access— not only journal articles, but monographs as well.

Our Guide to Understanding Open Access provides an overview of when, why, and how to make works openly available, and is just one of the many resources featured on our website. The guide is available to download (open access, of course!) and may also be purchased from our store.

The full slate of campus OA Week events can be found here. And check out Berkeley’s Scholarly Communication Services page for an excellent introduction to a wealth of topics on copyright, open access, and more.

Authors Alliance & Creative Commons Launch New Termination of Transfer Tool

Posted October 11, 2017

creative commons infographic

Authors Alliance and Creative Commons are pleased to announce the official launch of our jointly-stewarded Termination of Transfer tool, now available at rightsback.org. The tool is designed to help authors navigate the “termination of transfer” provisions of U.S. copyright law.

Authors who enter into publishing, recording, or other types of agreements involving their creative works are routinely asked to sign away their rights for the life of copyright—which generally lasts 70 years after the author dies in the United States. Fortunately, authors do have options if they come to regret these decisions and want to share (or renegotiate the terms of sharing) at a later date. The termination of transfer provisions, when exercised properly, let authors walk away from or renegotiate their copyright transfers. The key feature that makes these rights so powerful is that termination rights can’t be signed away. They apply “notwithstanding any agreement to the contrary.”

Termination of transfer allows creators (or, in some cases, their family members) to regain copyrights to creative works they may have signed away decades ago. Our tool helps them understand if those termination rights exist, and if not, when they may exist in the future. With rights back in hand, authors have many options for getting their works in front of new audiences, from sharing their works with the public using a Creative Commons license to negotiating new agreements with publishers.

Though these termination rights are an extremely powerful boon for authors, exercising them can be daunting. The law is complex and difficult to navigate, requiring attention to detail and careful timing. The termination process is only available within a five-year window, and can only be exercised if notice is provided significantly in advance of the actual termination.

Rightsback.org is the result of a partnership between Authors Alliance and Creative Commons, and draws on the expertise of both organizations to demystify this little-known area of U.S. law. The tool provides basic information about the eligibility and timing of termination rights based on user input, along with suggestions on next steps that authors may wish to take in securing rights.  While this tool is currently U.S.-based only, Creative Commons plans to develop a database of other country laws that enable authors and creators to similarly terminate or reclaim their rights when their agreements are governed by those other laws.

We encourage users to try out the tool and to contact us with any questions or suggestions. We are excited to share this resource with our creative communities, and look forward to your comments!

Authors Alliance and Creative Commons are grateful to the Arcadia Fund, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, for their generous support of the creation of the Termination of Transfer tool. See our full list of personnel and thank-yous at rightsback.org/about.

Spotlight on Open Access and Academic Publishing:
James Boyle & Jennifer Jenkins’ Open IP Casebook

Posted August 29, 2017
“The 1950’s distribution mechanism for the casebook…
needs to go the way of the whale oil merchant,
the typing pool and the travel agent.”
— James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins

Cover of IP textbookThis summer, Authors Alliance founding members James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins released the latest legal supplement to the third edition of their law school casebook, Intellectual Property: Law & the Information Society – Cases & Materials. As part of our series on innovative publishing models, we are featuring their insightful examination of the pros and cons of their model, and why they ultimately chose to forgo traditional textbook publishing.

Boyle and Jenkins have written extensively about their experience with writing a casebook and distributing it freely online under a Creative Commons license, and in 2015, when the book was first released, they co-authored a law review article of FAQs on open legal educational materials:

“Why do we do this? Partly, we do it because we think the price of legal casebooks and materials is obscene. Law students, who are already facing large debt burdens, are required to buy casebooks that cost $150–$200, and “statutory supplements” that consist mainly of unedited, public domain, Federal statutes for $40 or $50. The total textbook bill for a year can be over $1500. This is not a criticism of casebook authors, but rather of the casebook publishing system. […] Legal education is already expensive; we want to play a small part in diminishing the costs of the materials involved.”

“This is a broken market and one that reflects troubling pedagogical and, to be quite frank, moral choices on the part of both authors and publishers.”

We highly recommend the entire FAQ article for its thoughtful approach to an alternative publishing model, and—thanks to open access—it is available to read in full. We recently caught up with Boyle and Jenkins to ask specifically about their experiences from the authors’ perspective; here’s what they had to tell us:

Authors Alliance: What kind of feedback have you received from your students?

Boyle & Jenkins: They have generally been very positive. Obviously the price is nicer, particularly if it is free, but the benefits of openness come out in other surprising ways.  For example, visually impaired students have told us they really appreciate an open electronic text that can be customized using their favorite programs—to produce a machine-generated audiobook, for example, in whatever format they choose.  Other students like the ability to grab chunks of the textbook and paste directly into their notes.  For law students who often can’t get electronic versions of their—very heavy—casebooks, being able to take the casebook home for Thanksgiving is a plus.

AuAll: Do you have a key piece of advice or encouragement for other authors looking to follow your example? Anything you wish you’d known before you started?

Boyle: Just do it! As far as things we learned—I’d been doing open publishing since I was part of the founding of Creative Commons, so I probably had a head start—but we were surprised and delighted by the way in which openness changes the adoption of a textbook from a 0/1 decision—you do or you don’t—to something in which someone can grab our chapter on the history of copyright, or the economics of intellectual property, and pop it into their class without disrupting anything else.  As we say in the article, it is the shift from the “album” version of textbooks, in which you must by all or none, to the iTunes version where you can take a single track.

AuAll: Are there any other comments/insights that you would like to share with your fellow Authors Alliance members?

B&J: Both of us would say that we believe in Authors Alliance because we think open access to scholarly work is a moral imperative wherever it is reasonably possible.  But in our own lives, it is striking how much tangible benefit in terms of citation, influence, and so on that strategy has yielded.  When it comes to open access to scholarship, doing good can be very compatible with doing well.

James Boyle is William Neal Reynolds Professor of Law and co-founder of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke Law School. Jennifer Jenkins is a Clinical Professor of Law and Director of Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain.

 

 

Spotlight on Open Access and Academic Publishing:
A Q&A With Eric von Hippel

Posted August 15, 2017

headshot of Eric von Hippel

Just in time for the 2017 back-to-school season, we’re featuring a series of posts on alternatives to traditional publishing models. Earlier this year, Authors Alliance advisory board member and MIT professor Eric von Hippel released his book Free Innovation under a Creative Commons license—the newest addition to his online collection of freely available works. We asked him about his experiences with rights reversion, open access, and how academic authors and publishers can help to make books openly available.

Authors Alliance: You successfully regained the rights to your 1988 book The Sources of Innovation from Oxford University Press (OUP). How did you secure a reversion of rights? What have you been able to do with your book since reversion?

Eric von Hippel: When I contracted with OUP for my first book in the 1980s, I was not aware of open access as a possibility, so I simply signed a standard contract giving all rights to OUP. About 20 years later, I had become very interested in open access. I therefore asked OUP to allow me to conduct an experiment. OUP would allow me to post a free electronic version on my MIT website. If hard copy sales declined in the next period, I would pay OUP $1,000 as compensation for lost sales. If they went up, OUP would keep the profits and allow me to keep posting the free version. OUP agreed to these terms. Happily, sales of printed copies went up, so I was able to keep posting the free version from then on.

With respect to actually getting back the copyright for Sources of Innovation so I could go fully open access: About 5 years ago, my excellent activist OA colleagues (thanks especially to Ellen Finnie Duranceau of MIT) told me that I had a window of time in which I could get the copyright returned to me. That window was fast-approaching in the case of my 1988 book, so I simply wrote to my editor at OUP, asking him to give me back the copyright without my having to go through the formal process as dictated by the law. Sales were low at that point, so he simply said “fine,” and wrote me a letter transferring all rights back to me.

AuAll: We’ve written previously about MIT Press’ pioneering approach to open access. To date, you’ve published two books with MIT: Democratizing Innovation and Free Innovation. Your publication contract with MIT gave you the right to post free ebooks from the very beginning, ensuring that both books were “born open access.” Based on your experience, can you offer some advice to other authors—and publishers—who want to embrace this model?

EvH: In response to your question, I talked to my editor at MIT Press to see if they had by now evolved a standard set of OA practices. Turns out they have not. They are still experimenting. Sometimes, depending on specifics of a book—for example, is it a textbook?—their experiments result in negative financial consequences for the Press relative to their sales projections. Sometimes the consequences are financially quite acceptable. Things are also changing quite rapidly in terms of book-reading behaviors. Specifically with respect to my own books with MIT Press, the 2005 book had very acceptable print sales despite the availability of a free eBook version. The jury is still out on my new 2017 book.

Frankly, these days authors have to insist on an open access eBook option if they are to have a hope of getting a publisher to agree. And, they very well might be turned down even if they do insist. As we know, academic presses are not hugely profitable, and they cannot afford to take big risks. I have a feeling that a standard OA option that may emerge in the end will be something like the model now increasingly offered by publishers of academic articles: If authors want open access, they may increasingly have to agree to pay a fee to compensate publishers for (possibly) lower print copy sales.

AuAll: How did you select which Creative Commons license to apply to these books?

EvH: I really did not know which one to use—I just sort of chose the license others seemed to be using without really understanding the pros and cons. I will be able to make a more informed choice using information supplied by Authors Alliance by the time decision-making for my next book comes around. [Chapter Four of Authors Alliance’s guide to Understanding Open Access has additional information about selecting an open access license.]

AuAll: What results do you see from publishing your books openly? What do you see as the pros and cons of embracing this model?

Like most academic authors, I write books to have them read, not to earn royalties. The increase in readership I have experienced by going OA is really worth it to me—it makes me very happy. Evidence to date is that about 10 times more eBooks are downloaded than print copies are sold, so I guesstimate that I am reaching about 10 times more people with the ideas I find exciting than I could have done in the pre-OA era. It especially makes me happy that now teachers can assign even a single chapter of one of my books in a class in a developing country if they wish, without worrying about burdening students with any purchase costs.

Personally, I don’t see any negatives with respect to going OA—only positives. I actually feel very proud that I can contribute to my colleagues and to scholarship in this enhanced way. I am very grateful to the Authors Alliance for making it easier for me and many others to accomplish an Open Access outcome.

AuAll: Do you have any other suggestions for authors on how they can make their works available in the ways that they want?

EvH: Open Access is a wonderful goal—but as a young academic, please don’t feel guilt or failure if you cannot negotiate open access agreements right from the start. At the beginning of an academic career, very few of us have much leverage with publishers to negotiate for open access. Certainly, in the case of my first book I was at the start of my academic work and had zero leverage. In fact I was just very happy to get published by a good academic press like OUP, and would have signed pretty much any “standard terms” they asked for.

If this is your case too, I would urge you not to feel badly if you have to sign a traditional contract assigning all rights to your publisher. Better to survive the academic rites of passage. You will have a long academic career, and will have increasing abilities to demand and negotiate open access for your work as your reputation grows.

AuAll: We are honored to count you among the advisory board members of Authors Alliance. Thank you for sharing your experiences with our readers!

EvH: I am totally proud to serve on the Advisory Board. Pam Samuelson, as we all know, was a crucial founding member of Authors Alliance. She was the one who asked me to join. In my experience, Pam has wonderful instincts about what will help scholars and scholarship with respect to openness, and I signed on to support both her and this wonderful idea.

(As a side story in closing—I should mention that I tend to regard Pam Samuelson as akin to an unstoppable force of nature when she gets behind something she believes in. I still remember hearing about and worrying about the (ultimately defeated) proposed settlement between Google and commercial publishers a few years back. At a certain point, Google felt the agreement was in the bag. They then began sending lawyers around around the country to inform academic authors and others about how we could expect to function in the new world they envisioned. Indeed, they said, they were sure we would learn to love that new world over time. In fact, many academics were strongly against that proposed settlement for very good reasons, but things looked very bleak for the resistance at that time.

Then one day I heard that Pam had taken up the cause and was working hard against it with a few others. To the inexperienced eye, Pam and her colleagues were a small and lonely academic crew against mighty Google legal phalanxes that extended to the horizon like an endless sea of Orcs. However, as soon as I heard Pam was in the fight I immediately relaxed. Indeed, I remember thinking as I listened to a talk at the Boston Public Library by the very confident Google lawyers: Can’t they see what is coming next? Don’t they know they are now the walking (actually, limousine-riding) dead—about to experience the equivalent of the Lord of the Rings Ghost Army?)

So, in sum: Right on Pam, and right on, Authors Alliance! Keep it up! We are proud to be in this battle for Open Access with you!

Eric von Hippel is T. Wilson Professor of Innovation Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and is also Professor of Engineering Systems at MIT.  von Hippel graduated from Harvard College (BA), MIT (MS), and Carnegie Mellon University.  He is the recipient of three honorary doctorates, and numerous honors and academic prizes, such as the Humboldt Foundation Research Prize (2013), and the EU “Innovation Luminary” Award in 2015. 

von Hippel is known for his research into the sources of and economics of innovation. He has written three books on these topics, and also has published many articles in innovation management, ranging from the theoretical to the very practical.  Digital copies of all his books can be downloaded for free online from his MIT website at https://evhippel.mit.edu/books/

Internet Archive’s Open Libraries Project:
A Treasure Trove for Readers and Authors

Posted July 11, 2017
Photo of book and Open LIbrary card

Photograph courtesy of the Internet Archive

In February of this year, the Internet Archive was chosen as one of eight semi-finalists in the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change grant competition, which will award the winner with $100 million to address an urgent problem of worldwide importance. The Internet Archive’s Open Libraries proposal is a bold and ambitious plan which would digitize over 4 million books and put them in the hands of readers around the world, many of whom face significant barriers to accessing knowledge. Making works available on this unprecedented scale would clearly be a tremendous benefit not only for students, scholars, researchers, and the general public—but also for authors.

As an organization dedicated to widespread access to information for the public good, many of our members have firsthand knowledge of the issues the Open Libraries project aims to solve. The Internet has made information and creative works available in ways unimaginable just a generation ago, but its potential in this regard is still largely unrealized. Authors face a host of technical, legal, and financial barriers that prevent them from sharing their works that are out of print, un-digitized, and/or subject to copyrights signed away long before the digital age. Rights reversion and terminations of transfers may be an option for some authors to regain rights (as the Authors Alliance collection of books in the Internet Archive can attest), but the fact remains that millions of books—especially those that have fallen out of print—are, for all intents and purposes, unavailable.

For many readers around the world, digitized books are not merely a more convenient means to access works—they may be the only way to do so. Even if a book happens to be available in a local library, there are many readers who are nonetheless unable to access it due to infirmity or a print disability. Readers in the developing world are hungry for knowledge, but their access to it is often severely limited. Online books may well be their only route to an education and its lifelong benefits. Many authors care deeply about making sure their works are available to these readers, and worry that gaps in digital availability prevent these readers from accessing their books.

Digital libraries also create new opportunities for authors from under-represented communities to reach readers. Communities of color, the disabled, students, seniors, the incarcerated, LGBTQI people, and religious minorities are just some of the voices that have historically been at the margins of mainstream publishing. By proactively identifying and including vast numbers of works that may be largely unavailable via traditional channels, the Internet Archive would dramatically increase the diversity of knowledge available online, and put it in the hands of those who would otherwise have limited or no access.

A new round of finalists for the 100&Change grant will be announced in September. We at Authors Alliance wish the Internet Archive success as the competition moves forward throughout this summer and fall!

Digitizing the MIT Press Backlist: A Q&A With Amy Brand

Posted June 27, 2017

Headshot of Amy Brand, Director of the MIT Press

Earlier this year, the MIT Press and Internet Archive announced a partnership to digitize books from the Press’ backlist and make them available online. We caught up with Amy Brand, Director of the Press, to ask about the collaboration and how publishers can help to make books openly available.

AUTHORS ALLIANCE: We’re thrilled to hear that MIT Press is making some of its backlist openly accessible.  Can you tell us about the project?

AMY BRAND: Sure thing. We’re partnering with the Internet Archive, with funding support from Arcadia, to digitize hundreds of deep backlist MIT Press books where we have the rights to do so, and to enable open access where legal and practical as well. At a minimum, the digitized books will be available for free one-at-a-time lending through openlibrary.org and through libraries that participate in the broader OpenLibraries project, which is intended to enable libraries that own the physical books to lend digital copies to their patrons.

AuAll: What motivated MIT Press to undertake this project?

AB: When I started as Director of the MIT Press a couple of years ago, one of my top ambitions was to make sure that everything we’ve published and have the rights to digitize be made accessible, searchable, and discoverable, now and in perpetuity. When I connected with Brewster Kahle at the Internet Archive, we realized that partnering to achieve this made great sense for both parties. Brewster is looking to bring as many print-only books online as possible, and working directly with publishers is a key part of his strategy. For the MIT Press, the relationship means we get back digital files for our own use. That’s a significant cost savings, considering we were planning to digitize all these works on our own. In addition to making older works newly available and to growing our open access program, I also see this effort as one way to get out in front of widespread circulation of unauthorized digital files for these works.

AuAll: What can you tell us about the collection that will be included?  Are there any titles or authors you are particularly excited to see newly available to readers?

AB: We’re just at the start of this effort, targeting older and out of print books, reaching out to authors and their estates to make them aware of the project and to give them the opportunity to opt out (so far, no one has). There are so many gems on the list, but one that jumped out at me was a 1973 re-issue of a 19th-century work by Frederick Law Olmsted that tells the story of his plans for New York City’s Central Park. If you search online for this book today, you’ll find it sells for about $500 in the used book market.

AuAll: What were the biggest hurdles to realizing this project, and how did you overcome these obstacles?

AB: It took us several months to agree on contractual terms that both the Press and the Internet Archive felt comfortable with. In particular, the Press wanted an agreement that allowed us to designate some works in the program as completely open access and others for lending only, and that’s where we landed. I hope that this negotiation process and resulting agreement will serve as a model for other publishers who grasp the many benefits of this opportunity.

AuAll: Do you have any words of wisdom for other publishers who want to follow MIT Press’ example?

AB: We’re all in the knowledge dissemination business, so take every opportunity make the content in your authors’ books, past and present, available and useful. What I also sometimes point out to other university presses is that there is so much unauthorized copying and sharing of our publications that we’re fooling ourselves to think that we can lock them down. Our business models need to take that into consideration. Even for new books, digital open access plus paid print can be the right model for certain academic authors. And, where feasible, we can take the wind out of the pirate sails by putting into circulation files that the publisher authorizes and that include explicit information about the authors’ intended use of the content.


For more information about regaining rights to previously published work, and about open access publishing, please see the Authors Alliance Resources page. We will continue to follow the MIT Press project and provide updates on books as they become newly available online.


Amy Brand was named Director of the MIT Press in July 2015. Previously, she served as VP Academic and Research Relations and VP North America at Digital Science. Brand serves on the DuraSpace Board of Directors, the Board on Research Data and Information of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, and, was a founding member of the ORCID Board, and regularly advises on key community initiatives in digital scholarship. She holds a B.A. in linguistics from Barnard College and a PhD in cognitive science from MIT.