Category Archives: News

Authors Alliance Submits Comments in Support of Modernization Efforts at the U.S. Copyright Office

Posted July 17, 2017

Today, Authors Alliance submitted comments in response to the United States Copyright Office’s recent Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Modernizing Copyright Recordation. By reducing the barriers to recording transfers of copyright ownership and submitting notices of termination, the proposed rules lay the foundation for improved copyright ownership records and make it easier for authors to exercise their termination rights.

We fully support these goals, which would not only help authors help authors increase the compensation for and dissemination of their own works, but also make it easier for others to find accurate information about the rights in a given work and therefore reduce the number of works likely to become “orphans.” We also suggested that the Office consider:

  • providing better incentives for rights holders to record transfers of copyright ownership;
  • providing incentives to record transfers by operation of law;
  • strengthening incentives to keep ownership contact information accurate and up to date;
  • providing a mechanism to record diligent search data for orphan works;
  • reducing fees for electronic submission of documents; and
  • hiring technologists and economists to support modernization efforts.

Further details can be found in the full text of our comment. Hover over the document below to view the comment in your browser, or download here.

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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!

Terminating Transfers: An Inalienable Right Under Threat

Posted July 6, 2017

Mike Wolfe headshotThe following is a guest post by Mike Wolfe, Scholarly Communications Officer at UC Davis, and the former Executive Director of Authors Alliance.

Sometimes, being an author means making bad deals. Authors are routinely asked to sign away their rights for the life of copyright—which lasts 70 years after death in the U.S.—and the promise of publication, or an advance, or just being done leads them to say, “yes.”

Authors always have options when they come to regret these decisions, but in the U.S. they often hold a trump card: Termination of transfers. These legal provisions, when exercised properly, let authors walk away from their copyright transfers. The linchpin that makes the whole thing work, and the feature that makes these rights so powerful, is that termination rights can’t be signed away. They work “notwithstanding any agreement to the contrary.” At least, that’s what the law says in the United States.

But termination rights are such a powerful tool for authors that they are constantly under threat. Recently a very public series of high-profile (and star-studded) lawsuits has helped to bring this into focus. First, a troubling court decision in the United Kingdom late last year created the potential to undermine the U.S. termination rights of authors worldwide, and more recently a lawsuit initiated by Sir Paul McCartney in the U.S. stepped in with the goal of protecting them.

Duran Duran, the British pop group behind “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “Rio,” wrote their top hits while under contract to assign the copyrights—a contract signed as teenagers at the very beginning of their careers. Decades later, on the hunt after valuable royalties, the band exercised their U.S. termination rights in order to regain copyright and benefit from the success they realized “across the Rio Grande” from Mexico. It’s hard to imagine that, at the time, they had any inkling of being sued in the United Kingdom for breach of contract.

But the contract Duran Duran signed was with a British company, and was subject to British law. With Duran Duran’s terminations processing in the United States, the rightsholder brought Duran Duran into court in the U.K. for violating this agreement. In a highly questionable decision, the British court hearing the matter found that Duran Duran’s proper exercise of their rights under U.S. law was nevertheless a breach of their contractual commitments. (The band was granted leave to appeal the decision in February.)

While this one decision isn’t the last word on whether British law will ultimately respect U.S. termination rights, it does set a dangerous precedent. As high-profile terminations become more common, others will try to challenge them in local courts not just in the U.K., but all around the world. And the U.K. is a particularly important leader, given its large international role in many cultural fields, and particularly in international publishing. Authors from around the world, including authors in the U.S., publish with presses based in the U.K., signing agreements subject to U.K. law.

Enter Sir Paul McCartney, who has his own set of British music publishing contracts that might have been turned against his terminations of transfers. (McCartney would have been eligible to exercise his termination rights in October 2018.) Far from letting it be, I’ve got a feeling that McCartney drove his car down to the courthouse eight days a week, dead set on fixing that hole. His recent lawsuit against Sony/ATV, filed in the United States, sought a confirmation that he may exercise his termination rights without breaching his contracts. Late last week, however, the case settled under undisclosed terms, leaving the status of Sir Paul’s termination claims unclear.

The ramifications here are important. Notably, Duran Duran did not have expert evidence of how the U.S. termination rights override contracts to the contrary. If McCartney had gone to trial and won, he would have had more than just expert evidence; he would have had a judicial opinion in his favor. These cases might not be the last word on the subject, but pursuing  termination of transfers is one way put a halt to the disturbing trend of chipping away at authors’ rights. U.S. copyright law gives all authors, regardless of nationality, a very powerful right and authors everywhere have a stake in seeing it preserved.


Authors Alliance and Creative Commons are finalizing rightsback.org, an online tool designed to assist authors in identifying their eligibility for termination of transfer rights. The tool is currently in beta, and we expect to officially launch rightsback.org this fall. We will keep our readers updated on progress. In the meantime, we encourage authors to test the tool—it’s a powerful way to learn more about termination rights.

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.

DMCA Takedown Notices: Know Your Rights

Posted June 22, 2017

Last week, the American Psychological Association (APA) issued Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notices targeting APA articles on 80 university websites in an attempt to restrict unauthorized use of submissions to APA journals. In some cases, this resulted in the removal of academic authors’ articles from personal websites and university repositories. In response to the outcry from authors, the APA altered its pilot program to focus on removing articles from piracy sites rather than also targeting individual authors. APA also reiterated that authors may post their pre-print submissions (not the final version as published by an APA journal), as per their publication agreements with the APA.

This is not the first time that a journal publisher has targeted academic articles on university websites with DMCA takedown notices. In 2013, Elsevier, publisher of nearly 2,000 research journals, began sending takedown notices to individual researchers and universities targeting articles posted on university-hosted pages. Like the APA, Elsevier distinguished between authors posting the final versions of articles from those posting earlier versions.

Although these publishers may have acted within their rights to send these takedown notices, for authors looking to share work broadly, it is hard to imagine a situation more frustrating than not being being able to share their own works. In the face of the possibility that DMCA takedown notices targeting institutional repositories may increase, what can authors do?

  • Review the terms of your publishing agreement: Many journal publishing agreements allow for journal authors to self-archive pre-print versions of their articles on personal websites, university repositories, and author networking sites (sometimes with an embargo period). Check the terms of your agreement to see whether this is permitted, and, if so, replace your article with an allowed version.
  • Review your institution’s open access policy: If your institution has an open access policy, it may allow you to deposit a copy of your work in your institutional repository without infringing on your publisher’s rights. If in doubt, check with your institution’s Copyright or Scholarly Communications Office.
  • Retain the rights you need to make future works available in the ways you want: When presented with a publishing contract, review the terms of the contract and don’t be shy about negotiating for terms that allow you to share your work on personal websites, university repositories, and author networking sites. For more information on how to negotiate with your publisher to allow you to share your work, see Chapter 6 of our guide to Understanding Open Access. You can also review journal publishers’ standard policies regarding self-archiving on the SHERPA/RoMEO database and opt to submit your work to journals that give you more control of your work.
  • Reach out to your institution’s Copyright or Scholarly Communications Office:  Copyright and scholarly communications staff can help you understand what rights you retained in your publication agreement, whether any version of your work can be posted online, and whether a copy can be uploaded to your institution’s repository. They can also help you understand your publishing contract before you sign.

For more information, check out our FAQ on copyright, which outlines some of the ways that authors can manage their copyrights in innovative ways, including with regard to academic journals. And our guide to Understanding Open Access provides even more detail about OA publication strategies.

Summer Reading List: Copyright Edition!

Posted June 13, 2017

Summer is here, and it’s the perfect time to relax with a good book. There are all kinds of reading lists out there—from fun reads for the beach, to prize-winning books you might have missed, to books on a favorite hobby or a faraway destination. Here at Authors Alliance, we like to keep up our copyright chops all year ’round, and we know that many of our members do, too. So, for a slightly different take on summer reading, here are some suggestions for new books that will keep you up to date on the latest in copyright, open access, and more!

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-copyrightNew 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.”

Von Hippel’s book is just one of many titles that MIT Press has made openly available, and thanks to an exciting new partnership with Internet Archive, the MIT Press backlist will soon be available online as well. We’re following that project with great interest, and will provide more information and updates, so stay tuned for even more great reading to come!

Another Successful Bay Area Book Fest!

Posted June 7, 2017
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Brianna and Erika staff the Authors Alliance table on a sunny Saturday morning

Take two days of beautiful weather in downtown Berkeley, combine with an enthusiastic community of literature lovers, and what do you get?

The Bay Area Book Fest!

For the third year in a row, Authors Alliance was proud to be a part of this celebration of all things reading- and writing-related, from author appearances and panel discussions to kids’ events and—of course—books! We hosted a table on the central lawn of the festival and fielded questions from authors about everything from contract terms to rights reversion to fair use.

The Bay Area is home to an extraordinary number of creative people, and it was a pleasure to meet with so many members of the local writing community. We’d like to extend a warm welcome to those who joined Authors Alliance over the weekend! And, if you didn’t get a chance to sign up, you can always do so here. Basic membership is free, and our members are the first to hear about our latest tools, resources, and updates. We’re already looking forward to next year’s festival!

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Erika with Tom Leonard, UC Berkeley University Librarian Emeritus and Authors Alliance board member

Meet With Authors Alliance at the Bay Area Book Festival!

Posted May 30, 2017

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For the third year in a row, Authors Alliance is proud to be a part of the Bay Area Book Festival, a two-day literary extravaganza in downtown Berkeley. Come and visit us on June 3-4, when we’ll be staffing an information booth on the lawn at Civic Center Park, in the heart of the festival. We’re looking forward to taking part in this can’t-miss event for everyone who enjoys reading and writing as much as we do.

The Bay Area Book Festival is a free and family-friendly event that runs from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM on Saturday, June 3 and Sunday, June 4. We invite our local friends and neighbors to stop by and meet us, and learn how Authors Alliance can help creators with copyright, publishing contracts, fair use, and more!

Authors Alliance Celebrates Three Years!

Posted May 18, 2017
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photo by Annie Spratt | CC0

This month, Authors Alliance celebrates three years of empowering authors in the digital age! We’ve come a long way since our founding and are looking forward to more great work ahead.

In the year since our last birthday, our membership has grown to nearly 1,200 strong. Last fall, in partnership with Creative Commons, we released a beta version of rightsback.org, a tool that helps authors navigate the complexities of the termination of transfer provision of copyright law. We said farewell to Mike Wolfe, our founding Executive Director, and were thrilled to welcome Brianna Schofield as our new ED in February. We traveled around the U.S. and abroad to host workshops and panel discussions. And we continue to advocate for policy positions that champion broad rights for creators, from robust fair use to attribution and integrity.

We’re currently hard at work on a third educational guide on fair use for non-fiction authors, which is due out later this year, and look forward to sharing more details with you when the guide is published.

As we celebrate three years of supporting authors who write to be read, we encourage those of you who may not yet be members to join. Basic membership in Authors Alliance is free, and our members are the first to hear about our news and resources. Sign up today!

“A Good Guy Offering a Good Product at a Fair Price”:
Cory Doctorow on Fair Trade E-books, Publishing, Copyright, and the Optimism of Disaster

Posted May 9, 2017
photo by Jonathan Worth

portrait of Cory Doctorow by Jonathan Worth | CC BY-SA 2.0

As part of our mission to empower authors in the digital age, Authors Alliance encourages authors to embrace new strategies for publishing and ensuring the ongoing lifespan of their work, both in print and in digital formats. Best-selling novelist, blogger, and Authors Alliance founding member Cory Doctorow epitomizes this innovative spirit in myriad ways. We sat down recently with Cory for a wide-ranging talk about his newly-launched platform for selling fair trade ebooks, the pros and cons of traditional publishing, and his brand-new novel, Walkaway.

 

AUTHORS ALLIANCE: At the London Book Fair this past March, you announced your new model for selling fair trade ebooks, affectionately known as “Shut Up and Take My Money.” What was your inspiration for this new platform? How does it address some of the issues with traditional retailing?

CORY DOCTOROW: There are ongoing disputes among publishers and writers about the equitable way to share ebook royalties. I kept hearing from people in publishing that hell would freeze over before publishers would pay 50% instead of 25% for ebook royalties. Now, “never ever” is a long time, and things do change, but if this is a thing you want to feed your kids with, you shouldn’t hold your breath. I got started by retailing my own audiobooks on my website with a modest shopping cart program after I had been kicked out of the traditional audiobook market by refusing to agree to DRM [digital rights management, which controls users’ access to, and use of, copyrighted material]. When I sell my audiobooks directly on my website, I get paid twice: I get the retail cut, as well as the royalty from my publisher, which is pretty damn close to 50%. The same is true for the ebook fair trade model: if you sell an ebook on your website, the royalty plus your retail cut is close to 50%.

There is also the fact that, in the time since Creative Commons licenses were negotiated, publishers have entered into agreements with the large ebook retailers that allow for price matching. This is in part an artifact of anti-trust litigation, but it means that if someone somewhere offers the book at $0, it technically allows all of the other ebook stores to offer the book at $0 as well.

Thus far my publishers have been good about grandfathering in the CC-licensed books that I already had, but for the last couple of books I haven’t done CC licensing, in part because of the real fear that Amazon could set the price at $0 and there would be no recourse for my publishers—not even the recourse of not letting Amazon sell the book, because of deals ensuring that if Amazon sells one book of a publisher’s, they have to sell the whole catalog.

So I thought, “What can I do to accommodate the CC books and the non-CC books that will maximally benefit all the entities here, and play within the Realpolitik of these regulatory settlements?” And I came up with this fair trade ebooks idea.