We have formed an Authors Alliance to represent authors who create to be read, to be seen, and to be heard. We believe that these authors have not been well served by misguided efforts to strengthen copyright. These efforts have failed to provide meaningful financial returns to most authors, while instead unacceptably compromising the preservation of our own intellectual legacies and our ability to tap our collective cultural heritage. We want to harness the potential of global digital networks to share knowledge and products of the imagination as broadly as possible. We aim to amplify the voices of authors and creators in all media who write and create not only for pay, but above all to make their discoveries, ideas, and creations accessible to the broadest possible audience.
We believe that copyright law has been diverted from its founding principles. The Constitution granted Congress the power to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts” by conferring on authors a limited set of rights in their works. While recognizing authors’ right to a “fair return,” for their “creative labor,” the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that “the primary object in conferring the monopoly . . . lie[s] in the general benefits derived by the public from the labors of authors.”
We believe it is high time for authors like us to speak up for a “Next Great Copyright Act” that will carry forward the Founders’ vision of copyright and meet its goals in the digital age. We encourage all authors who share our values and mission to join us as members of the Authors Alliance. Together we can develop reform proposals that will renew the nation’s commitment to a copyright law that secures a just balance between private ambitions and the public good.
To this end, we propose four principles that should guide copyright law and appropriately align the interests of individual creators with the interests of the public for whom they create:
- Further empower authors to disseminate their works.
Public-minded authors need a legal toolkit to enable us to take advantage of the unprecedented opportunities presented by global digital networks so that a new and globally expanding generation of readers, viewers, and listeners can find and enjoy our works.
- Improve information flows about copyright ownership.
The copyright system works best when we authors as well as the public can identify and locate copyright owners. Accurate ownership records facilitate securing permission to use works and help clearly establish how long copyright lasts for any given work. In doing so, they prevent works from becoming “orphans,” that is, works still protected by copyright whose owners cannot be found. Because we worry about oblivion for works that are locked into copyrights for which no one can find the key, the law needs to provide better incentives for rights holders to provide accurate information on copyright ownership. Transparency will benefit authors, readers, and intermediaries alike.
- Affirm the vitality of limits on copyright that enable us to do our work and reach our audiences.
Authors routinely rely on copyright’s limitations as well as its rights. By making knowledge and creative works available to future scholars and creators, fair use and other limitations on copyright are vital to our work as authors and to the public’s ability to locate, preserve, and use our works now and for generations to come. Copyright law should continue to keep the basic building blocks of authorship unshackled and free for all to use. We need a copyright law that favors dissemination and combats obscurity by explicitly making room for technologies and intermediaries that preserve, archive, and index our works so that they might survive us and reach new audiences. We need a copyright law that does not needlessly restrict access to works whose owners can no longer be found. Many of these limitations exist in the law as it stands today, but they need to be clarified, protected, and, where appropriate, extended.
- Ensure that copyright’s remedies and enforcement mechanisms protect our interests.
Copyright law should provide reasonable remedies for infringement of authors’ rights, but the law should calibrate these remedies so they do not discourage or silence the kinds of creativity the law was designed to incentivize.
Stating these principles is only the first contribution of the Authors Alliance to its mission of supporting a creative economy that favors accessibility and dissemination. We will continue to pursue this vision by providing authors with resources to enable wide distribution, educating the public on issues relevant to public interest authorship, and advocating for authors who create to be read, seen, and heard.
Within this document, we further explain these principles and propose means for carrying them out.