Author Archives: Rachel Brooke

Public Domain Day 2023: Welcoming Works from 1927 to the Public Domain

Posted January 5, 2023
Montage courtesy of the Center for the Public Domain

Literary aficionados and copyright buffs alike have something to celebrate as we welcome 2023: A new batch of literary works published in 1927 entered the public domain on January 1st, when the copyrights in those works expired. The public domain refers to the commons of creative expression that is not protected by copyright. When a work enters the public domain, anyone may do anything they want with that work, including activities that were formerly the “exclusive right” of the copyright holder like copying, sharing, translating, or adapting the work. 

Some of the more recognizable books entering the public domain this year include: 

  • Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse
  • William Faulkner’s Mosquitoes
  • Agatha Christie’s The Big Four
  • Edith Wharton’s Twilight Sleep
  • Herbert Asbury’s The Gangs of New York (the original 1927 publication)
  • Franklin W. Dixon’s (a pseudonym) The Tower Treasure (the first Hardy Boys book)

Literary works can be a part of the public domain for reasons other than the expiration of copyright—such as when a work is created by the government—but copyright expiration is the major way that literary works become a part of the public domain. Copyright owners of works first published in the United States in 1927 needed to renew that work’s copyright in order to extend the original 28-year copyright term. Initially, the renewal term also lasted for 28 years, but over time the renewal term was extended to give the copyright holder an additional 67 years of copyright protection, for a total term of 95 years. This means that works that were first published in the United States in 1927—provided they were published with a copyright notice, were properly registered, and had their copyright renewed—were protected through the end of 2022. 

Once in the public domain, works can be made freely available online. Organizations that have digitized text of these books, like Internet ArchiveGoogle Books, and HathiTrust, can now open up unrestricted access to the full text of these works. HathiTrust alone has opened up full access to more than 40,000 titles originally published in 1927. This increased access provides richer historical context for scholarly research and opportunities for students to supplement and deepen their understanding of assigned texts. And authors who care about the long-term availability of their works may also have reason to look forward to their works eventually entering the public domain: A 2013 study found that in most cases, public domain works are actually more available to readers than all but the most recently published works. 

What’s more, public domain works can be adapted into new works of authorship, or “derivative works,” including by adapting printed books into audio books or by adapting classic books into interactive forms like video games. And the public domain provides opportunities to freely translate works to enrich our understanding of those works and help fill the gap in works available to readers in their native language.

Updates on the JCPA

Posted December 14, 2022
Photo by Elijah Mears on Unsplash

Last week saw a flurry of news about the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (“JCPA”), proposed legislation that would create an exemption to antitrust law that would allow certain news publishers to join together to collectively negotiate with digital platforms to negotiate payments for carrying their content. Authors Alliance has consistently opposed the JCPA, as we believe it would harm small publishers and creators, while further entrenching major players in the news media industry. 

Last Monday, December 5th, it was uncovered that the revised JCPA had been included in a “must pass” defense spending bill (the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA), leading the legislation’s opposition to promptly decry the move and caution against it. Then, the next day, news broke that Congress had removed the JCPA from the legislation—something to celebrate for those, like Authors Alliance, who believed this was ill-advised legislation that would not have served the interests of the creators who contribute to the news media. 

Background

The JCPA was first proposed as separate bills in the Senate and House of Representatives in March 2021. The JCPA has laudable goals: to preserve a strong, diverse, and independent press, responding to ongoing crises in local and national journalism. But the actual text of the JCPA doesn’t meet those goals, while causing other problems.  One major problem has been that the JCPA implicitly expands the scope of copyright, and would potentially require payment for activities like linking or using brief snippets of content that are not only fair uses, but are crucial for digital scholarship. In June 2021, Authors Alliance joined a group of like-minded civil society organizations on a letter urging Congress to clarify that the bill would not expand copyright protection to article links, and that authors and other internet users would not have to pay to link to articles or for the use of headlines and other snippets that fall within fair use. 

Then, this September, a new version of the bill was released in the Senate. While the revised language made some improvements—like clarifying that the bill would not modify, expand, or alter the rights guaranteed under copyright—it still failed to clarify that the bill would not cover activities like linking that are fundamental for authors creating digital scholarship. And some changes to the legislation posed serious First Amendment concerns. For example, new language in the bill would have forced platforms to carry content of digital journalism organizations that participated in the collective bargaining, regardless of extreme views or misinformation. The revised bill could also have hurt authors of news articles financially, because it failed to include a provision that would require authors of the press articles to be compensated as part of the collective bargaining it envisioned. 

Inclusion in the NDAA

Last week, the news that the JCPA had been included in the NDAA was met with outcry. Its opponents argued that the bill was far too complex to be included in must-pass legislation, and merited further discussion and revision before becoming law. The JCPA was never marked up in the House of Representatives, nor did it receive a hearing there. Authors Alliance once again joined 26 other civil society organizations on a letter protesting the move and urging Congress not to include the JCPAA in military spending or other must-pass legislation. 

A wide variety of other stakeholders also objected to the inclusion of the JCPA in the NDAA. Small publications, lobbyists for platforms, and even journalism trade groups reiterated their opposition. Meta, the company that owns Facebook, even threatened to remove news from their platform were the legislation to pass (in response to a similar bill being passed in Australia, Meta did in fact remove news from its platform in the country). Then, late on Tuesday, December 6th, the latest version of the bill’s text was released, with the JCPA omitted. The NDAA was approved by the House a few days later. 

A Victory for Now

Because the JCPA was removed from the NDAA before its passage, it is no longer on the brink of becoming law. What happens next with the JCPA is less certain. There have already been multiple iterations of the bill, and it could be reintroduced, with or without modifications, at the next legislative session. While it’s unclear how the new makeup of Congress following the midterm elections might affect the JCPA’s chance of becoming law, this is certainly a factor in the bill’s future. This was also not the first time that the government has attempted to support journalism and local news through proposals that could affect users’ and authors’ ability to rely on fair use. Just last year, the Copyright Office conducted a study on establishing a new press publishers’ right in the United States which would have required news aggregators to pay licensing fees as part of their aggregation of headlines, ledes, and short phrases of news articles (you can read about Authors Alliance’s reply comment in that study here), activities. While the Office ultimately decided not to recommend the adoption of a new press publisher’s right, its study shows that the government may continue to investigate these policies from other fronts. 

Analysis: Opinion Released in U.S. v. Bertelsmann

Posted November 18, 2022
Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

Last week, the district court released its opinion in United States v. Bertelsmann, an antitrust case concerning a proposed merger between Penguin Random House (“PRH”) and Simon & Schuster (“S&S”), which the court blocked (an “amended opinion” was released earlier this week, but the two documents only differ in their concluding language). Authors Alliance has been covering this case on our blog for the past year, and we were eager to read Judge Pan’s full opinion now that redactions had been made and the opinion made public. This post gives an overview of the opinion; shares our thoughts about what Judge Pan got right, got wrong, and left out; and discusses what the case could mean for the vast majority of authors who are not represented in the discussion.

Background

The Department of Justice initiated this antitrust proceeding after PRH and S&S announced that they intended to merge, with Bertelsmann, PRH’s parent company, purchasing S&S from its parent company, Paramount Global. The trade publishing industry has long been dominated by a few large publishing houses which have merged and consolidated over time. Today, the trade industry is dominated by the “Big Five” publishers: PRH, S&S, HarperCollins, Hachette Book Group, and Macmillan. And a sub-section of the trade publishing industry, “anticipated top sellers,” is the focus of the government’s argument and Judge Pan’s opinion. This market segment is defined as books for which authors receive an advance of $250,000 or higher (a book advance is an up-front payment made to authors when they publish a book, and often the only money these authors receive for their works). 

The main thrust of Judge Pan’s opinion is simple: the proposed merger would have led to lower advances for authors of anticipated top sellers, and the market harm that would flow from the decreased competition in the industry is substantial enough that the merger can not go forward under U.S. antitrust law. To arrive at this conclusion, the court considered testimony from a variety of publishing industry insiders, experts in economics, and authors. 

Defining the Market

Trade publishing houses are those that distribute books on a national scale and sell them in non-specialized channels, like at general interest bookstores or on Amazon. It stands in contrast to self-publishing, academic publishing, and publishing with specialized boutique presses. But changes in how we read and how books are distributed has complicated these distinctions. For example, university presses are sometimes considered to be non-trade publishers, despite the fact that many also publish trade books. University presses are particularly well poised to publish books that bridge the gap between the scholarly and the popular—Harvard University Press’s publication of Thomas Picketty’s Capital in the 21st Century is one example, and it was an unexpected bestseller. Similarly, Amazon sells trade books alongside other types of books. The Authors Alliance Guide to Understanding Open Access is available as a print book on Amazon, but it is one we released under an open access license, and is far from a trade book. Consumers increasingly buy books online as brick and mortar bookstores across the country close or downsize, and the Amazon marketplace obscures the distinction between trade publishing and other types of publishing.

Within trade publishing, there is a small segment of books which are seen as “hot,” which the DOJ calls anticipated top sellers. While PRH argued that this distinction was pulled out of whole cloth, the popular “Publisher’s Marketplace,” a subscription-based service for those in the industry, uses certain terms (essentially code words) to indicate the size of the advance in a book deal when they are announced. “Deals under $50,000 are ‘nice,’ those up to $100,000 are ‘very nice,’ those up to $250,000 are ‘good,’ those up to $500,000 are ‘significant,’ and larger deals are ‘major.””

For the market for anticipated top sellers (trade books with advances of $250,000 or higher), the Big Five collectively control 91% of the market share. In contrast, for books where an author receives an advance under $250,000, the Big Five control just 55% of the market, with non-Big Five trade publishers publishing a significant portion of trade books in this category. Post-merger, the combined PRH and S&S were expected to have a 49% share of the market for anticipated bestsellers, according to expert testimony—more than the rest of the Big Five put together. For these reasons, the merger was determined to be improper as a matter of antitrust.

Beyond Anticipated Top Sellers

While Judge Pan’s opinion is measured, thoughtful, and reaches (from our perspective) the correct result, the broader context of the publishing industry shows how narrow the subset of authors in this market is, and how some authors were left out. The market the court considered in this case is “a submarket of the broader publishing market for all trade books.” In its pre-trial brief, PRH asserted that “[s]ome 57,000 to 64,00 books are published in the [U.S.] each year by one of more than 500 different publishing houses” and “another 10,000-20,000 are self published.” It is unclear whether the first number includes academic books and other non-trade titles. “[A]nticipated top-selling books” account for just 2% of “all books published by commercial publishers” (again, it is unclear what “commercial publishers” means in this context), and an even smaller share of all books published in the U.S. in a given year (a difficult statistic to pin down, but somewhere between 300,000 and 1,000,000 books per calendar year, depending on who you ask). 

It is not just that the authors that are the topic of this discussion are unique in the high advances they receive for their books, it is that the business of publishing a book is fundamentally different for these authors than less commercially successful authors. And this is what is missing from Judge Pan’s opinion: the economic system of Big Five book acquisitions for anticipated top sellers is totally unlike many authors’ experiences getting their work published. While many authors struggle to find a publisher willing to publish their book, and more still struggle to convince their publisher to do so on terms that are acceptable to them, anticipated top sellers are generally the subject of book auctions, whereby editors bid on the rights to a manuscript in an auction held by an author’s literary agent. It is important to keep in mind that for a vast majority of working authors, these auctions do not take place. 

The language in the opinion shows how it generalizes the experiences of commercially successful trade authors to authors more broadly, doing a disservice to the multitude of authors whose book deals do not look like the transactions it describes. Judge Pan states that “[a]uthors are generally represented by literary agents, who use their judgment and experience to find the best home for publishing a book.” Literary agents play an important role in the publishing ecosystem, and serve as intermediaries for some authors to help them develop their manuscripts and get the best deal possible. But the author-agent relationship is also a financial one: agents receive a “commission” of around 15% of all monies paid to the author. It stands to reason that an author who cares more about their work reaching a broad audience than receiving a large advance, or even an advance at all, is much less likely to be represented by an agent. And these authors too care about finding the right home for their work, getting a book deal with favorable terms, and feeling confident that their publisher is invested in their work. Making the publishing industry less diverse, with fewer houses overall, is just as detrimental to these authors as it is to top-selling ones. 

What is troubling about the decision is not that it focuses in on a certain type of author and certain type of book—the question of what the relevant “market” is in antitrust cases is a complicated one—but that the vision of authorship and publication it presents as typical does not reflect the lived experiences of most authors. The dominant narrative that “authors” are famous people who make a living from their writing, primarily through the high advances they receive from trade publishers, simply does not bear out in today’s information economy. 

Overall, the decision in this case is in many ways a boon for authors who care about a vibrant and diverse publishing ecosystem—whether they are authors of anticipated top sellers or authors who forgo compensation and publish open access. When publishing houses consolidate, fewer books are published, and fewer authors can publish with these publishers. This could lead less commercially successful trade authors to turn to other publishers (whether small trade publishers, university presses, or boutique publishers), who would then be forced to take on fewer books by less commercially successful authors. Self-publishing is an option for authors no longer able to find publishers willing to take their work on, but self-published authors earned 58% less than traditionally published authors as of 2017, and this decrease could lead some authors to abandon their writing projects altogether. These downstream effects may be speculative, but they deserve attention: this is almost certainly not the last we will hear about anticompetitive behavior in the publishing industry, and the effects of this behavior on non-top selling authors also matter. We hope that future judges considering these thorny questions will remember that authors are not a monolith, yet all are affected by drastic changes to the publishing ecosystem. 

Judge Blocks Penguin Random House/Simon & Schuster Merger

Posted November 2, 2022
Photo by Sasun Bughdaryan on Unsplash

On Monday, Judge Florence Pan issued an order enjoining (or blocking) the proposed merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster following a weeks-long trial in the D.C. Circuit. Authors Alliance has been monitoring the case and covering it on this blog for the past year. While Judge Pan’s full opinion is not yet public—it is currently sealed while each party determines what information it would like to be redacted as confidential—but her decision to block the proposed merger strikes a blow for efforts to consolidate major trade publishers and signals judicial concern about too little competition in the publishing industry. 

Judge Pan (who was appointed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to replace then-judge Kentanji Brown Jackson in September, but has continued to preside over this district court case), issued a short order announcing the decision. Judge Pan found that the Department of Justice had “shown that ‘the effect of [the proposed merger] may be substantially to lessen competition’ in the market for the U.S. publishing rights to anticipated top-selling books.” She concluded that the merger could not move forward under U.S. antitrust law, which seeks to protect market competition and ensure that no one firm wields too much power. 

The DOJ applauded the decision, with Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter stating that the decision “protects vital competition for books and is a victory for authors, readers, and the free exchange of ideas,” and that the merger would have “reduced competition [and] decreased author income.” Penguin Random House, on the other hand, has already signaled that it is considering appealing the decision, and initially indicated it would be filing an “expedited appeal” before walking back this position in later comments. Jonathan Karp, president and CEO of Simon & Schuster, released a statement to the firm’s employees indicating Penguin Random House’s plans to appeal and stating that Simon & Schuster would be reviewing the decision and conferring with Penguin Random House to determine “next steps.” 

The parties have until November 4th to propose redactions to her opinion, which Judge Pan will then decide on, before the court releases it to the public. There is no set timeline for the full decision being released, but the short timeline for the parties to request redactions could signal that the process will not take long. 

One interesting aspect of the case is that the government focused on the market for “anticipated bestsellers” in its filings and argument, as well as the effect that lessened competition would have on authors, not the general public. Judge Pan adopted this position in her order, apparently accepting the argument as valid. Typically, antitrust focuses on harm to consumers, and indeed, Penguin Random House argued staunchly that the lack of a tangible harm to consumers meant the proposed merger did not pose an antitrust problem.

But were the merger to go forward, with fewer firms bidding on books expected to be commercially successful, the authors of those books could receive lower advances or less favorable contract terms due to the lessened competition. While the government chose to focus on a narrow segment of the book market (a move which faced criticism by some), the point that publishing house consolidation can hurt authors’ interests by giving them fewer choices is an important one.

Authors Alliance cares deeply about ensuring that our publishing ecosystem is diverse and vibrant, and the merger could have had deleterious effects on this diversity. At the same time, the focus on the anticipated bestseller market demonstrates one pitfall of the publishing industry: authors of commercial bestsellers tend to be centered as the authors whose interests are most important or worthy of attention, but these represent a vanishingly small percentage of working authors. Many of Authors Alliance’s members are authors who do not publish with trade publishers like Penguin Random House and S&S, and these authors have different motivations and priorities than authors of anticipated bestsellers. It is important that the government consider a variety of different types of authors as they work to shape author-friendly laws and policies, and we look forward to engaging with policy makers to help raise awareness of this important issue. 

Privacy for Public-Minded Authors Part I

Posted October 25, 2022
Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

Privacy may not seem like an important issue for authors who write to be read: after all, our members are often motivated by a desire to share their creations broadly. But writing in the digital world increasingly presents us with new considerations in the realm of personal and digital privacy. This post surveys an important privacy-related issue for authors: the right to speak or write anonymously, and will be the first in a new series on privacy considerations for public-minded authors. 

Why Publish Anonymously?

The tradition of authors publishing anonymously, or under a pseudonym, stretches back centuries. Authors choose to publish works of authorship under pseudonyms or anonymously for a variety of reasons. Authors affiliated with academic institutions may prefer to publish their work under a different name in order to keep their academic and authorial identities separate. Some authors publish under both their real names and pseudonyms to explore new styles or genres of writing. Authors writing about controversial topics may also choose to use pseudonyms or publish anonymously in order to maintain personal privacy while contributing to our understanding of such topics. Pseudonyms also allow authors to write works jointly under a single name.

Historical Pseudonyms 

Notable pseudonyms from the past show the breadth of motivations authors might have for pursuing this path, as well as the advantages of using pseudonyms. For example, in the mid-1800s, the Brontë sisters (Anne, Charlotte, and Emily) began publishing under the names Acton, Currer, and Ellis Bell to conceal the fact that they were women. After being rejected from multiple literary publications due to gender biases of the time, writing under male pen names gave the Brontës a path forward to share their creations with the world. Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights have had a deep and profound impact on our literary tradition, and the Brontës’ ability to publish pseudonymously is what made this possible.

The 19th century writer Mary Ann Evans (better known by her pen name, George Eliot), on the other hand, elected to use a male pen name in order to disassociate herself from preconceived notions about female authors. She was also motivated by a desire to keep her previous work as a translator, critic, and editor—which did bear her real name—separate from her identity as a fiction author. Other authors from the past, such as C.S. Lewis and the famed contemporary Italian novelist Elena Ferrante, have used pen names in order to maintain their personal privacy and avoid public scrutiny while still engaging with the literary world. 

Pseudonyms can also allow multiple authors to work together under a single author name, to better appeal to readers or to accommodate publishing conventions. The idea for the Nancy Drew books, for example, originated with Edward Stratemeyer, who also created the Hardy Boys series. Stratemeyer generated ideas for childrens’ novels and then hired ghostwriters to execute his vision. The series’ “author,” Carolyn Keene, never existed. Instead, her name stands in for the slew of ghostwriters who wrote the novels over time. By using a single author name for these books, Stratemeyer (and later, his estate) was able to create a sense of continuity and build reputational capital for the fictional Keene, captivating multiple generations of young readers.

Anonymous Works

Rather than use a pseudonym, some authors choose to publish their works anonymously, so that no author at all is listed on or associated with the work. Like using a pseudonym, publishing anonymously divorces the author’s real identity from the work. But unlike using a pseudonym, an anonymous work conspicuously lacks an author at all. Throughout history, politically or socially controversial works have been published anonymously. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was originally published anonymously, and some have speculated that this was due in part to her fear of losing custody of her children were she to be associated with the monstrous tale. More recently, Go Ask Alice, a book about a 15-year old girl’s descent into drug addiction, was published anonymously. The work presented itself as a diary, and the anonymous author led to debate about the work’s veracity. While the book is now considered to be fictional, the anonymous authorship created an implication that the work was somehow a “real” diary, which colored the reading experience for contemporaneous audiences.

Pseudonyms, Anonymity and Copyright

The U.S. Copyright system accommodates authors’ rights to publish pseudonymously in a number of different ways, underscoring the importance of this right as a matter of public policy. First, and most importantly, the Copyright Act provides an avenue for an author to register their work under a pseudonym (longtime readers may recall that copyright registration is not necessary in order for a work to be protected by copyright, but can provide significant benefits in many circumstances). An author can use both their pseudonym and their legal name on their copyright registration, or their pseudonym only. If an author does use their legal name on their copyright registration for a pseudonymously published work, it is important to understand from a privacy perspective that the author’s legal name will become a part of the public record, as copyright registrations are publicly available. If an author registers their copyright under a pseudonym and does not use their legal name in the registration, their legal name will not be made public.

However, there is a trade off for authors who register copyrights under a pseudonym. The duration of copyright protection is different for pseudonymously authored works: rather than being the life of the author plus 70 years, the copyright term for pseudonymous works is 95 years from the date of creation. This is because, without a real person’s identity to associate with the copyright, it is impossible to measure the life of the author. Additionally, a pseudonym itself cannot be copyrighted, as names and short phrases are outside the scope of copyright protection (though in some instances, words or marks identifying the author could be protected in other ways, such as by trademark law). This means that it is possible for multiple authors to use the same pseudonym, which can create confusion for readers and be a detriment to those authors’ ability to reach them. 

Authors are also empowered by the copyright system to register copyrights anonymously. As with pseudonymous works, anonymous works are subject to copyright protection for 95 years from the date of creation, since the life of the author cannot be ascertained without an author being named. Even if a work is registered anonymously, its author can sue to enforce the copyright (though they will likely lose their anonymity in the process). Anonymous works pose challenges for secondary users, however, because it leaves creators who may want to use the anonymous works in their own works without a point of contact.

Authors Alliance Signs on to Amicus Brief in Hunley v. Instagram

Posted October 12, 2022
Photo by Timothy L Brock on Unsplash

Authors Alliance is pleased to announce that we have joined with several civil society and library organizations (EFF, CCIA, ALA, ARL, OTW and ACRL) on an amicus brief submitted to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Hunley v. Instagram, a case about whether individuals and organizations that merely link to content can be liable for secondary copyright infringement, a judicial doctrine which places liability on a party that knowingly contributes to or facilitates copyright infringement, but does not itself directly infringe a copyright. More specifically, the case asks whether Instagram can be secondarily liable for copyright infringement when users use its “embedding” feature, whereby websites and platforms can employ code to display an Instagram post within their own content. 

The Case

The case arose when a group of photographers, who had captured images related to the death of George Floyd and the 2016 election, became upset that their images were being used in a variety of media outlets without permission. The outlets had used Instagram’s embedding tool to link and post the images rather than copying the images directly. The photographers then sued Instagram in the Northern District of California, on the theory that by offering the “embedding” feature, it was facilitating copyright infringement of others and therefore liable.

The district court dismissed the photographers’ claim because it did not pass muster under an inquiry known as the “server test,” established in the seminal Ninth Circuit case, Perfect 10 v. Amazon. The server test is premised on the idea that a website or platform does not violate the copyright holder’s exclusive right to display their work when a copy of the work is not stored on that website or platform’s servers. In short, the inquiry asks whether the work was stored on a website’s server, in which case the website could be liable for infringement, or whether that website merely links elsewhere without storing a copy of the work, in which case it cannot. When media outlets in this case embedded Instagram posts into their content, they did so using code that embeds and displays the post, but the posts were not actually stored on the outlets’ servers. Therefore, the district court found that Instagram was not liable for secondary infringement under the server test.  

The photographers have appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to challenge the validity of the server test for embedded content. It is worth noting that district courts in other circuits have disapproved of the Ninth Circuit’s Perfect 10 server test and found that embedding can constitute secondary infringement in some cases, and it is not applied in all jurisdictions. For this reason, some have speculated that the Ninth Circuit’s server test is ripe for revisiting

The Brief

Our amicus brief asks the Ninth Circuit to affirm the district court’s dismissal of the photographers’ complaint and the continued viability of the server test. It argues that the Perfect 10 server test should not be discarded, as it has paved the way for an internet that depends on the use of hyperlinks to connect information and present it efficiently. The brief explains how linking works, why linking is important, and the negative consequences for a wide variety of internet users—including authors—that could occur if the court narrows or rejects the server test. 

First, our brief explains how embedding and linking work: when an article or website links to other content, it accomplishes this by using computer code to incorporate another’s content into the work and/or direct users to it. Our brief argues that linking, and particularly the act of inline linking (providing links within the text of a website or blog post itself, as we have done throughout this post) is fundamental to the internet as we know it. Online advertising, message boards, and social media platforms depend on the ability to connect sources of information and direct users elsewhere online. 

Second, our brief argues that abandoning or narrowing the Perfect 10 server test could introduce liability for inline linking. Like embedding social media posts, inline linking to other content incorporates materials created by others indirectly without the secondary user actually hosting that content on a server. In this way, inline linking allows internet users to efficiently verify information or learn more about a given topic in just a click. Inline linking is in this way analogous to embedding, meaning that a decision in favor of secondary liability in this case could threaten the legality of inline linking, potentially disrupting the very fabric of the internet as we know it.

Like the general internet-using public, authors also depend on their ability to link to other sources in their online writings to cite to other sources and engage with other works of authorship. In fact, this is why we decided to weigh in on this case: a decision that introduces liability for inline linking could drastically alter how authors can cite to other sources of information and how they can conduct research in a digital environment. Authors rely on inline linking to save space and preserve the readability of their works while citing sources and engaging with other works. Authors also depend on online linking to perform research, as it can quickly and easily direct them to new sources of information. As more and more works are born digital, an author’s ability to link to other content to enrich their scholarship has become more important than ever. It is crucial that this ability is protected in order for the internet to continue to be an engine of learning and the advancement of knowledge. 

So far, the parties have submitted their opening briefs in this case, and several other amicus briefs have been filed. Oral argument has not yet been scheduled. Authors Alliance will keep our readers informed about updates in this case as it moves forward. 

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Update: Authors Alliance Opposes the Revised Journalism Competition and Preservation Act

Posted September 6, 2022
Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash

Today, Authors Alliance joined 20 public interest, civil society, and other like-minded organizations in signing on to a letter opposing the latest iteration of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (“JCPA”). The full text of the letter can be found here. Last year, Authors Alliance signed on to an earlier letter voicing opposition to the JCPA when it was initially proposed. A new version of the bill was recently released in the Senate, prompting the bill’s opponents to reiterate our concerns. 

In brief, the JCPA would enable collective bargaining by news organizations with large online platforms by creating a “safe harbor” from antitrust law to allow media organizations to band together and negotiate with these platforms. This blog post will explain our concerns about the bill and provide an update on how the legislation has evolved in the months since it was first proposed. 

Problems with the JCPA

Touted as bipartisan legislation intended to protect journalism from unfair encroachment by large tech companies, the legislation has received support from groups such as the Authors Guild and some news publications. But civil society organizations have drawn attention to serious problems with the legislation for those who care about robust fair use rights and access to knowledge. 

The JCPA would force platforms to negotiate with news publications for “access” to their content to engage in basic activities such as linking to the news publication’s website. By creating what some have dubbed a “link tax,” the JCPA could lead organizations and individuals to link less to other sources out of fear of copyright liability, creating a chilling effect on online speech and making knowledge less accessible. The JCPA could also expand the scope of copyright by covering the aggregation of snippets or headlines from press publications—information that is in many cases not entitled to copyright protection. The JCPA may also work to entrench the largest press publishers while disadvantaging smaller publishers, who lack the sophistication or resources to participate in this collective bargaining. 

Changes to Legislative Language

The latest revised bill represents the third round of revisions to the JCPA (Public Knowledge has published comprehensive discussions of the first and second rounds of revisions in recent months for readers interested in learning more). Unfortunately, the latest changes to the JCPA does little to address the concerns voiced by Authors Alliance and our co-signatories last year. 

There is some evidence that the bill’s sponsors heard the concerns voiced by Authors Alliance and others, but the changes do not go nearly far enough towards ameliorating our concerns. For example, the latest version of the bill includes a provision stating that it does modify, expand, or alter the rights guaranteed under copyright. But the legislation could also cover activities that are considered to be fair uses (such as aggregating “snippets” from articles and linking), creating uncertainty as to how the fair use doctrine interacts with this proposed legislation. 

The revised bill also includes an “employee cap” which would bar news organizations with over 1,500 employees from participating in the anticipated collective bargaining to help address concerns about entrenching the largest players. But this would exclude just three of the country’s largest news publications, making it ineffective at addressing monopoly concerns. As today’s letter points out, the legislation as currently envisioned could “cement and stimulate consolidation in the industry and create new barriers to entry for new and innovative models of truly independent, local journalism.”  To make matters worse, the JCPA does nothing to ensure that arbitration that any gains to news organizations will actually go to the journalists actually writing the articles. The legislation establishes “collective bargaining” rights for publications, many of which do not allow their employees to collectively bargain. By prioritizing publications over the authors who make these publications possible, the bill does little to address the difficulties faced by journalists and other authors. 

Finally, other changes in the legislation create new problems. New language in the bill would force  platforms to carry content of digital journalism organizations that participate in collective negotiations, which could lead to platforms being required to aggregate content containing extreme views or misinformation. This raises serious free expression concerns.

Authors Alliance cares deeply about a vibrant and diverse publishing ecosystem where smaller publishers are not disadvantaged, and the legislation as envisioned would do just the opposite.

20210617_JCPA-Letter-to-Congress

Update: Antitrust and the Proposed Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster Merger

Posted July 29, 2022
Photo by Sasun Bughdaryan on Unsplash

In November 2021, Authors Alliance published a blog post about antitrust and the publishing industry, focusing on a recent antitrust investigation intended to block the merger of two of the largest publishers in the country: Penguin Random House (“PRH”) and Simon & Schuster. The case is currently the subject of antitrust proceedings, with the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) on one side, and PRH, who is the party that would be purchasing Simon & Schuster, on the other. On August 1st, 2022, this case is scheduled for oral argument in the District Court for the D.C. circuit before Judge Florence Pan. In today’s post, we will provide an update on the case and share some thoughts about what it might mean for authors.

Witness Lists

Last week, the lists of witnesses for each side were announced. Both PRH and the DOJ included many prominent authors and publishing industry professionals on their witness lists. Literary agents and publishers will testify for both sides. Perhaps surprisingly, each party’s witness list also includes well-known authors. Bestselling author Stephen King will testify on behalf of the government, for example, whereas Andrew Solomon will testify on behalf of Penguin Random House. Penguin Random House also plans to call an economist to testify, likely as to potential economic effects of the merger. 

Parties’ Final Briefs

Then, earlier this week, both PRH and the DOJ submitted their final briefs in the case before it proceeds to oral argument. In its brief, the DOJ argues that a merger between PRH and S&S would violate antitrust laws based on the huge market share of bestsellers that the new firm would have, which it estimates will be nearly 50%. The DOJ also postulates that this would result in lower advances for authors, as there would be fewer publishers to “bid” on anticipated bestsellers, and ultimately, that the merger would lessen creative output and mean fewer authors could make a living from their writing. 

The DOJ’s brief also contextualized the merger within the longstanding pattern of publishing houses merging and consolidating, arguing that the industry as a whole is an “oligopoly” dominated by five major publishers, which cumulatively control 90% of the market for anticipated bestsellers (aside from Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, Macmillan, and HarperCollins make up the rest of the so-called “Big Five”). Smaller publishers, which lack the resources of these major players, are generally unable to compete with the Big Five when it comes to anticipated bestsellers, as they often cannot offer the large advances bestselling authors come to expect. The DOJ concludes that because the planned merger would substantially lessen competition in the anticipated bestsellers market, it is presumptively illegal, a presumption which it states cannot be overcome by PRH’s arguments. The DOJ’s argument is also notable because it focuses on the harm to authors, not consumers. By including diminished creative output in the negative effects that might result from the merger, the DOJ’s brief signals that incentivizing authorship and supporting authors are important interests to be weighed when considering reorganization within the publishing ecosystem. 

PRH, for its part, argues that the relevant “market” in the case should not be the market for anticipated bestselling books, but market for books published overall. It further alleges that the “anticipated bestsellers” market (which the DOJ defines as books with advanances over $250,000) the DOJ discusses in its filings has no basis in industry classifications, and would only include approximately 85 books out of the more than 55,000 books published each year. PRH also challenges the government’s “presumption” of illegality, arguing that its prediction model is not adequate to show a likelihood of competitive harm. PRH argues that the merger would actually enhance competition by enabling the new firm to offer more attractive offers and incentivizing other large publishers to do the same in order to compete. It also states that the DOJ government misunderstands the publishing industry and book auctions, and that the DOJ’s predictions about competition within the publishing industry rest on false assumptions. For example, the brief explains that there is substantial uncertainty about how well a book will perform once it is published, making book auctions highly subjective and meaning that no “market price” can be set for book advances. Additionally, because authors have other priorities aside from maximizing financial gain, such as establishing strong relationships with their editors and ensuring that the publisher is a good fit for their work, it is not unheard of for authors to accept a bid that is not the highest offered due to these other factors. 

Overall, the parties’ final briefs in this case show that the book publishing industry is one beset by unusual characteristics and conditions: the offer and auction processes are not straightforward, sales predictions are unreliable, and the role of literary agents in book sales can obfuscate things further. And while publishing houses have steadily consolidated over time, antitrust efforts to make the industry less of an “oligopoly” have so far not been successful. 

As a general matter,  Author Alliance believes that more competition among publishers, and less consolidation of market power, will benefit authors. The trend that the DOJ observes about consolidation is true across the industry, including tradebook publishers but also academic publishers, textbook publishers and others, and substantially and negatively impacts all types of authors. It’s also true that more competition across the publishing ecosystem is needed, as shown by the pending ebook pricing fixing lawsuit against the Big Five publishers and Amazon. 

What’s Next?

Multiple sealed documents have been filed in the case, which makes it difficult to say with certainty what next steps are already in the works. Reports are that after initial oral arguments, trial will begin and is expected to last three weeks. The court has set a post-trial briefing schedule, suggesting that the upcoming hearing will not be the end of the story in this case. Authors Alliance will keep our readers informed about any updates as this antitrust case moves forward.

Authors Alliance Annual Report: 2021 in Review

Posted January 19, 2022

We are pleased to share the highlights of Authors Alliance’s work in 2021 to promote laws, policies, and practices that enable authors to reach wide audiences. Inside, you’ll find details about how we’re helping authors leverage their rights to make—and keep—their works available in the ways they want.

Click here to view the report in your browser.

Authors Alliance Welcomes Research Assistant Derek Chipman

Posted January 14, 2022

We are pleased to announce that Derek Chipman has joined the Authors Alliance team as a research assistant, supporting our educational and advocacy efforts.

Derek comes to Authors Alliance from the Office of the County Counsel in Tehama County, California, where he served as a deputy county counsel. He was previously a law fellow at California Lawyers for the Arts. Derek holds a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley School of Law, where he was a student clinician with Berkeley’s Samuelson Technology, Law, and Policy Clinic, and is licensed to practice in California.

“I’m excited to join Authors Alliance and use my research skills and interest in IP Law to support authors and their rights while advocating for policies that allow their works to be widely read,” says Derek. 

Please join us in welcoming Derek to the Authors Alliance Community!