Author Archives: Rachel Brooke

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!

Public Domain Day 2022: Welcoming Works from 1926 to the Public Domain

Posted January 4, 2022
Montage courtesy of the Center for the Public Domain

Literary aficionados and copyright buffs alike have something to celebrate as we welcome 2022: A new batch of works published in 1926 entered the public domain on January 1st. In copyright, the public domain is the commons of material that is not protected by copyright. When a work enters the public domain, anyone may do anything they want with the work, including activities that were formerly the “exclusive right” of the copyright holder like copying, sharing, and adapting the work. 

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

  • Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises
  • A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh
  • Langston Hughes’s The Weary Blues
  • Dorothy Parker’s Enough Rope
  • William Faulkner’s Soldiers’ Pay
  • Felix Salten’s Bambi

Copyright owners of works first published in the United States in 1926 needed to renew the 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, for a total term of 95 years. This means that works that were first published in the United States in 1926—provided they were published with a copyright notice, were properly registered, and had their copyright renewed—are protected through the end of 2021. 

Once in the public domain, works can be made freely available. 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 will open up full access to more than 35,000 titles originally published in 1926. 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 help fill the gap in works available to readers in their native language.

Please Support Authors Alliance this Holiday Season

Posted December 14, 2021

To Our Members and Allies:

Since 2014, you have helped us fulfill our mission to advance the interests of authors who want to make the world a fairer and more just place by sharing their creations with wide audiences. 

This year, we continued to advocate for laws and practices that empower authors to decide how their works are disseminated. We successfully pushed the Supreme Court of Canada to recognize the interests of authors who prioritize seeing their works reach broad audiences and contributing to the progress of knowledge, secured a new exemption to anti-circumvention laws that will enable groundbreaking text data mining research on e-books and films, provided input to shape regulations that will govern the new copyright small claims procedure, and much more.

We’ve also added to our suite of educational materials, with a new guide to securing permissions and a comprehensive FAQ on copyright ownership and online course materials. And we openly released a suite of resources that scholarly communications and library professionals can deploy to help faculty, researchers, and students understand and manage their rights throughout their careers. We created these resources to support you, and it is our hope that these will be useful to you in meeting your goals as an author.

We’re incredibly proud of our many accomplishments in 2021, and cannot wait for our members to see what we have in store for 2022. You can expect to see yet another brand new guide, blog posts on the latest news affecting authors, and a strong advocacy agenda. But we cannot continue to do this work without your continued support. As a small organization, we depend on donations from our members and allies to do the important work of advocating for and supporting your interests. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation today to help us carry on our work in 2022. Every contribution enables us to do our part to help you keep writing to be read!

Update: AAP Sues Maryland Over E-Lending Law

Posted December 10, 2021
Photo by Perfecto Capucine on Unsplash

Yesterday, the Association of American Publishers (“AAP”) announced it had filed a lawsuit in federal district court against the state of Maryland seeking to block the state’s new e-book lending law from taking effect on January 1st, 2022. This year, Maryland was the first of several states to pass a bill requiring publishers to license e-books to libraries on “reasonable terms,” and is the only state in which such a law is set to go into effect. Authors Alliance has written about this type of state legislation in the past, and we have been following these developments closely throughout the year.

State E-Book Lending Legislation

In 2021, multiple states proposed—and in some cases, passed—state legislation requiring publishers to license e-books to libraries on reasonable terms. The legislation responds in part to publishers’ trend in recent years of charging libraries higher prices for e-book licenses than they do consumers: in some cases, libraries must pay up to five times as much as an individual consumer for an e-book license. Moreover, these licenses often come with restrictive terms, such as limits on the number of times an e-book can be checked out before the license is terminated. The issue gained particular salience during the COVID-19 pandemic, as libraries across the country shuttered in-person operations, and patrons were forced to turn to e-books and other digital services in order to access library resources.

The Maryland Legislation

In March of this year, the Maryland state legislature unanimously passed the Maryland library e-book lending bill. Before the bill could become law, it faced last-minute opposition by the AAP, which claimed the bill was unconstitutional. Nevertheless, Governor Larry Hogan announced that the bill had become law in May, and would go into effect in January of next year. Described by its proponents as “fairly mild,” the Maryland legislation requires “a publisher who offers to license an electronic literary product to the public to also offer to license the product to public libraries in the State on reasonable terms that would enable public libraries to provide library users with access to the electronic literary product.” “Reasonable terms” are not explicitly defined in the statute, leaving Maryland libraries and publishers to negotiate these terms.

Constitutionality of State E-Book Lending Legislation

Following the Maryland law’s passage, the AAP maintained that it viewed the legislation as unconstitutional, arguing that the legislation interferes with the federal copyright scheme and is thus “preempted” by federal law. Then, in August, the Copyright Office weighed in on the matter in response to a letter from Senator Thom Tillis expressing concerns about these legislative efforts. The Office stated that, in its view, the legislation was likely preempted by the federal copyright scheme under a legal theory known as “conflict preemption,” which applies when a state law and federal law conflict such that it is not possible to comply with both. However, it is important to note that determining the constitutionality of a particular state law is the providence of the courts, not Congress (of which the Copyright Office is a part), so this opinion is merely an advisory one. Moreover, the Office noted that the specific legal question at issue has not been addressed by any U.S. court, creating additional uncertainty about whether the laws might be preempted.

The AAP’s Lawsuit

In its complaint, the AAP reiterates its position that Congress, and not state legislatures, has the power to create laws governing copyright and uses of copyrighted works, calling the Maryland legislation “a frontal attack on these federal rights.” It also argues that “the vitality of the publishing industry” depends on publishers’ ability to make business decisions—including whether to license their e-books to libraries and on what terms. The AAP also sent a letter to New York governor, Kathy Hochul, urging her to veto the New York analogue to the Maryland law on similar grounds. Overall, the AAP takes the position that it is possible for state governments to support libraries without this type of legislation. Yet the fact remains that libraries have consistently had difficulties meeting their patrons’ needs with regards to digital lending: until last year, one of the major publishers even had an embargo in place, preventing libraries from obtaining many copies of new books. Without legislation addressing the issue—such as the Maryland law now under attack—there is no guarantee that publishers will offer libraries e-book licenses on terms they can afford and which meet the changing needs of patrons.

The Consolidation of Publishing Houses, Past and Present

Posted December 8, 2021

Last month, after the Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit to stop the merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, we wrote about the intersection of antitrust law and publishing. The antitrust lawsuit is responding in part to a longtime pattern in publishing—the consolidation of publishers over time. In today’s post, we will discuss these consolidations, explaining how they can affect authors and contextualizing them historically.

Publishing Mergers and Acquisitions Today

Just last week, it was announced that a newly formed investor group had acquired Open Road Integrated Media—one of the largest standalone e-book publishers founded by former HarperCollins CEO, Jane Friedman. And Open Road itself purchased a UK-based publisher, Bloodhound books, just a few months back. This pattern is nothing new, but it shows how rapidly publishers can merge and change hands. It is not clear what will happen to Open Road’s operations in the wake of the sale, but the unpredictability of these transactions can work to authors’ detriments in a number of ways.  

When publishers merge or acquire other publishers, a key question is what degree of independence each entity will have within the new one. For example, in the recent proposed Penguin Random House/Simon & Schuster merger, concerns emerged almost immediately about whether the various imprints under the Penguin Random House banner, which will include Simon & Schuster’s imprints if the merger goes forward, will be allowed to bid against one another for book deals. If not, the fewer competitors in the space to drive up bids for books might mean that authors receive lower advances. Publishers do allow intra-house competition in some cases: following the 2013 merger of Penguin and Random House, the new firm opted to allow its imprints to compete against each other, provided there was a publisher other than Penguin Random House involved as well.

Historical Patterns in Publishing Mergers and Acquisitions

While the proposed Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster merger has generated significant controversy, mergers between trade publishers and publishing conglomerates have in fact been quite common over the past 50 years. According to a study published in Publishing Research Quarterly last year, purchasers tended to be corporate conglomerates in the 1960s and 70s, diversified media companies in the 1980s, financial buyers in the 1990s and 2000s, and other book publishers in today’s market. 

Moreover, alarm over accelerating mergers within publishing is also nothing new. In fact, a 1977 New York Times article discussed the contemporaneous “merger fever” within publishing and even mentioned an antitrust investigation by the Department of Justice. Acquisitions like Bertelsmann’s purchase of a majority share of Bantam Books drew attention at the time, but these moves were just the beginning: Bertelsmann came to fully own Bantam in 1988, then merging it with Doubleday (a large conglomerate in its own right in the 1970s) before separately acquiring Random House in 1998 and reconfiguring Bantam and Doubleday as imprints within Random House. 

Tracing these mergers can be dizzying, and moreover it can make it more difficult for authors to obtain reversions of rights when their works are no longer in print (rights reversion refers to the process of formally reclaiming rights that were formerly handed over to a publisher under a clause in the publication contract). For example, an author who published a book with Dutton Books in the early 1970s who wanted to contact her publisher in order to exercise her contractual right of reversion would have to trace the ownership of the publisher from to Dutch publisher, Elsevier, which bought Dutton in 1975, to a buyout firm, Dyson-Kissner-Moran, which purchased Dutton in 1981, to Everyman Library, which acquired Dutton in 1985, to Penguin Books, which purchased Everyman in 1986, and finally to Penguin Random House after Random House merged with Penguin in 2013. The author in this example would then have to contact Penguin Random House to obtain a reversion. 

Despite these downsides of publishing mergers for authors, there is some evidence that the practice has benefitted the quality of trade books published. In a 1988 article on the topic, the New York Times argued that some mergers, such as Random House’s acquisition of Alfred A. Knopf in 1960, “strengthened both houses, thereby benefiting authors . . . and readers.” In fact, by the late 80s, the trade publishing industry was already dominated by a handful of major players, though the names and ownership structures have shifted over time.

Alternatives for Authors

It is important to keep in mind that there are now, and always have been, small and medium sized trade publishers, “boutique” publishers, and academic presses to fill some of the gaps left by consolidations among the largest trade publishers. Moreover, new and innovative publishers are emerging all the time: in 2020, Astra Publishing House was established as a literary-minded U.S. publishing house. Funded by Chinese media conglomerate, Thinkingdom Media Group, the firm is staffed with several trade publishing veterans. Similarly, this year, podcast host Zibby Owens announced the future launch of Zibby Books, which will publish just 12 books a year to start and feature an innovative profit-sharing program between authors and the firm’s employees.

While there are undoubtedly downsides for authors when trade publishers merge, it may also be that the latest transactions are simply part of a trend that has continued for years, albeit with different players and in different forms. In addition to the other types of publishers discussed above, open access publishing and self-publishing platforms have also risen in popularity in recent years, giving authors still other options when the trade publishing conglomerates are not appropriate for their works and goals. 

Q&A with Peter Kaufman: Open Access Publishing and Access to Knowledge

Posted November 30, 2021
Photo by Ellen Bratina

In today’s post, as a part of our series of open access success stories that spotlight noteworthy openly accessible books and their authors, we’re featuring Peter Kaufman of MIT Open Learning. Kaufman made his new book, The New Enlightenment and the Fight to Free Knowledge, available for free under a CC-BY license upon its publication by Seven Stories Press. In the book, Kaufman discusses “the powerful forces that have purposely crippled our efforts to share knowledge widely and freely.” By releasing his work under an open access license, Kaufman has pushed back on these forces while also ensuring that his work reaches a wide audience. You can find the open access edition of the book here.

Authors Alliance: Can you tell us why you opted to make The New Enlightenment and the Fight to Free Knowledge openly available?

Peter Kaufman: My book is about the forces that have constrained our access to knowledge in the modern world, some of the angels that have fought to increase that access, and some of the monsters that continue their efforts to suppress it.  The book was made available from the very date of publication as a downloadable free edition – and under a CC-BY license, to boot, which allows for the broadest use and reuse possible.  My publisher, Dan Simon of Seven Stories Press, is a progressive deeply committed to releasing “works of the radical imagination,” as he puts it – and to media experimentation of the kind we all support. 

AuAll: Did your audience or the subject matter of your book influence your decision to publish openly?

PK: Yes, beyond the history in the book – it opens in the 16th century – and the contemporary debates that I cover from the 20th century on, I’m addressing progressives who benefit from encouragement and example, and those on the fence about the many advantages – social, cultural, economic – of open access.  I have been a long-time OER advocate and work at MIT Open Learning – the pearly gates for open access in higher education. 

AuAll: What results have you seen from publishing your book openly?

PK: Because of the subject matter but also because of the license, the book launched with public online discussions at law schools, book stores, libraries, universities, and other organizations at the cutting edge of the freedom-to-know, including the Internet Archive and Creative Commons.  A program with Wikipedia is forthcoming.  I believe that the progress resulted in numerous social media impressions that otherwise we would not have seen – and postings by advocates in media reform, copyright reform, and free software. 

AuAll: Could you share some lessons learned or other suggestions for authors?

PK: Do it.  My book makes the point that in the end – in the long term, as John Maynard Keynes used to say – we all wind up in the public domain.  Accelerate that process.  Gain new readers.  Get the right kind of attention.  Find like-minded advocates.  Contribute knowledge freely to the world a little faster than you otherwise would have. 

Permissions Tips and Tricks from our New Guide

Posted November 17, 2021
magenta cover of third-party permissions guide

Earlier this month, Authors Alliance released a brand new guide—the Authors Alliance guide to Third-Party Permissions and How to Clear Them. In today’s post, we will share some of our favorite tips and tricks from our guide on how authors might approach the permissions process and troubleshoot when they encounter difficulties. If you’d like to learn more, check out our new guide, available under a CC-BY license for you to download and share.  

  • Start early, but not too early. Because getting permission from rightsholders to use third-party materials in your work can take some time, it is prudent to start early, as the process can take anywhere from days to months. But clearing permissions too early in your writing process can pose its own risks: in some cases, third-party materials end up being edited out of a book during the publisher’s editing process, and if authors have already cleared and paid for these permissions, they have assumed financial burdens that turned out to be unnecessary. For this reason, it is prudent to coordinate with publishers to ensure authors understand their permissions timeline.
  • You have allies. Authors tasked with clearing permissions may find the process daunting, as it is intimately related to the legal aspects of publishing, but often the responsibility of the author, who may understandably lack the legal sophistication of publishers. But it is important to keep in mind that publishers share an author’s goal of seeing their work published and successful. While a publisher may not be able to undertake the permissions process on an author’s behalf, they may be able to provide suggestions, form permission letters and logs, and other helpful information if you find yourself stuck. Similarly, academic scholarly communications offices and authors groups like Authors Alliance exist to support scholars and authors, and can sometimes provide general guidance or field questions.
  • Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Like a publication contract, a permissions agreement is a legally binding contract that can be enforced in court if it is breached. This means that the terms of the permission agreement are quite important, and it is prudent for authors to take care to understand these terms in order to avoid exposing themselves to liability. It also means that like publication contracts, permissions agreements can be negotiated. Authors should feel empowered to negotiate with rightsholders on fees and other terms, and in fact, authors who come to the table prepared to explain their position may be more likely to convince a rightsholder to compromise. 
  • Remember fair use. As we discuss in our guide, the doctrine of fair use permits authors to use third-party materials in their own work without permission in some circumstances. For authors who think they may be able to rely on fair use, our permissions guide provides an overview of how an author might think through these issues. Authors who want to learn more about fair use can also check out our guide to Fair Use for Nonfiction Authors for a more in depth discussion of the doctrine.
  • Consider creative workarounds. When an author is not able to obtain the permission they need to make use of a particular third-party work, they may have other options that can still enable them to reach their goals for their works. Publicly licensed works, works that are in the public domain, and original commissioned works can serve as adequate substitutes in some cases. 

Book Publishing in the 21st Century: What’s Antitrust Got to Do With it?

Posted November 9, 2021
Photo by Sasun Bughdaryan on Unsplash

Last week, the Department of Justice announced that it was filing an antitrust lawsuit to block Penguin Random House, the largest major trade publisher in the country, from acquiring Simon & Schuster, itself one of the so-called “Big Five” publishers (formerly the Big Six, until another major acquisition of Penguin Books by Random House in 2013). And this is not the first time the publishing world has been shaken up by antitrust: in recent years, the government has also initiated major antitrust lawsuits against Apple and Amazon for how these companies price e-books they sell. In the wake of these developments, authors may be asking themselves how these antitrust cases affect the publishing ecosystem and why antitrust litigation in publishing is becoming a more common occurrence. In today’s post, we will survey the landscape of antitrust publishing litigation and explain how the proposed merger of Random House and Simon & Schuster, as well as the antitrust lawsuit intended to stop it, might affect authors. 

Antitrust and Publishing

Broadly speaking, antitrust law aims to protect market competition, ensuring that no one company wields too much market power. Antitrust laws have existed in the U.S. since the late 19th century, and have the goal of protecting consumer interests by ensuring that there are “strong incentives for businesses to operate efficiently, keep prices down, and keep quality up.” In the 21st century, the consolidation of publishing houses and book distributors over time into fewer and fewer companies with larger and larger market shares has begun to raise antitrust concerns. In this way, antitrust law seems a natural fit for publishing: over the past 50 years, publishers have steadily merged, resulting in a market dominated by only five major players.

Antitrust and E-Book Price Fixing

In recent years, the government has used antitrust law to mount challenges to various companies’ e-book pricing practices. The most prominent case was U.S. v. Apple, in which a judge found Apple had conspired with several large trade publishers to fix e-book pricing in its iBooks store, hampering retail price competition from other e-book sellers. These publishers were also implicated in the lawsuit, but elected to settle out of court. Ultimately, Apple was required to pay more than $140 million in consumer refunds in addition to other fees. More recently, a group of e-book purchasers brought a class action lawsuit against Amazon, alleging that by keeping its pricing for e-commerce lower than its competitors under a company policy, it engaged in anticompetitive behavior with regards to e-books and other products, harming purchasers of these products.

Antitrust and Authors’ Interests: United States v. Bertelsmann 

The latest antitrust lawsuit in the publishing world, U.S. v. Bertelsmann (Bertelsmann is the German company that owns Penguin Random House), proceeds on a new theory of market competition. Rather than focusing on harm to consumers of books that might result from anticompetitive behavior, the Department of Justice emphasizes the harms to authors that would be likely to occur following the proposed merger. With just four major trade publishers to choose from, authors of trade books could be at a substantial disadvantage in negotiating for the best contract terms and highest advances. This is because rather than five competitors bidding for books, there would be just four, meaning less competition and less advantageous terms for authors who publish with the Big Five.

The government explains in its complaint that a Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster merger would give that megapublisher revenues “twice that of their next closest competitor.” The new firm would wield tremendous market power, which could in turn disadvantage smaller publishing houses that lack the resources of the Big Five. Interestingly, the complaint does not discuss the fact that the 2013 merger of Penguin Books and Random House was already an unprecedented consolidation of power in the industry, as those publishers were the two largest trade publishers at the time. While this undoubtedly reduced competition between the publishers and likely harmed authors’ incomes in the same way as the new complaint alleges, no antitrust case was brought at the time. This change in the application of antitrust law to the publishing industry may be a consequence of a change in presidential administrations or the evolution of antitrust law generally.

Other authors groups have sounded the alarm about the proposed Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster merger, emphasizing the harm that could occur to authors’ livelihoods if the merger goes through. By grounding its antitrust case in the interests of authors, the government has echoed these concerns and signaled that purchasers of books are not the only ones who matter when it comes to ensuring fairness in the book market. 

Announcing the Authors Alliance Guide to Third-Party Permissions and How to Clear Them

Posted November 2, 2021

Today, Authors Alliance is thrilled to announce the release of a brand new educational guide for authors: Third-Party Permissions and How to Clear Them, authored and edited by Authors Alliance staff. We were inspired to create this guide, the fifth in our series of author guides, by the myriad questions we receive from authors about the third-party permissions process. The difficulty for many authors is that publication contracts usually place the ultimate burden for clearing permissions and paying any associated fees on the author, but the legal issues involved can be difficult to wrap one’s head around, particularly when approaching the process for the first time. We created this guide in order to fill that gap, demystifying the legal and procedural aspects that can make permissions so challenging.

Our guide walks authors through the permissions process, beginning with an overview of copyright and publication contracts to help readers understand why permissions are required in the first place. Then, we explain circumstances in which permission is not required (like when the use of third-party materials is a fair use or the materials are in the public domain) to help authors determine whether to request permission in the first place. Next, we offer some tips on how to identify and locate a rightsholder and go over the process of actually securing the permission. Finally, we conclude with a discussion of potential options for authors who are unable to obtain permission after making a concerted effort to do so.

Our new guide covers both text and image permissions, and we note throughout where these two types of permissions work differently. We created the guide with the goal of making the permissions clearance process as clear and comprehensible as possible in order to demystify a part of the publication process that can be intimidating for first time and veteran authors alike.

Our guide is available today for free as a PDF under a CC-BY 4.0 license, and will be available to purchase as a print book later this year. We are indebted to the expert reviewers, publishers, and authors who helped us make this guide a reality and ensured it reflected the realities of third-party permissions in publishing as well as serving the needs of our diverse body of members. We are delighted to bring you this new resource, and hope it helps take some of the sting out of permissions so you can focus on what really matters: creating new works of authorship that can contribute to the commons of knowledge and help you reach your goals as an author.