Author Archives: Rachel Brooke

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!

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.