Category Archives: Blog

Academic Authors Find Larger Audience through Controlled Digital Lending

Posted October 8, 2019

We thank the Internet Archive for permission to cross-post this piece on how controlled digital lending (“CDL”) can benefit academic authors, originally published on the Internet Archive Blogs. CDL is a model in which libraries digitize works in their collections and circulate the digitized title in place of a physical one. For more about CDL, check out our earlier coverage on the topic, including statements from authors in support of the model.

Robert Darnton

For Robert Darnton, the benefit of Controlled Digital Lending to academic authors is obvious: More people can read their work.

As the Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and the University Librarian, Emeritus at Harvard University, Darnton has long been a champion of broadening access to information. He also sees the value of making materials more widely available when it comes to his own research outputs.

Darnton has made two of his books, which are both still in print, freely available online: Mesmerism and the End of the Enlightenment in France (Harvard University Press, 1968) and The Business of Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the Encyclopédie, 1775-1800 (Harvard University Press, 1979). Several other of his titles are available to borrow electronically through the Internet Archive’s Open Library.

Eventually, Darnton said he’d like all his titles to be digitized. “I feel it’s in my best interest to reach as large a public audience as I possibly can,” said Darnton. He believes the exposure online helps with the marketing of his books. Indeed, there was an increase in sales of Mesmerism once it was digitized.

Many academics don’t rely on books for income and it’s rare that royalties continue after a few years. “What authors want when that ceases is to reach readers. This is the best way to do it,” Darnton said. “CDL is a good system and a way to really improve people’s access to literature without harming anyone.”

In higher education, resources from one campus library to another can vary widely. Even at Harvard, Darnton said it’s not possible to make all books available—let alone small libraries with limited budgets. Libraries can benefit from interlibrary loans and digital lending can provide even greater relief from isolation for institutions without the means of expanding their collections.

“CDL can make an enormous difference, even for such privileged environments as Harvard,” Darnton said. “There is momentum behind CDL. It is not just the way to go, but the way things are going.”

Resource Roundup: Negotiating Book Publication Contracts

Posted October 2, 2019
Shelf with colorful books and Authors Alliance logo on blue background

In October 2018, we released our guide to Understanding and Negotiating Book Publication Contracts and made it available as a free Creative Commons-licensed download as well as in print in the Authors Alliance store. The guide identifies clauses that frequently appear in publishing contracts, explains in plain language what these terms (and typical variations) mean, and presents strategies for negotiating “author-friendly” versions of these clauses.

As a companion to the guide, we’ve featured a series of blog posts over the past year that shine the spotlight on the ways that authors can negotiate for publication contract terms that help them make and keep their books available in the ways they want. To make these informational posts easier to find, we’ve gathered them into one handy list for your reference:

The Grant of Rights

The grant of rights is the heart and soul of your publication contract. It specifies what rights in your work you are giving to your publisher and what your publisher can do with these rights. These rights can be broad (e.g., the right to print and sell copies of your work anywhere in the world, forever) or they can be narrow (e.g., the right to sell a limited edition in a specific market for a set period of time). In this post, we share more ways you can shape your publication contract to retain some control over your rights, either by limiting the grant of rights or by securing the right to approve or be consulted about how your work is used.

Fair Use and Third Party Permissions

Does your book contain references to other creators’ works? This piece highlights an important aspect of your publication contract that defines whether your publisher expects you to obtain permissions for any third-party content—such as excerpts or images—you use in your book, or whether your contract explicitly allows you to rely on fair use.

Open Access Success Stories

Learn strategies that can help make your book openly available at different stages of the book’s life cycle and how to shape a publication contract to accommodate these options. Be inspired by real success stories from authors who have successfully negotiated for terms in their publication contracts that enable them to meet their open access goals.

Cover Design and Pricing

Contracts typically include clauses that allocate the decision-making authority for important parts of the publishing process. Your publisher will likely approach these decisions with an eye towards maximizing profit, which may well align with your interests. But you may also have a stake in these decisions because they can influence how you and your work are perceived by potential readers. This post shares some ideas for tailoring your contract to give you a say in how your work will be presented to the world.

Follow the Money

Rights management and design decisions may not be the only thing on your mind in a book deal. This installment of our spotlight series focuses on ways that you can shape your contract to help secure fair compensation for your work. Contract terms governing advances and royalties are two key ways that your contract determines what money will flow to you.

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Be sure to check out our Publication Contracts resource page for more details on these and other strategies to help you meet your creative and pragmatic goals.

NYPL Project Reveals Nearly 75% of Books from 1924-1964 are Likely in the Public Domain

Posted September 17, 2019
Photo of a card catalog cabinet
Photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash

Earlier this year, the New York Public Library (NYPL) announced preliminary results from an analysis of copyright registration and renewal data recorded with the U.S. Copyright Office from 1923-1964. The data reveals that of the approximately 642,000 copyrights registered for books during this period, the copyrights for approximately 162,000 (or 25%) of these books were renewed. This means that the roughly 480,000 books for which copyright was not renewed are most likely in the public domain (with a few caveats—for example, if the book was first published abroad).

The details of what, exactly, is in copyright from this period and for how long can be complicated, due to changes in copyright duration and renewal requirements during the 20th century. Shorter copyright terms, combined with a requirement to renew copyright in order to extend those terms, mean that many works published between 1923 and 1964 could have fallen out of copyright and into the public domain because their copyrights were not renewed. (On January 1, 2019, works from 1923 that were previously under copyright and renewed entered the public domain, marking the first time in 20 years that works have been added to the public domain in the United States due to term expiration.)

As the NYPL’s Sean Redmond points out, “For a long time, any book published before 1923 has surely been in the Public Domain and any book published after 1963 has positively been in copyright. Between those two dates though there is a more complex zone I’ll call the Renewal Era.” *

Identifying the copyright status of books in the so-called “Renewal Era” has taken a leap forward thanks to the pilot project undertaken at the NYPL to convert multiple volumes of the Library of Congress’ Catalog of Copyright Entries from scanned images to XML. This data, now searchable, consists of a list of books registered for copyright from 1923-1964 in the U.S., as well as list of those that had their copyright renewed during the same period. A search interface for the 1923-1964 registration and renewal records is available here.

Volunteers coordinated by Project Gutenberg and Internet Archive are now working to make these public domain books available online.

* It is also possible for works first published in the United States between January 1, 1964 and March 1, 1989 to have fallen into the public domain for failure to meet notice requirements. For more information, see Peter Hirtle’s Copyright Term and the Public Domain Chart or UC Berkeley Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic’s Public Domain Handbook.

Authors Alliance Voices Concerns About the CASE Act

Posted September 10, 2019
photo by Martin Falbisoner | CC BY-SA

Today, the United States House Committee on the Judiciary is scheduled to review H. R. 2426, the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2019 (the “CASE Act”). The CASE Act would establish a small claims tribunal within the Copyright Office as an alternative to federal court for pursuing copyright claims.

As we’ve previously written, Authors Alliance supports reducing barriers to copyright enforcement for those with limited financial resources by providing a faster and cheaper avenue to remedies. Today, the high cost of litigation keeps many independent authors and other creators from enforcing their copyrights. A well-designed copyright small claims process could fix this but, unfortunately, the CASE Act as written invites abuse and poses a high likelihood of harm to authors as both claimants and respondents in the proposed tribunal.

To address problems with the current draft of the CASE Act, our letter urges the Committee to:

  • Limit statutory damages to cases where it is impossible or cost prohibitive to prove actual damages and develop principles to guide awards of statutory damages;
  • Remove restrictions on the grounds for judicial review of the tribunal’s decisions;
  • Include additional safeguards to deter copyright trolls and preserve the utility of the small claims tribunal for independent authors and creators;
  • Require potential respondents to affirmatively opt-in to the small claims process; and
  • Narrow the jurisdiction of the small claims tribunal.

Read more about these recommendations in our letter to the Committee.

Independent authors and creators should have access to a low cost way to enforce their copyrights and vindicate their right to use others’ copyrighted works in lawful ways. We urge the Committee to modify the bill to better serve the creators it is intended to benefit.

Just Use It: New UC Berkeley Library Permissions Policy Lowers Barriers for Researchers

Posted September 3, 2019

Just in time for the start of the academic year, we’re featuring this excerpt from a post by the UC Berkeley Library, which recently announced a new permissions policy for scholarly and public use of Library materials. The full post originally appeared here, under a CC-BY-NC license.

Photo by Amanda Vick on Unsplash

Not long ago, if researchers wanted to publish excerpts or images from the UC Berkeley Library’s collections in their books or articles, they were confronted with a patchwork of policies — a hard-to-navigate web of fees and permissions that shifted depending on which library on campus held the materials.

Not anymore. Driven in part by a desire to track the use of their collections, for decades, many museums, archives, and libraries — including the UC Berkeley Library — have required researchers get their approval and, sometimes, pay for permission to include excerpts or images in their scholarship. With the aim of fostering a more researcher-friendly environment, a progressive new policy across all of UC Berkeley’s libraries does away with these hurdles, making it easier for scholars to use a trove of Library materials in their publications.

“This is a broad-minded win for researchers,” said Rachael Samberg, who leads UC Berkeley’s Office of Scholarly Communication Services, which developed the policy with The Bancroft Library. “We have vast collections. We are taking to heart the Library’s mission of lowering barriers.”

Why the policy change? The Library aims to increase access to online resources by taking a more open stance that supports the broadest possible use of its collections — a boon to researchers.

Publishers Sue to Block Audible Captions

Posted August 26, 2019
preview of the proposed Audible captioning function

Last Friday, a group of seven publishers—including HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan—filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against the audiobook platform Audible. Earlier this summer, Audible (which is owned by Amazon) announced plans to enable machine-generated text captions to scroll across screens as audiobooks are played, a development that the publishers view as copyright infringement. The lawsuit, Chronicle Books, LLC et al. v. Audible, Inc., seeks an injunction to prevent the September release of the captioning function.

According to the publishers’ complaint, the proposed caption feature infringes on their copyrights because it creates unauthorized derivative works and reproduces, distributes, and publicly displays unauthorized copies of books in the form of the text accompanying the audiobooks. They argue that the text could act as a direct substitute for a book’s text in a physical book or e-book form and therefore competes with the publisher’s existing markets. The publishers state that “Audible’s admitted goal is to give users a reading experience, despite Audible only having the right to distribute audiobooks.”

Audible issued a statement in response to the lawsuit, stating that “We disagree with the claims that [the caption feature] violates any rights and look forward to working with publishers and members of the professional creative community to help them better understand the educational and accessibility benefits of this innovation.” According to the statement, the caption function was developed “to help kids who are not reading engage more through listening” and to address “the risk of losing a significant portion of the next generation of book readers.”

We encourage members of Authors Alliance to contact us at info@authorsalliance.org to share your views on the proposed Audible caption feature and this litigation.

Q&A With Jeanne Fromer and Christopher Sprigman on “Copyright Law: Cases and Materials”

Posted August 20, 2019

Jeanne Fromer and Christopher Sprigman of NYU Law School recently published their new casebook Copyright Law: Cases and Materials as an open access work. A PDF of the book is freely available to everyone to read and download under a Creative Commons license, and may also be purchased as a low-cost print-on-demand book. Instructors who register on the site can also access model syllabi and participate in a discussion forum.

In this Q&A, we asked them about publishing the casebook openly instead of as a traditional textbook, and the benefits of that decision.


Authors Alliance: Given the many incentives to publish textbooks via traditional channels, why did you choose open access for Copyright Law?

Jeanne Fromer and Christopher Sprigman: As law professors, we are concerned about the high price of law school textbooks. Many of our students are already taking on significant debt to fund their law school education. The high cost of commercially-published textbooks makes a tough situation worse. We wanted to see if we could provide a high-quality textbook, in both digital and print formats, that would provide professors and students with a free or low-cost option.

AuAll: How did you select which Creative Commons license to apply?

JF & CS: We chose a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives (CC-BY-NC-ND) license. We selected a non-commercial license because we didn’t want people charging money for a book that we meant to be available for free (or, in printed form, at cost). And we selected a license that restricted derivatives because we did not want people altering our book to express views on copyright law that we would not endorse, while attributing those views (misleadingly) to us. Just to be clear, we are willing to approve most derivative works. For example, we are willing to approve derivatives that re-arrange our materials in ways that particular professors find helpful. All people have to do is email us, tell us what they want to do, and so long as we feel that it fairly represents our views, we’ll approve.

AuAll: What results do you see from publishing your books openly? What do you see as the pros and cons of embracing this model?

JF & CS: Since we released the book a few weeks ago, we’ve learned of adoptions by professors at Cardozo School of Law, Case Western Reserve University School of Law, Harvard Law School, National Law University Delhi, New York University School of Law, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, Notre Dame Law School, Saint Louis University School of Law, University of California, Berkeley School of Law, University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law, and William & Mary Law School. We are very grateful to the professors who have adopted it thus far.

The pros of publishing the book under a CC license are pretty obvious: we get the book out there at no cost for those who download it from our website and at very low cost for those who order a printed copy from Amazon. There another important benefit: we can update our book more frequently than is typical for commercially-published textbooks.

As for cons … it’s difficult to think of any. We don’t think that commercial textbook publishers do much editorial work to make their casebooks better. They are mostly marketing organizations … and, frankly, between us we know most of the people who teach copyright in the U.S. and many who teach it internationally, and we find it easy to reach them. For those reasons, a commercial publisher’s marketing capacity isn’t very useful to us, as it likely would not be to most legal academics.

AuAll: Could you share some lessons learned and/or other suggestions for authors on how they can make their works available in the ways that they want?

JF & CS: One lesson is that it’s fun to write a textbook with a friend! We both enjoyed working on this together. Another lesson is that writing a textbook isn’t quite the slog that people may think it is. We spent a lot of time structuring the book and selecting and editing cases, and doing so gave us a nice opportunity to think anew about which cases – and which parts of cases – were most important and most helpful to students. And then we spent a good bit of time writing the parts of the book that frame the important questions in copyright law. There is a good deal of creativity involved in how you do this … you have to be clear, and thought-provoking, and engaging, and fair. At the end of this process, we’ve produced a casebook that we feel proud of.

AuAll: We are pleased to count both of you among the members of Authors Alliance. Could you say a few words about the value you find as a member?

JF & CS: We both appreciate the work of Authors Alliance, an organization that works on behalf of authors who write to be read. We are both very much in that camp: we’ve written our textbook because we value our role as teachers and scholars, and we want to lower the barriers to students who are interested in learning about copyright law. There are a lot of authors whose motivations are similar to ours, and Authors Alliance speaks for them.


Jeanne Fromer is Professor of Law at NYU, specializing in intellectual property including copyright, patent, trademark, trade secret, and design protection laws. She is a faculty co-director of the Engelberg Center on Innovation Law & Policy.

Christopher Jon Sprigman is Professor of Law at NYU, where he teaches intellectual property law, antitrust law, torts, and comparative constitutional law. His research focuses on how legal rules affect innovation and the deployment of new technologies.

Authors Alliance to Take Part in NEH-Funded Institute on Building Legal Literacies in Text Data Mining

Posted August 14, 2019

Authors Alliance congratulates the UC Berkeley Libraries on obtaining a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to fund “Building Legal Literacies in Text Data Mining,” an institute to teach humanities researchers, librarians, and research staff how to confidently navigate the major legal issues that arise in text data mining research. 

Green and black National Endowment for the Humanities logo

As the UC Berkeley noted in its grant announcement, “Potential legal hurdles do not just deter text data mining research; they also bias it toward particular topics and sources of data. In response to confusion over copyright, website terms of use, and other perceived legal roadblocks, some digital humanities researchers have gravitated to low-friction research questions and texts to avoid decision-making about rights-protected data.”

Thanks to the NEH’s $165,000 grant, Rachael Samberg of UC Berkeley Library’s Office of Scholarly Communication Services will be leading a national team from more than a dozen institutions and organizations to help humanities researchers and staff navigate complex legal questions in cutting-edge digital research.

The institute will be held in summer 2020 at the UC Berkeley and training materials will subsequently be published in an openly-available online book for researchers and librarians around the globe. Authors Alliance Executive Director Brianna Schofield will take part in the institute in her capacity as a copyright expert. We look forward to joining this outstanding group of scholars, librarians, and legal experts to inform discussion and best practices for the benefit of authors in the digital humanities.

Authors Alliance will provide an update in October when the call for participants is issued (participants will receive stipends to support their attendance).

Announcing the Authors Alliance Partner Program (A2P2)!

Posted August 7, 2019

We are thrilled to announce the pilot launch of the Authors Alliance Partner Program (A2P2), a new subscription option for organizations.

By joining A2P2, organizations can leverage our expertise in copyright, open access, publication contracts, and getting rights back in order to expand the capacity of library and scholarly communications professionals to serve faculty, researchers, and students. Together, we can help authors manage rights throughout their careers and improve the availability and discoverability of knowledge and culture.

Why join A2P2?

  • Save time and enhance your capacity to provide up-to-date, reliable, and consistent rights management education to authors with our teaching and learning resources.
    • “Workshops in a box” that contain everything you need to prepare for and deliver workshops on topics that help authors manage rights throughout their publishing lifecycle, from negotiating for author-friendly terms in a publication contract to getting rights back.
    • Webinars and other professional development resources to support your training activities.
    • A curated collection of third-party materials that form a one-stop shop for trusted training and curricular resources.
  • Stay informed with our quarterly newsletter and periodic issue briefs that help you navigate developments in the rapidly changing publishing landscape.
  • Help steer our resource and policy agenda through priority member channels that offer you the opportunity to weigh in on our advocacy to advance sound copyright policies and provide input that will guide the development of our author-facing resources.
  • Support the community of authors and institutions working together to expand access to knowledge and culture for the public good.

A2P2 subscriber benefits will be developed and rolled out during a pilot phase, which launches this week and runs through July 2020. A limited number of discounted A2P2 pilot subscriptions are available. To learn more about being a part of the group that will shape our services during the 2019-2020 academic year, contact us at info@authorsalliance.org.


We are grateful to Arcadia—a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin—for a grant to support this initiative.

New Accessibility Resource: The Law and Accessible Texts: Reconciling Civil Rights and Copyrights

Posted July 30, 2019
black and white photo of a person's finger reading Braille
photo by Eddau | CC0

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and the University of Virginia Library recently released The Law and Accessible Texts: Reconciling Civil Rights and Copyrights, a white paper by Brandon Butler of the University of Virginia and Prue Adler and Krista Cox of ARL. The paper provides an overview of relevant caselaw, policy, and best practices.

As the Introduction states, “[t]he report begins with a brief description of the current state of civil rights laws favoring accessibility, including trends in enforcement in recent years. Section II provides an account of why and how copyright concerns have served as stumbling blocks for disability service offices (DSOs). Section III walks through each step in a remediation workflow and provides some key legal ramifications for how that step may proceed. Section IV explores more deeply the key provisions in copyright law favoring the creation and sharing of accessible texts; this section will be of most interest to university counsel’s offices and other legal experts. Finally, Section V surveys some legal and policy considerations beyond copyright and civil rights that may be worth bearing in mind as institutions design their collaborations in areas where law gives them flexibility.”


Authors Alliance’s recent coverage of accessibility issues includes a collection of resources and background about the Marrakesh Treaty. For a deeper dive into the topic of accessibility, see also our previous resource roundup, released in the fall of 2018 in connection with our report on Authorship and Accessibility in the Digital Age.