Category Archives: Law and Policy

Giving the Authors a Voice in Litigation? An ACS v. ResearchGate Update

Posted February 15, 2019

We’re grateful to David Hansen, Director of Copyright & Scholarly Communications at Duke, for granting permission for us to repost the following update on the ACS v. ResearchGate lawsuit. This article originally appeared on the Scholarly Communications @ Duke blog.

You might recall me writing about ACS v. ResearchGate, a lawsuit filed last fall in the United States by ACS and Elsevier against ResearchGate. It followed a similar lawsuit filed a year earlier in Germany.  In both the German and U.S. versions of this lawsuit, the basic complaint is that ResearchGate infringed the publishers’ copyrights by hosting and publicly distributing scholarly articles for which the publishers claim to own exclusive rights.

Nothing had happened in the U.S. case for months, but yesterday ResearchGate made several filings.  ResearchGate has apparently retained Durie Tangri (the same law firm that represented Google in the Google Books lawsuit) and has invested in making some opening arguments that I think are pretty smart.

Authors’ rights: the argument I’ve been waiting for

The most interesting ResearchGate filing isn’t its factual answer to the complaint, but rather the motion that ResearchGate made accompanying its answer. That motion, with the inconspicuous title of “Motion for Notice Under 17 U.S.C. § 501(b)” asks the court to open the door for something big: communicating about the litigation with the actual authors of the articles posted to ResearchGate. Imagine that!

ResearchGate begins its argument by pointing out the unusual nature of the case, and why it is so important to clearly sort out who owns rights (authors versus publishers) in the articles underlying the lawsuit:

A typical copyright infringement lawsuit about copyrighted material appearing online involves a content creator suing a website owner when an unauthorized third party has posted the creator’s work to the website without the creator’s permission. But here, [the publishers] are suing . . . ResearchGate for allowing scientists to share their own work. . . . Under Plaintiffs’ infringement theories, if ResearchGate is infringing Plaintiffs’ copyrights in the articles at issue here, so are those articles’ authors. Accordingly, a finding that the appearance of those articles on the ResearchGate site was infringing would necessarily mean that the people who conducted the research and wrote the articles did not have the right to share them.

The motion goes on to argue that many authors of these articles (almost all of which were co-authored) still hold a valid copyright interest in them that would allow those authors to legally post the articles to ResearchGate. Even assuming that the publishers obtained valid transfers of exclusive rights from the corresponding authors, ResearchGate argues that there is no evidence that the publishers also obtained a valid transfer of exclusive rights from co-authors of the papers. Thus, those co-authors are free to make what uses they want with their papers, including posting to ResearchGate.

Given that these authors may hold rights, ResearchGate argues that § 501(b) of the Copyright Act allows (and may even require) the court to order notification of those authors as third parties who have a “claim or interest” in the copyrighted works at issue. Section 501(b) provides that the court:

  • may require written notice of the action with a copy of the complaint provided to “any person shown . . . to have or claim an interest in the copyright,” and
  • shall require that such notice be served upon any person whose “interest is likely to be affected by a decision in the case,”

In addition to notification, the statute also provides for a way to actually bring third-parties into the lawsuit. It says that the court “may require the joinder, and shall permit the intervention of any person having or claiming an interest in the copyright” (emphasis mine).

ResearchGate is, for now, just asking the court to order the plaintiffs to notify other potential copyright owners about the lawsuit. Specifically, ResearchGate is asking the court to “order Plaintiff’s “to serve ‘written notice of the action with a copy of the complaint upon’ each co-author of each journal article at issue in the lawsuit who is not a corresponding author. . . .” I don’t know exactly how many authors that is (as I’ve said previously, there are over 3,000 articles), but it’s probably a lot.

Procedure, procedure, procedure

You may think I’m getting all worked up over a little bit of civil procedure. Maybe. But I think it is important because over and over again we’ve seen large-scale copyright infringement suits fought between the large organizations (e.g., Authors Guild v. Google, Authors Guild v. HathiTrust, Elsevier v. SciHub, Cambridge University Press v. Becker (Ga. State)) without much input at all from the actual authors of the works that form the basis of those lawsuits. When those authors have been allowed to have a say, such as in the Google Books class action certification process, their input has meaningfully altered the outcome.

For the ResearchGate litigation, it seems like a good start to at least require the Plaintiffs to notify authors that their work is being used as the basis for a copyright infringement lawsuit. I would hope, once authors are notified, that the court would also allow those same authors to intervene, as the statute allows, to have their own say in how their works are shared with the world.

Authors Speak Out in Favor of Controlled Digital Lending

Posted February 4, 2019

In September 2018, Authors Alliance joined with other organizations including the Digital Public Library of America, Internet Archive, and UC Berkeley Library to sign on to a statement in support of Controlled Digital Lending (CDL). CDL offers a good-faith interpretation of copyright law for libraries considering digitizing works in their collections and circulating the digitized title in place of a physical one. The statement is accompanied by an in-depth white paper by David Hansen and Kyle K. Courtney analyzing the legal arguments for CDL.

Under the CDL’s digitize-and-lend model, libraries make digital copies of scanned books from their collections available to patrons (the hard copy is not available for lending while the digital copy is checked out, and vice versa). A library can only circulate the same number of copies that it owned before digitization. Like physical books, the scanned copies are loaned to one person at a time and are subject to limited check-out periods.

System design choices and collection decisions, like selecting books that are orphaned (works for which the copyright owner cannot be identified or located), books that are out of print, or books that are non-fiction or primarily factual enhance the fair use arguments that underpin CDL. As Hansen and Courtney explain, CDL is “not meant to be a competitor to Overdrive, nor a replacement for licensing e-books of best-sellers or other currently licensable e-book content,” but CDL is particularly helpful to “address access to the large number of books published in the ’20th Century black hole’ that have little hope of otherwise bring made available to readers online.”

Libraries are now using CDL to lend books, so we asked our members to share their views on their books being made available through CDL. Here’s what they had to say:

CDL benefits authors, readers, and researchers

I was thrilled to see one of my books available through Controlled Digital Lending at the Internet Archive. It’s an older book that’s relatively hard to find, and I’m so pleased that people can get access to it today. CDL is an excellent way for authors like me to reach readers. But it’s also a way for authors to do research without having to visit remote archives or libraries. I’ve done a great deal of historical research on out-of-print books and periodicals through CDL programs, and I’m incredibly grateful for it.

– Annalee Newitz
Author and Journalist

CDL helps to increase access to
out-of-print and otherwise unavailable works

Controlled Digital Lending provides authors with an opportunity to reach a broad public, especially if their books have gone out of print. It does not cut down on their royalties any more than sales to libraries do, and by making works widely available, it can give them new life. Several of my books are accessible through CDL, and I am delighted with the result.

– Robert Darnton
Professor of History and University Librarian Emeritus, Harvard University

CDL is a reasonable interpretation of fair use

CDL is beneficial for all authors whose readerships are not served by the narrow interpretation of the fair use doctrine that is the foundation of various objections to CDL. Library lending must move forward into the digital future, and part of that future is getting more authors’ works into the hands of more readers, which CDL helps to make possible. Only a few authors’ needs are served by restrictive models of access: most of us need all the help we can get connecting readers to our works! In addition, libraries are among the most important institutions in contemporary society, representing freedom of access to information. How many other ideals-driven public institutions are as alive as the library world? The CDL is an important 21st century expansion of that mandate. Let objecting authors remove their works, and let the rest of us share our books with the reading public through library systems.

– Megan Prelinger
Inside the Machine: Art and Invention in the Electronic Age (W.W. Norton, 2015)
Another Science Fiction Advertising the Space Race (Blast Books, 2010)

CDL can alleviate the gaps in availability
brought about by overly long copyright terms

In the treacherous, fearful underworld of Rights and Permissions I am often confused: I know that the Evil Mouse, manipulating the late Rep. Sonny Bono and others, extended copyright beyond reason. My feeling is that if my books bring royalty money to my children after I am gone, that is good. But as to my grandchildren—I love them beyond measure, but let them write their own books.

I don’t want to deprive any fellow-writers of income from their creations. Those property rights sometimes conflict with the author’s desire—strong in us poets—to be read. Those conflicting values: to be valued, and to be read—are part of what makes the terrain so scary.

May Controlled Digital Lending, as a protective guide there, be wisely Controlled.

– Robert Pinsky
former U.S. Poet Laureate

CDL helps authors reach audiences

I write so that people will read my books. That’s reason enough for me to support CDL.

– Paul Brest
Former Dean and Professor Emeritus (active) at Stanford Law School

The Public Domain and Scholarly Research: Alexandra Stern on Increased Access to the History of American Eugenics

Posted January 31, 2019
Head shot of Alexandra Stern

We are grateful to Alexandra Minna Stern for this contribution to our series of posts on the public domain. Stern is Professor and Chair of the Department of American Culture at the University of Michigan. She also holds appointments in the Departments of History, Women’s Studies, and Obstetrics and Gynecology. She directs the Sterilization and Social Justice Lab housed in the Department of American Culture. Her research focuses on the history of eugenics, genetics, society, and justice in the United States and Latin America.

The convergence of open digital access and large-scale text scanning projects makes 2019 Public Domain day a major event for scholars of American history and culture. Thanks to HathiTrust, more than 50,000 materials from 1923 including books, films, and musical scores are available for unrestricted use and distribution.

This is a boon for historians of science and society, particularly those of us interested in the history of that misguided science of genetic selection—eugenics—that played a role in justifying racial immigration quotas and the sterilization of the “unfit” in the early twentieth-century. The eugenics era is disturbing and fascinating on its own historical terms and deserves further scrutiny. It also can serve as an ideological antecedent for key facets of the rhetoric of white nationalism that has surfaced in recent years and was on display at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017.

Continue reading

Kevin Smith on “Lessons from the ReDigi Decision”

Posted January 18, 2019

The following analysis by Kevin Smith, Dean of Libraries at the University of Kansas, originally appeared on In the Open on January 17 under a CC-BY license. We’re featuring it here to provide some context for the issues surrounding Controlled Digital Lending (CDL) in the wake of the recent decision in Capitol Records v. ReDigi. Authors Alliance’s statement in support of CDL can be read here


The decision announced last month in the ReDigi case, more properly known as Capitol Records v. ReDigi, Inc. was, in one sense, at least, not a big surprise.  It was never very likely, given the trajectory of recent copyright jurisprudence, that the Second Circuit would uphold a digital first sale right, which is fundamentally what the case is about.  The Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that the doctrine of first sale is only an exception to the distribution right and, therefore, does not protect digital lending because, in that process, new copies of a work are always made.  His reasoning pretty much closes the door on any form of digital first sale right, even of the “send and delete” variety that tries to protect against multiple copies of the work being transferred.

What is perhaps more surprising is that the 2nd Circuit also rejected a fair use defense for ReDigi’s system.  Some were particularly surprised that fair use was treated so dismissively by Judge Pierre Leval, who is one of the most respected jurists in regard to fair use, and the author of Toward a Fair Use Standard, the article upon which the Supreme Court relied when it transformed fair use thinking in the Campbell v. Acuff-Rose case.  For my part, however, I am inclined to be a little less surprised, and to still think that we can learn several things from this decision.

Continue reading

Authors Alliance Submits Comment to U.S. Copyright Office in Support of Registration Modernization

Posted January 17, 2019

Authors Alliance submitted comments in response to the United States Copyright Office’s Notification of Inquiry for Registration Modernization. The Office is building a modernized copyright registration system intended to improve user experience, increase Office efficiency, and decrease processing times. We have written previously about the benefits to authors and the public associated with a robust record of copyright registration, and our Copyright Fundamentals resource page has more information on how and why to register. Our comments therefore support the following proposals:

  • Make registration more affordable to all copyright owners by considering alternative methods for calculating fees that would provide equity to users and encourage registration;
  • Build a registration interface that allows users to update rights and permissions information without having to submit a supplementary registration and additional fees;
  • Accept optional data documenting licensing terms, including information about any applicable public license (such as a Creative Commons license), with a registration application; and
  • Connect registration and recordation records in order to clarify chain of title information.

In our comments, we also encourage the Office to initiate or commission an empirical study of authors’ views on the advantages of and barriers to registration to evaluate why only a fraction of eligible works are registered. With additional information from authors, the Office could restructure incentives to register copyright claims in order to promote greater participation in the Office’s registration system.

Further details can be found in the full text of our comment. Hover over the document below to view the comment in your browser, or download here.


Authors Alliance Submits Brief Supporting Reversionary Rights in Canada

Posted December 10, 2018

photo by RonnyK | CC0

Canada’s Copyright Act, last updated in 2012 through the Copyright Modernization Act, is currently under review. In early 2018, Canada’s Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology adopted a work plan under which it is conducting a statutorily mandated review. Under this plan, the Committee invited written briefs from stakeholders. Today, Authors Alliance submitted a brief urging the retention of reversionary rights in Canada’s Copyright Act and recommending amendments to the provision that will enhance the utility of reversionary rights.

Under section 14(1) of Canada’s Copyright Act, any grant of interest in a copyrighted work made by an author (except for a grant made in a will) after June 4, 1921 automatically reverts to an author’s estate twenty-five years after an author’s death. Similar to the justifications for the termination of transfer provisions in U.S. law, the reversion mechanism is intended to address “a situation where a work, following the author’s death, had become more valuable over time,” giving the author’s heirs “the opportunity to re-negotiate the royalty terms to reflect the increased value of the work.”[1]

But reversionary rights also give creators the ability to give new life to works that have outlived their commercial lives but are nonetheless historically and culturally valuable. For creators who want their works to be widely shared and enjoyed, reversions are a powerful option for getting their works back out in front of audiences.

Because of the tremendous benefits of reversionary rights for authors and the public, Authors Alliance’s brief recommends retaining a reversionary right provision in the Copyright Act of Canada. To further maximize the benefits of the current provision, our brief also recommends several changes to Section 14(1):

  • Amending Section 14(1) to allow authors to terminate transfers of copyright a set number of years after the transfer of those rights;
  • Requiring triggering conditions and/or recordation of ownership information if rights are reverted exclusively to the author, while allowing reversion of non-exclusive rights to the author remain automatic; and
  • Amending Section 14(1) to make it clear that reversionary rights do not apply to non-exclusive licenses.

Read more about our recommendations by viewing the document below or clicking here to download the brief. For more about termination of transfer under U.S. law, visit the Authors Alliance/Creative Commons Termination of Transfer Tool at and the Authors Alliance termination of transfer resource page.



[1] A.A. Keyes, Copyright in Canada Proposals for a Revision of the Law 76 (Apr. 1977).

Guest Post: Analysis of Rulemaking and Exemptions to the DMCA in 2018

Posted December 5, 2018

photo of CD with padlock

photo by 422737 |CC0

The following analysis was written by Harrison Grant and Brian Trinh of UCI Intellectual Property, Arts, and Technology Clinic and Colleen McCroskey and Corian Zacher of Samuelson-Glushko Technology Law & Policy Clinic at Colorado Law, under the supervision of Professors Jack Lerner and Blake Reid. We are grateful to the student attorneys and their supervisors for their tireless work securing exemptions to Section 1201 for authors and for this careful analysis of the results of recent rulemaking proceedings related to multimedia e-books.

On October 26th, the Library of Congress announced important new exemptions to Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that will improve authors’ ability to create in the digital environment. Thanks to the work of a coalition of authors’ organizations including Authors Alliance and two law clinics who represented them, today authors of any non-fiction multimedia e-book can use content from DVDs, Blu-ray, and digitally transmitted video to make fair uses of copyrighted material in their own works.

Continue reading

Authors Alliance Supports Limitations and Exceptions for Education at WIPO SCCR/37

Posted December 3, 2018

bridge with flags in Geneva

photo by hpgruesen | CC0

Last week, Authors Alliance participated in the thirty-seventh session of the World Intellectual Property (WIPO) Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR/37) in Geneva. Among other topics, the Committee addressed copyright limitations and exceptions for educational and research institutions.

Authors Alliance presented a statement to the Committee on how limitations and exceptions for education can benefit authors, without undermining fundamental purposes of copyright policy, and can encourage the diffusion of knowledge:

  • Limitations and exceptions for educational purposes can help authors reach wider audiences. Limitations and exceptions facilitate engagement with works that users would otherwise forego due to the cost, difficulty, or even impossibility of licensing, allowing authors to reach new readers without interfering with the normal market for their works. This in turn helps authors establish a larger readership.
  • Educational limitations and exceptions also promote significant reputational benefits for authors. Educational limitations and exceptions help authors build reputational capital because the uses they enable, such as the use of excerpts from a work in a classroom, signal that the author has made significant contributions to their field. These benefits are especially pronounced for academic authors, whose scholarly reputations are enhanced when their works are assigned as classroom reading.
  • Educational limitations and exceptions can also reinforce academic authors’ incentives to create. Limitations and exceptions amplify authors’ abilities to contribute to the advancement of knowledge by allowing readers to more readily discover, make use of, and build on their works. These benefits are particularly motivating to academic authors, who often create works in order to share their knowledge, insights, and ideas with a new generation of learners.
  • Equitable considerations also favor expanded academic limitations and exceptions. Many authors of works that are still in copyright did not have access to the expanded array of dissemination options that exist in today’s publishing ecosystem, including more open frameworks. If they had, they might have chosen to make their works more readily available to the public, but instead their works are often under the control of third-party rights holders. As more academic authors are making their scholarship openly accessible, educators increasingly have the option to assign freely available academic works. As a result, authors of earlier works will be disadvantaged if educational limitations and exceptions do not provide a mechanism by which educators can readily assign reasonable portions of their works for educational purposes.
  • Insofar as authors are also learners, researchers, and educators, educational limitations and exceptions benefit them by allowing them to access and use the copyrighted works that they need to build their knowledge, engage in research activities, and instruct their students. For example, graduate students and professors need to be able to access and assign limited portions of works in order to teach new generations of learners. If educational limitations and exceptions do not permit limited unremunerated uses for limited educational purposes, essential learning, research, and teaching activities would be unreasonably frustrated.

We are grateful to Zachary Freeman, a third-year law student at New York University School of Law, for providing background research to support our work at WIPO.

Also of note during the session, Professor Sean Flynn from American University introduced a proposed Treaty on Educational and Research Activities (TERA), which aims to harmonize limitations and exceptions and protect cross-border sharing of works in order to promote education and research around the world. TERA includes a general flexible mandate to adopt exceptions for education and research modeled on Berne Article 10(2) and extended to include research activities. The proposed treaty applies to all works—including digital works—used by teachers, students, researchers for teaching, learning, materials creation, and research activities, as long as the use is restrained to the extent justified by a lawful purpose and is compatible with fair practice. Learn more about TERA here.

Authors Alliance will continue to report on the progress of educational limitations and exceptions at WIPO.


Eleventh Circuit Reverses and Remands Georgia State E-Reserves Case (Again)

Posted October 26, 2018

We thank Krista L. Cox, Director of Public Policy Initiatives at ARL, for the following analysis, which originally appeared on the ARL Policy Notes blog. Authors Alliance submitted an amicus brief in support of fair use in the second appeal to the Eleventh Circuit in 2017, and we continue to track the progress of the case.

The long saga of the Georgia State University (GSU) e-reserves case continues as the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling which had found that the vast majority of GSU’s use of works in its e-reserves constituted a fair use. This is the second time the Eleventh Circuit has reviewed the case, and the second time it has reversed.

In 2008, publishers sued GSU for copyright infringement, arguing that the use of unlicensed excerpts of copyrighted works in the e-reserves constituted infringement. GSU defended itself, relying on the right of fair use. In the first bench trial, the district court ruled in favor of fair use for 43 of the 48 cases of alleged infringement. The Eleventh Circuit reversed and remanded the case in 2014, directing the lower court to re-examine its weight to market substitution and re-evaluate the four fair use factors holistically, rather than taking an arithmetic approach (i.e., if three fair use factors favor the use, but one disfavors it, fair use should always apply). On remand, the district court re-evaluated the four factors and found that 44 of the 48 cases constituted fair use. In her analysis, Judge Evans assigned each factor a weight: “The Court estimates the initial, approximate respective weights of the four factors as follows: 25% for factor one, 5% for factor two, 30% for factor three, and 40% for factor four.” The publishers again appealed to the Eleventh Circuit, which heard the case in 2017. (Here’s a link to ARL’s amicus brief in the second appeal.)

On October 19, 2018, the Eleventh Circuit released its 25 page opinion—more than a year after hearing oral arguments in the case—finding that the district court again erred in its evaluation of fair use. The Eleventh Circuit suggests that the district court was only mandated to re-evaluate its analysis on the second and third factors, but had instead also re-evaluated its analysis on factor four (in which the district court found in the first trial that in 31 cases, the fourth fair use factor weighed against fair use).

Additionally, the Eleventh Circuit points out that “The district court again applied a mathematical formula in its overall analysis of fair use,” which it had been instructed against. Although the district court couched the given weights as “initial” and “approximate,” the Eleventh Circuit found that the district court only adjusted these factors in four instances and di not adjust the other factors in the overall analysis. Thus, “We conclude that the district court’s quantitative rubric was an improper substitute for a qualitative consideration of each instance of copying in the light of its particular facts.” The Eleventh Circuit has remanded the case, directing the district court to use a holistic approach to fair use, and avoid any mathematical approach with respect to the four factors.

Another issue the Eleventh Circuit opinion addresses is whether the cost of purchasing licenses affects the third factor; the district court in the second trial considered the price of use on two ocassions. The Eleventh Circuit rules that price should not be taken into account when evaluating the amount and substantiality of the portion of the work used.

While the Eleventh Circuit reversed and remanded on the above issues, it affirmed the district court’s decision not to reopen the record. Publishers in 2015 filed a motion to reopen, asserting the need to introduce “Evidence of GSU’s ongoing conduct (e.g. its use of E-Reserves during the most recent academic term)” as well as evidence of the availability of digital licenses. Here, the Eleventh Circuit notes that this decision is within the discretion of the trial court.

Kevin Smith posted about the GSU case on In the Open, with an excellent summary of what the Eleventh Circuit’s opinion (as well as its last opinion) does not do, and what, as a result, the publishers have lost on:

…But the big principles that the publishers were trying to gain are all lost. There will be no sweeping injunction, nor any broad assertion that e-reserves always require a license. The library community will still have learned that non-profit educational use is favored under the first fair use factor even when that use is not transformative. The best the publisher plaintiffs can hope for is a split decision, and maybe the chance to avoid paying GSU’s costs, but the real victories, for fair use and for libraries, have already been won.

Library of Congress Expands 1201 Exemptions to All Nonfiction Multimedia E-books

Posted October 25, 2018

photo of CD with padlock

photo by 422737 |CC0

Today, the Library of Congress adopted exemptions to section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that prohibits circumvention of technical protection measures. As a part of this rulemaking process, Authors Alliance petitioned to renew the existing exemption that allows authors to bypass encryption to make fair use of film clips in nonfiction multimedia e-books offering film analysis, and we additionally advocated to modify the exemption to allow for the use of film clips in e-books for purposes other than film analysis and in fictional works.

We are pleased to report that the Library of Congress renewed the existing multimedia e-book exemptions and expanded the exemption to all nonfiction multimedia e-books (that is, the exemption is no longer limited to multimedia e-books offering film analysis). The Acting Register of Copyrights found that examples presented in our comments showed a variety of uses of short excerpts in nonfiction multimedia e-books to provide criticism or commentary beyond film analysis and also found that the brevity and transformative nature of the proposed uses favor an exemption because these uses are unlikely to substitute for the original work. The Acting Register concluded that an expansion to all nonfiction multimedia e-books is unlikely to harm, and may increase, the availability of copyrighted works and that the proposed uses will facilitate criticism, comment, teaching and/or scholarship.

The Acting Register declined to recommend to expand the exemption to cover fictional e-books, finding that the record lacked sufficient evidence demonstrating a need to expand the current exemption. We are disappointed that the Copyright Office and the Library of Congress passed on the opportunity to extend the exemption to authors of fictional multimedia e-books, such as fanfiction authors, whose transformative expression fits within the fair use doctrine.

We are grateful to the student attorneys and their supervisors at the Intellectual Property, Arts, and Technology Clinic at UC Irvine School of Law and the Samuelson-Glushko Technology Law & Policy Clinic at University of Colorado School of Law for their work supporting this exemption.

Stay tuned for additional analysis of the 1201 rulemaking for multimedia e-books from the student attorneys at UC Irvine and Colorado Law.