Category Archives: Reaching Readers

Library Lending, Author Incomes, and Controlled Digital Lending

Posted August 17, 2021
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

In the debates around controlled digital lending (“CDL”), much has been said about whether and how CDL affects author incomes. Recently, the Internet Archive requested 10 years of sales data during the discovery phase of its ongoing lawsuit with several large publishers, seeking to support its argument that its digitization projects did not negatively impact book sales. As an authors’ group that represents the interests of authors who care deeply about their works reaching broad audiences, Authors Alliance is a unique voice in the conversation around the impact of different types of library lending on authors’ livelihoods. In today’s post, we will discuss the intersections between author income, traditional library lending, and CDL. 

How Do Authors Make Money from Library Sales?

When an author signs a publication contract for her work, she is agreeing to be compensated by her publisher pursuant to the terms in the contract. The two main ways authors are paid are through an “advance against royalties”—an upfront payment or payments made when the contract is signed, the manuscript is delivered, and/or when the book is published—and through royalty payments. Once any advance paid to the author has “earned out” such that author royalties from sales exceed the advance paid to the author, the publisher pays the author a percentage of each sale. When a consumer purchases a book, the author then will receive a percentage of the sale based on the royalty rate set in her publication contract. 

Like members of the public, libraries purchase books, and when they do so, authors are entitled to royalties on those sales. Importantly, libraries have purchased and lent books to patrons since time immemorial. In fact, in the mid-20th century, public libraries were the most reliable market for new books. But changes in the publishing ecosystem and widespread reductions in library budgets over time have led to a reversal of this pattern—in 2015, public libraries were responsible for just over 1% of book sales. 

Once a library owns a physical book, the library is permitted to lend it out as many times as it likes, based both on public policy and what is known as the “first sale doctrine.” First sale doctrine is based on a provision within U.S. copyright law that allows the owner of a physical copy of a copyrighted work, like a book or DVD, to sell, lend, or otherwise dispose of that copy however she wishes, provided that it does not infringe any of the copyright holder’s exclusive rights. For example, the owner of a copy of a book can lend it out to her friend, lend it out to another friend after the first friend has returned it, and then give it away to a third friend. On the other hand, the owner of a copy of a book cannot make multiple copies to share with her friends simultaneously without infringing on the copyright holder’s exclusive rights of reproduction and distribution. Because of public policy favoring libraries’ roles in the knowledge ecosystem and the first sale doctrine, libraries can lend out copies of books they have purchased as many times as they are able.  

How Does Traditional Library Lending Impact Author Income?

As discussed above, library lending results in author income when the libraries buy books in the first instance. But the effect of library lending on consumer book sales, has, perhaps surprisingly, not been the subject of extensive researchas of 2019, there had never been a major study on the impact of library lending on the publishing industry as a whole, but there has long been evidence that library patrons also purchase books, and may even do so more frequently than non-library patrons. In a 2020 survey, nearly a third of consumer respondents reported purchasing a book that they first found in a library, a number that was even higher for avid readers. 

Library advocates have long championed the ability of libraries to bring attention to authors and their works, which often results in increased income for those authors. Many libraries host author events in which an author’s books are available for sale to attendees, and these events often result in more demand for that author’s books at the library, leading the library itself to purchase more copies, resulting in more author income. Libraries are also known to increase discoverability of books, both through author events and by exposing patrons to new books and new authors in other ways. In the 2020 survey mentioned above, 30% of respondents reported that, when a book they wanted to read was unavailable at their local library, they purchased the book, either online or at a local bookstore. 

How Does Controlled Digital Lending Impact Author Income?

Controlled digital lending is a lending model many libraries across the country have implemented in recent years to increase access to works in their collections. CDL involves a library scanning a physical book it has purchased and is already in its collection, and then lending out this scanned copy in lieu of the physical book. Under the CDL model, libraries are not permitted to lend out more digital copies than they have physical copies at one time. This so-called “owned to loaned ratio” ensures that CDL stays within the bounds of what the first sale doctrine permits: each copy may be loaned out to only one patron at a time. Because libraries have already purchased the physical copies, authors have already received any royalty income they were entitled to from the sales. 

Similar to interlibrary loans, CDL makes works available to readers who cannot access the physical spaces where the books are held. In this way, CDL operates as an analogue to traditional print lending: rather than a library patron having to physically travel to a library to check out the book they want to read, they can receive a digital copy loan instead, which comes with the same controls as print lending—limited check out times and a maximum number of loans at one time based on the number of copies the library has purchased. CDL seeks to replicate digitally what is difficult to achieve with physical books: sending a book to a reader who is interested in reading it, wherever she may be located, within the confines of limited library budgets. Many have also argued that CDL also constitutes a fair use, further bolstering the legal basis for the practice. 

The role of CDL in the library ecosystem has taken on a new prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic, when libraries have reduced hours or shuttered physical spaces altogether. Over the past year and a half, CDL has served as one important way to bridge the gap and ensure readers can still access library books despite these limitations. And importantly, due to the requirement that a library purchase a print book in the first place and the limitations put in place to ensure that each loan is discrete and temporary, CDL does not hurt author incomes. In fact, due to libraries’ roles in increasing the discoverability of books, particularly when they are digitized, CDL may even result in more sales for authors whose books have been made available in this way.

Authors Alliance has long supported CDL as a way to help books reach readers. Many individual authors also support CDL, as it helps works reach readers who otherwise could not access them, bringing reputational benefits and the potential to increase book sales to consumers. 

Update: Library E-Book Lending Legislation and Partnerships

Posted July 27, 2021
Photo by Perfecto Capucine on Unsplash

It is no secret that Authors Alliance loves libraries, and we support policies that help libraries fulfill their essential role of making knowledge and culture available and accessible to all. In recent months, several states have proposed and in some cases passed legislation that requires publishers to license e-books to libraries under “reasonable terms.” Similarly, bookselling and publishing giant Amazon has taken steps to make its content available to libraries, following years of refusal to license e-books to libraries altogether. In today’s post, we will share some of the details of these exciting developments. 

State Legislation

Over the course of the past year, three state legislatures have introduced legislation that would impose limits on a publisher’s ability to sell e-books to libraries at a high cost. Under the current licensing model, libraries can pay as much as $60 per title for an e-book license, which often have very restrictive terms, whereas consumers can purchase an e-book license for the same title at a fraction of the cost. The first of these bills was passed in Maryland, and the New York state legislature has also recently approved the New York bill. A bill in Rhode Island is currently pending. Additionally, groups in Connecticut, Texas, Virginia, and Washington have reportedly begun advocating for similar legislation. 

Maryland’s Library E-Book Lending Law

Maryland was the first state to enact legislation requiring publishers to offer libraries e-book and digital audiobook licenses on reasonable terms. The Maryland state legislature unanimously passed the bill in March, but before it was approved by the governor, it faced last-minute opposition from the Association of American Publishers (“AAP”), who claimed the bill was unconstitutional. Despite these challenges, Governor Larry Hogan announced that the bill was enacted into law in late May. The law will go into effect in January 2022, and requires publishers who license “electronic literary products” (which may be broader in scope than “e-books”) to the general public to “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[.]” It remains to be seen what will constitute “reasonable terms” under the new Maryland law, but the Maryland Library Association has recently issued a statement providing guidance on what might constitute reasonable terms and how these might be developed.

Despite the tough opposition it faced from publishers, the Maryland law has been described by its proponents as “fairly mild.” This is because it does not fundamentally change the e-book licensing scheme employed by publishers, whereby e-books are temporarily licensed to libraries, who remain unable to actually own these digital copies. Instead, the law simply requires publishers to offer e-book licenses to libraries on terms they can afford in order to allow libraries to perform their essential function of serving patrons: readers are not served when libraries cannot afford e-book licenses. This problem took on particular salience during the pandemic, when many readers were unable to access physical books at all. The new Maryland law takes aim at this issue without disrupting the traditional e-book licensing model that publishers are reluctant to abandon. Nonetheless, the AAP has since affirmed its opposition to these legislative efforts, maintaining that the Maryland law and other state legislation like it are inconsistent with federal copyright law.

New York’s Library E-Book Lending Bill

Last month, the New York state legislature passed a bill similar to the Maryland bill. Just as in Maryland, state legislators voted unanimously in favor of the bill’s passage. The New York bill also requires publishers to offer libraries e-book licenses on “reasonable terms” if those e-book licenses are also available for purchase by the public. The New York bill proceeds from the premise that “[p]ublic libraries provide equitable access to information for all.” Because many New Yorkers (like many readers writ large) prefer digital books over physical ones, whether due to print or mobility disabilities or for ease of access, the bill takes aim at “discriminatory practices” such as e-book embargos, whereby libraries must wait months to purchase licenses for new e-books.

The New York bill has not yet been sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo for his signature, but advocates are “cautiously optimistic” that he will sign once it has been sent. The bill must be sent to the governor by the end of the calendar year, and once signed, will take effect after just 19 days. This means that while the New York bill is not yet law, it may well take effect before Maryland’s new law if sent to and signed by Governor Cuomo. 

Rhode Island’s Library E-Book Lending Bill

In Rhode Island, the analogue bill to the Maryland and New York bills was re-introduced in April of this year after a similar bill last legislative session failed to gain momentum. The 2021 bill, which, like the Maryland legislation, includes digital audiobooks, was then recommended for further study by the House Corporations Committee, with no further updates since late April. Former Rhode Island state senator, Mark McKenney, penned an op-ed voicing his support for the bill, pointing out that “libraries lending books to patrons hasn’t put publishers out of business,” and calling out Amazon specifically for its policy of refusing to sell or license e-books it publishes to libraries and schools altogether.

Amazon and the Digital Public Library of America

In December 2020, Amazon announced it was in talks with the Digital Public Library of America (“DPLA”) to make thousands of books it publishes available to public libraries via the DPLA exchange. The long-awaited deal between the organizations was signed in May, and is set to go into effect sometime this summer. The partnership contemplates several different licensing models, including flexible “bundles” of lends and more traditional models involving time limits and restrictions on how many patrons can check out an e-book at a time. Librarians have applauded Amazon for offering the less restrictive “bundle” models, which provide additional flexibility for libraries. Unlike the state library e-book lending legislation, the Amazon-DPLA partnership will offer an alternative to the traditional licensing scheme.

Library advocates are cautiously optimistic about the Amazon-DPLA partnership, but also note that how much it will help libraries will depend on how Amazon prices its e-books for libraries, which is at this point unknown. Unlike the state library e-book lending legislation discussed above, the Amazon deal makes no mention of how library e-book licenses will be priced. Moreover, not all Amazon-published titles will be made available through the partnership—self-published Kindle originals and Audible audiobooks are not included in the program, for example. Another limitation of the Amazon-DPLA partnership is that it requires libraries to participate in the DPLA marketplace, and will make the e-books readable with the SimplyE reading app, an open source e-reading platform developed by the New York Public Library. Many library patrons today access e-books via more popular marketplaces such as OverDrive, and both iBooks and Kindle are much more popular e-reading platforms with which patrons are likely to be more familiar. Yet the Amazon-DPLA partnership is undoubtedly a step in the right direction towards ensuring greater access to books published by Amazon. Moreover, the deal is not exclusive, meaning that Amazon could develop similar partnerships in the future in order to make its e-books even more accessible to library patrons. 

Libraries, COVID-19, and E-Book Lending: One Year Later

Posted March 30, 2021
Photo by aNDy on Unsplash

This is the second in a two post series on how libraries have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, one year after the American Library Association recommended that libraries across the country close. Last week, we discussed the ways in which libraries have supported communities and readers through expansion of traditional services and new initiatives aimed at preservation. 

On March 17, 2020, the American Library Association (“ALA”) recommended that public libraries across the country close in response to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. That same day, publishing conglomerate Macmillan (one of the so-called “Big Five” publishers that dominate much of the trade book market) announced it would end a controversial embargo on sales of e-books to libraries, also stating its intention to temporarily lower prices on some library e-book licenses “to help expand libraries collections in these difficult times.”

One year later, many libraries remain shuttered or have scaled back their hours, services, and capabilities. Yet e-book lending has skyrocketed, as e-books can be checked out by patrons from the safety of their homes. Libraries have adapted to this increased demand in a variety of ways despite limited resources and budgets. By increasing digital offerings with a special emphasis on making e-book lending available to patrons, libraries have pivoted to serve the needs of a community forced by external circumstances to turn to the internet for information, culture, and human connection.  

Library E-Book Lending in the “Before Time”

Prior to the start of the pandemic, a dispute between publishers and libraries on the subjects of e-book pricing and availability to patrons had been quietly simmering. Between 2018 and 2019, four of the Big Five publishers changed licensing terms and raised prices of e-books for libraries. And the bookselling giant Amazon, which has launched its own publishing operations under the name “Amazon Publishing,” has taken an even harsher approach to e-book library lending: it refuses to sell its titles to libraries altogether. In a statement to the Washington Post, a representative from Amazon Publishing stated that it was “not clear to us that current digital library lending models fairly balance the interests of authors and library patrons[.]” 

In general, libraries are able to loan out e-books because they acquire licenses to do so. Typically, a copy cannot be checked out by more than one patron at a time and only for a set number of times (with 26 and 52 checkouts being most common), and the licenses may also be limited duration, typically one to two years. Moreover, libraries pay up to five times more for e-books than consumers do. This custom reflects the fact that a library lends each e-book out multiple times, with multiple end readers rather than the single user who buys an e-book from Amazon or the iBook store. But libraries are typically charged the same price for physical books as are consumers, creating an imbalance in access across the two formats. This imbalance has become all the more salient during the pandemic due to the limitations on access to physical books and the budgetary constraints that are felt around the country. 

By 2018, 90% of American libraries offered digital loans. As e-book library lending increased in popularity, publishers argued that the popularity of library e-book lending led to reduced profits. In 2019, Macmillan revealed that its revenue per library e-book read was down to “two dollars and dropping,” apparently “a small fraction” of what it makes on consumer purchases. Macmillan and other large publishers complained that the “frictionless” nature of e-book lending means that readers can acquire e-books with the same relative ease as purchasing those e-books. But there is reason to believe the fear that library e-book lending hurts e-book sales is ill-founded—in the first 10 months of 2020, when library e-book checkouts began to increase dramatically, the American Association of Publishers reported that e-book sales had increased by over 16% rather than dropping as more readers turned to library e-books. 

Library E-Book Lending During the Pandemic

During the pandemic, library e-book lending increased manifold across the country. In April 2020, the Congressional Research Service reported that demand for e-books (both from libraries and readers who purchased e-books) had increased significantly, and that libraries and organizations were searching for lending models to address this increased demand. OverDrive, the nation’s leading e-book lending platform and maker of the “Libby” library lending app, saw checkouts increase by over 50% during the early months of the pandemic, and many individual library systems similarly saw large increases in e-book checkouts. New library partnerships with hoopla, another leading lending platform, have resulted in a 20% increase in membership for the platform. At the most basic level, this uptick in demand is not difficult to understand: without access to physical library spaces, e-book lending became for many patrons the best option to continue to access works at their local libraries. 

To keep up with the increasing demand for e-book loans and better meet patrons where they are, libraries have adapted their programs and procedures to make e-book checkouts more accessible. Libraries began by investing in more e-book licenses and increasing spending on “digital resources.” As the pandemic progressed, libraries around the country began allowing patrons to apply for and obtain library cards online so that new patrons could access e-book offerings. Library systems have also increased investments in new e-book licensing models, such as the “concurrent use model,” which allow libraries to license a “bundle” of loans to meet high demand that do not expire. This model is particularly attractive for public school students, and it has been used to facilitate access to texts during remote learning. Another lending model that has increased in popularity during the pandemic is the deployment of “skip-the-line” or “lucky” copies of new and popular titles. This system allows patrons to choose to check out an e-book for a shorter checkout window, but to avoid long waitlists that can plague popular titles available for regular check out. And this summer, libraries worked to support patrons grappling with racial injustice following the killing of George Floyd and protests across the country by working with OverDrive to offer extended checkouts for books on anti-racism.

Publishers have also adapted their e-book license terms to be more library- and reader-friendly, recognizing the importance of library lending for the American public. By the end of March 2020, all of the Big Five publishers had announced relaxations of their e-book license terms, reducing prices on e-books for libraries by up to 50% and developing “cost per circulation” catalogues that allowed libraries to pay fees per e-book loan for certain titles rather than requiring an upfront payment for a license of limited duration. But these measures were largely intended to be temporary to help libraries struggling to meet their patrons’ needs during the pandemic, and where library e-book lending will go from here is uncertain.

An Uncertain Future for Library E-Book Lending

While progress has been made towards making knowledge and culture more accessible through relaxing barriers to entry for e-book library lending, it is unclear whether publishers and other intermediaries will return to the state of play prior to the pandemic. 

Recognizing the need for fair and balanced license terms for library e-books, several states have introduced legislation mandating that publishers must offer libraries e-books that are available to retail consumers, and must do so on “reasonable terms.” And, in Maryland, such a bill was recently approved unanimously by the state legislature, and is currently awaiting final approval by the governor. Amazon Publishing, which until recently refused to budge on its ban on selling e-books to libraries, is reportedly in talks with the Digital Public Library of America to make Amazon Publishing titles available to libraries across the country through DPLA’s lending platform. ReadersFirst, a library organization that advocates for library users’ ability to use loaned e-books in the way they use print books, is optimistic that other publishers may follow suit and work to make their e-books more accessible to libraries and their patrons. 

Libraries and COVID-19: One Year Later

Posted March 23, 2021
Photo by aNDy on Unsplash

This is the first in a two post series on how libraries have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, one year after the American Library Association recommended that libraries across the country close. Next week, we will discuss the ways in which libraries have expanded digital services, and notably e-book lending, for their patrons, and how this has served authors and readers. 

On March 17, 2020, the American Library Association (“ALA”) recommended that libraries nationwide close in response to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. One year later, many libraries remain shuttered or have scaled back their hours, services, and capabilities. But, as always, libraries have persevered. By adapting existing services to the needs of their communities during this extraordinary time, libraries have supported patrons struggling to cope with fallout from the pandemic despite physical spaces being limited. And by increasing virtual offerings and launching new preservation initiatives, libraries have supported authorship and preservation of knowledge, helping authors to meet their goals of seeing their works reach broad audiences—even when in-person audiences remain a distant memory.

Supporting Communities

After the ALA recommended that libraries close their physical operations, many library systems sought to branch out to continue to serve the needs of their communities even without being able to provide physical access for patrons. Libraries across the country have expanded wifi access to parking lots, sent out “bookmobiles” to deliver physical books to patrons, and offered curb-side check out. Since the effects of the pandemic have been felt to different degrees across the country, local libraries have worked to tailor these expanded services to the needs of the communities they serve. In Santa Monica, CA, a library has begun offering “seed libraries” so patrons can experiment with gardening, and in Columbus, OH, libraries adapted a longstanding program that provides free lunches to students during the summer into a “grab and go” format consistent with public health guidelines. Libraries in dense urban areas, such as the New York Public Library, have also adjusted their “curbside” offerings to reflect the needs of non-driving communities. 

Supporting Authorship

Libraries have also supported authorship during the COVID-19 pandemic by connecting authors to their readers and launching initiatives to collect and preserve new creations. Virtual book clubs and other events for patrons have helped connect readers with books in the absence of in-person events. These book clubs also foster community, replicating (albeit imperfectly) the human connection library patrons previously relied on physical library spaces to provide. 

One of the major ways libraries have elevated authors’ voices during the pandemic is through organizing and hosting virtual author talks. These events are in many ways more accessible to readers than in-person talks, as patrons can view them without the time and expense of traveling to the library. The nature of the internet also means that virtual author events are in many cases not limited to patrons of a particular library, but open to all. Moreover, author talks can be recorded and preserved online permanently, helping authors reach more readers over time. The Library of Congress— the United States’ library—moved its 2020 National Book Festival online, and have made the author talks and other events at the book festival available online for all to view. The Free Library of Philadelphia has a podcast dedicated to author talks and other lectures. While this podcast pre-dated the pandemic, it has taken on a new salience as a means to connect authors with readers. The Brooklyn Public Library hosts a wealth of author talks for children and adults, occurring multiple times a week, and anyone can register to attend its upcoming author talks for free. The State Library of Massachusetts also moved its monthly author talk series online in early 2020, making recorded author talks freely available online and allowing anyone to register for upcoming talks

Another method libraries have used to support authorship during the pandemic is the development of “quaranzines.” Quaranzines are a form of the “zine” publication, and have served as dedicated platforms for community members and authors to contribute creative expression made during the pandemic and help their works reach readers. Libraries, universities, historical societies, and other institutions have launched quaranzines of their own and made these available online. 

The East Flagstaff Community Library in Flagstaff, AZ developed a quaranzine project for children in which five picture book authors worked together to develop 20 separate writing and drawing prompts for public school students. Students responded to the prompts, and the collected writings and drawings of the students were bound together in books. These children’s quaranzines are available online under a Creative Commons license so they can be shared and distributed for non-commercial purposes, with the intent that they be used as educational resources in the future.

In Arlington County, VA, the public library system has released weekly quaranzines documenting community members’ experiences during the pandemic. The City of Monona Library in Monona, WI also has an ongoing quaranzine project, and the St. Mary’s County Library system in St. Mary’s County, MD has an upcoming edition of its quaranzine planned to revisit the experience of living through the pandemic now that a year has passed since in-person operations were shut down. These initiatives give voice to authors and elevate voices of new or unpublished authors and writers, helping make authorship available and accessible to all. 

Supporting Preservation

In addition to producing and preserving quaranzines and recorded author talks, libraries have taken other approaches to ensuring the preservation of knowledge and of the history of this extraordinary time. One such approach is creating archives of experiences of community members during the pandemic. 

The New York Public Library has launched a “Pandemic Diaries” project that collects personal recollections of the past year to preserve a record of this pandemic. And libraries and other public institutions across the country have launched preservation initiatives to create a snapshot of this time in history: the University of Nebraska Omaha academic library has undertaken a similar project to the NYPL’s, with a focus on preserving the experiences of “the diverse voices of our community . . . that have previously been ignored in archives and the historical record.” The White Plains library in Westchester, New York is developing a new “Documenting COVID Collection” to remain part of the library’s permanent collection after the pandemic is over. And the Indiana Historical Society has launched a state-wide initiative to document Indianans’ experience living through the pandemic. Each of these archival projects seek to create a record to aid future writers, researchers, and historians, and ensure that the archives reflect the experiences and values of their community members. We encourage our members and readers to consult their local library, historical society, or academic library to see if similar projects are underway so you too can add your voice to the developing historical record of the past 12 months.

Call to Action: Share Your Feedback on Controlled Digital Lending

Posted February 22, 2021
From “Controlled Digital Lending Explained”

Authors Alliance is gathering feedback from authors about Controlled Digital Lending (“CDL”) in order to strengthen our advocacy work and better represent your interests. Several of our members have already shared their views on how CDL helps authors and researchers, and we are now asking you to add your voice by completing this short form

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

Authors Alliance supports CDL because the practice is not only backed by a good faith interpretation of fair use, it helps authors share their creations with readers, promotes the ongoing progress of knowledge, and advances the public good—objectives that are consistent with the mission of Authors Alliance and the purposes of copyright law. CDL is particularly beneficial for authors whose works are out-of-print or otherwise commercially unavailable: In the absence of digitizing and lending these books, many would simply be inaccessible to readers. The CDL model is a boon to the authors of these and other books, allowing them to find new audiences online.

In June 2020, a group of commercial publishers filed suit against the Internet Archive, arguing in part that making electronic copies of books available using CDL through Open Library constitutes copyright infringement. Authors Alliance supports CDL and believes the attempt to challenge it in the courts is without merit. We look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Authors Alliance Celebrates the Launch of Library Futures

Posted February 2, 2021

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Authors Alliance is pleased to announce our partnership with Library Futures, a brand new organization which seeks to “empower libraries to fulfill their mission and provide non-discriminatory, open access to culture for the public good.” Last week, Library Futures officially launched with the stated goal of addressing the “deleterious impacts of an inequitable knowledge ecosystem.” The organization will engage in advocacy work, grant making, educational campaigns, and community building to effectuate its mission and work towards a technology-positive future for libraries.

We are excited to be a partner organization of Library Futures as it fights for equitable access to knowledge—an important issue for our members and authors writ large. Authors have an interest in a technology-forward future for libraries that ensures that readers, learners, and the general public can continue to discover and access their books in the digital age. We believe that the initiatives of Library Futures will help authors reach the audiences for which they write, advancing our own mission of supporting writers who write to be read.

Jennie Rose Halperin, the organization’s executive director, has said she is “honored to be leading this organization, which will take on major issues in libraries and help usher in a more inclusive digital future for teachers, learners, and researchers from every walk of life.” Library Futures board member Kyle Courtney has said he is hopeful that the organization can make real change on the issues of access and equity that are challenging libraries today: “Digital library books—when loaned correctly—can be a pivotal tool libraries use to preserve great works, provide patrons with access to books, and defend patron privacy. I hope the community will join us in standing up for the future of libraries.”

The Library Futures coalition, of which Authors Alliance is delighted to be a part, is a public interest alliance that “seeks to enable collective action while building power through an innovative advocacy organization.” Other coalition partners include the Internet Archive, Public Knowledge, Creative Commons, SPARC, and the Boston Public Library. We are excited to collaborate with Library Futures and our coalition partners to work towards a better, more equitable future for our libraries!

The IP Year in Review for Tots

Posted January 14, 2021
“Dr. Seuss Birthday Celebration” by U.S. Army Garrison Casey is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

We thank Authors Alliance board member Thomas Leonard for this guest post. Leonard is a University Librarian Emeritus and a Professor of Journalism Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley. He has served as the president of the Association of Research Libraries and as an Associate Editor of American National Biography. Leonard is also the author of three books on the development of American media.

This blog space has featured the most provocative books, briefs, and cases that our well-informed members discovered in 2020. With the benefit of hindsight, we probably made the wisest decision in illustrating a post, just before Thanksgiving, with the picture of an intense reader and Dr. Seuss’s Hop on Pop. No work we cited, after all, has gained more attention in the English-speaking world.

Hop on Pop is the only volume mentioned last year that has its own Wikipedia page and, word-for-word (the volume we pictured has fewer than 150) it may be the shortest literary work to earn Wikipedia page honor. The lessons for IP grown-ups are many.

Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991) has a place in the origin story of how open access publishing and an enormous corpus of digitized works open to readers took shape in the early years of this century. The Geisel Library at the University of California San Diego provided leadership. All the hard work of UC librarians across the state now rests safely in a full-text home for 8.5 million book titles. This repository has a name that Dr. Seuss would have loved: The HathiTrust, so spelled and punctuated, with a quizzical elephant the first thing you will see. 

Hop on Pop draws on an honored tradition in children’s literature: Unaccountable but engaging violence. Authors Alliance pictured an edition of Hop on Pop that dialed this down. The volume that the girl is reading has been abridged so that it will easily fit into her small hands. “Night Fight” is one of the adventures that was cut, though plenty of mayhem remains.  For those looking for bright ideas about how to adjust content to age level, here is one. (Older kids who use the longer Hop on Pop to build reading skills get the full story on all the ways to gouge and bash at home.)

If you have encountered Dr. Seuss scholarship (conveniently available on a post from the BBC’s culture desk), you may believe that Hop on Pop was Hop on Politics in Geisel’s mind. Famously, Dr. Seuss did this with the environmental movement in The Lorax. We need not take an excursion back to the eddies of World War II propaganda and Cold War defiance that marked Geisel’s career, as enlightening as this may be. It is the Seussville website where we should go, where the publisher of Hop on Pop for the past six decades has now done some surprising things.

Random House, owned by Bertelsmann, often does in court what we expect large media companies to do in protecting IP. Not long ago, the publisher challenged a mash up of Dr. Seuss and Star Trek. (The Ninth Circuit recently ruled that this was not fair use).

Seussville is obviously a marketing scheme to sell books and merchandise.  But there is more to it than that. Random House offers lots of space for followers of Dr. Seuss to be creative with his work; the publisher preaches civic engagement. These are welcome, but unexpected outcomes for guardians of intellectual property.

Scores of Seuss characters, games and other activities are “Printable” on this site, surely a godsend to COVID-confined Americans with young families or their online teachers. The spirit of Seussville is that Seuss creations should be used and shared; no one pokes you in the ribs to watch out for copyright. The content is free.   

Dr. Seuss’s lessons go deeper than you’d expect, and not only in The Lorax tradition. One of the many elephants who is excited about the 2020 U.S. Census alerts kids that April 1, 2020 was the cut-off date for counting newborns. “Learn About Government with Dr. Seuss!” the site thundered during the 2020 campaign. Under the gaze of characters who were having bad hair days, school kids were instructed on how to cast ballots and, presciently, how to count them. This was a drive to get kids moving, “with a focus on the American Presidency!”

Much of IP talk is the talk of a zero-sum game, in which only a rights holder or a consumer can win. In 2021, and especially for kids, allowing for a liberal use of Dr. Seuss shows that this need not be true.

Public Domain Day 2021: Welcoming Works from 1925 to the Public Domain

Posted December 29, 2020
Montage courtesy of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain

Literary aficionados and copyright buffs alike have something to celebrate as we welcome 2021: A new batch of works published in 1925 is entering the public domain on January 1. 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. 

If you agree with BBC Culture’s assessment that the year 1925 was a “golden moment in literary history,” and maybe even “literature’s greatest year,” there is reason to be excited about the latest collection of books to enter the public domain in the United States. Some of the more recognizable titles include: 

Copyright owners of works first published in the United States in 1925 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 1925—provided they were published with a copyright notice, were properly registered, and had their copyright renewed—are protected through the end of 2020. 

Once in the public domain, works can be made freely available. Organizations that have digitized text of these books, like Internet Archive, Google 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 1925. 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.

So what new creativity might we have to look forward to with the current collection of 1925 works entering the public domain? Blake Hazard, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s great-granddaughter and a trustee of his literary estate offers one possibility. Hazard told the Associated Press that, as The Great Gatsby’s 95 years of copyright protection was coming to a close, “We’re now looking to a new period and trying to view it with enthusiasm, knowing some exciting things may come. […] I would love to see an inclusive adaptation of Gatsby with a diverse cast. Though the story is set in a very specific time and place, it seems to me that a retelling of this great American story could and should reflect a more diverse America.”

Q&A With Cynthia Willett and Julie Willett: Open Access and Engaging in Global Conversations

Posted February 4, 2020
Cynthia Willett, Uproarious book cover, and Julie Willett

As a part of our series of open access success stories that spotlight noteworthy openly accessible books and their authors, we’re featuring Cynthia Willett, Professor of Philosophy at Emory University and Julie Willett, Associate Professor at Texas Tech University.

In their new book Uproarious: How Feminists and Other Subversive Comics Speak Truth, Willett and Willett address theories of humor through the lens of feminist and game-changing comics. They take a radical and holistic approach to the understanding of humor, particularly of humor deployed by those from groups long relegated to the margins, and propose a powerful new understanding of humor as a force that can engender politically progressive social movements.

Uproarious is available under a CC BY-NC-ND license, supported by Emory University as part of the TOME initiative and can also be purchased in print form.

Authors Alliance: Can you tell us why you opted to make Uproarious openly available?

Cynthia Willett & Julie Willett: Our reconceptualization of humor draws from feminist stand-ups and other post-9/11-era comics. Just as our claims are driven by popular culture, we think open access too helps us engage in global conversations. In an era with the fortunes of academics and educational institutions caught up in growing social inequality, we also hope that open access allows our research to be more accessible not only to students at elite institutions but also to those who lack resources yet often drive the conversations on trending fields like humor.

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

CW & JW: As a philosopher and a historian, we began this project hoping to reach out to a larger audience across academic disciplines and to general interest readers. The book addresses a topic of heightened relevance at a time when a twitter joke can shift the political climate overnight. At a time when so much of our political culture is driven by comedy and comedy both as an art form and a tool of politics is driven by the internet and social media, open access couldn’t seem more relevant.

AuAll: Before this book project what was your impression of open access publishing?

CW & JW: We tended to associate open access with cutting edge work in the sciences and we are excited to be part of this expansion into the humanities.

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

CW & JW: Perhaps the most unexpected result has been the contacts and conversations we are having with stand-up comedians who help us think about the new directions for this field of study. We have also enjoyed wider interest for our work from the media, including an interview on Free Speech TV.

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

CW & JW: Co-authorship made the entire process more creative and joyful. Coupled with the added benefit of working across disciplines we strive to communicate our ideas free of jargon. Moreover, the topic of our book arises from beyond the academic context and we attempted to frame the book in terms of that wider political concern.

Authors Alliance Supports Immediate Access to Federally Funded Research

Posted December 20, 2019
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Media sources report that the Trump Administration is considering a policy to make the results of federally funded research immediately available for the public to freely access and use. Current policy requires results of federally funded research be made available in pre-print form within 12 months of publication. The rumored policy would eliminate the 12-month embargo. As an organization with a mission to advance the interests of authors who want to serve the public good by sharing their creations broadly, Authors Alliance strongly supports such a policy.

Many of our members are authors who rely on taxpayer dollars to fund their research and want the results of that research to be immediately available for potential readers to readily locate and access without being turned away by paywalls. Immediate and free online availability increases their works’ visibility, helping it to reach readers and benefit the public. Absent a federal policy, many authors simply do not have the bargaining power necessary to demand from publishers the level of access they want for their research. 

Removing barriers to access creates a more hospitable environment for future scientific advancements. Medical patients and their family members have especially compelling needs for this information. Many students, teachers, researchers, and other professionals from low- and middle-income countries struggle to get access to prohibitively expensive subscription-based journals. Even individuals at U.S.-based institutions may find that their libraries do not have the resources to subscribe to relevant journals in their fields. By removing price barriers, it is easier for students, teachers, researchers, and practitioners to access the information they need to learn, teach, research, and practice in their fields.

The rumored policy change does not require publishers to make the final version of articles based on federally funded research free—just for authors to make the pre-publication versions available. Publishers can still charge subscriptions for access to the final published version of these articles, not to mention all of the articles not funded by taxpayer dollars. Or publishers can charge for their value-added publishing services to those institutions who want professional peer review. By paying for publishing services rather than paying for the right to read, institutions can use their budgets to pay for publishing rather than for subscriptions, publishers can earn a living, and the public can then read taxpayer funded research without paying for the privilege.

A policy requiring the outputs of federally funded research be made immediately available would maximize the value of investment in research by ensuring that more readers can access research results than if the works were available through restricted means alone. For these reasons, Authors Alliance supports a policy that would ensure that the public is not made to pay both to create and to read research and would open up opportunities for others to build upon research, accelerating the pace of innovation and discovery.