Category Archives: News

Books are Big AI’s Achilles Heel

Posted May 13, 2024

By Dave Hansen and Dan Cohen

Image of the Rijksmuseum by Michael D Beckwith. Image dedicated to the Public Domain.

Rapidly advancing artificial intelligence is remaking how we work and live, a revolution that will affect us all. While AI’s impact continues to expand, the operation and benefits of the technology are increasingly concentrated in a small number of gigantic corporations, including OpenAI, Google, Meta, Amazon, and Microsoft.

Challenging this emerging AI oligopoly seems daunting. The latest AI models now cost billions of dollars, beyond the budgets of startups and even elite research universities, which have often generated the new ideas and innovations that advance the state of the art.

But universities have a secret weapon that might level the AI playing field: their libraries. Computing power may be one important part of AI, but the other key ingredient is training data. Immense scale is essential for this data—but so is its quality.

Given their voracious appetite for text to feed their large language models, leading AI companies have taken all the words they can find, including from online forums, YouTube subtitles, and Google Docs. This is not exactly “the best that has been thought and said,” to use Matthew Arnold’s pointed phrase. In Big AI’s haphazard quest for quantity, quality has taken a back seat. The frequency of “hallucinations”—inaccuracies currently endemic to AI outputs—are cause for even greater concern.

The obvious way to rectify this lack of quality and tenuous relationship to the truth is by ingesting books. Since the advent of the printing press, authors have published well over 100 million books. These volumes, preserved for generations on the shelves of libraries, are perhaps the most sophisticated reflection of human thinking from the beginning of recorded history, holding within them some of our greatest (and worst) ideas. On average, they have exceptional editorial quality compared to other texts, capture a breadth and diversity of content, a vivid mix of styles, and use long-form narrative to communicate nuanced arguments and concepts.

The major AI vendors have sought to tap into this wellspring of human intelligence to power the artificial, although often through questionable methods. Some companies have turned to an infamous set of thousands of books, apparently retrieved from pirate websites without permission, called “Books3.” They have also sought licenses directly from publishers, using their massive budgets to buy what they cannot scavenge. Meta even considered purchasing one of the largest publishers in the world, Simon & Schuster.

As the bedrock of our shared culture, and as the possible foundation for better artificial intelligence, books are too important to flow through these compromised or expensive channels. What if there were a library-managed collection made available to a wide array of AI researchers, including at colleges and universities, nonprofit research institutions, and small companies as well as large ones?

Such vast collections of digitized books exist right now. Google, by pouring millions of dollars into its long-running book scanning project, has access to over 40 million books, a valuable asset they undoubtedly would like to keep exclusive. Fortunately, those digitized books are also held by Google’s partner libraries. Research libraries and other nonprofits have additional stockpiles of digitized books from their own scanning operations, derived from books in their own collections. Together, they represent a formidable aggregation of texts.

A library-led training data set of books would diversify and strengthen the development of AI. Digitized research libraries are more than large enough, and of substantially higher quality, to offer a compelling alternative to existing scattershot data sets. These institutions and initiatives have already worked through many of the most challenging copyright issues, at least for how fair use applies to nonprofit research uses such as computational analysis. Whether fair use also applies to commercial AI, or models built from iffy sources like Books3, remains to be seen.

Library-held digital texts come from lawfully acquired books—an investment of billions of dollars, it should be noted, just like those big data centers—and libraries are innately respectful of the interests of authors and rightsholders by accounting for concerns about consent, credit, and compensation. Furthermore, they have a public-interest disposition that can take into account the particular social and ethical challenges of AI development. A library consortium could distinguish between the different needs and responsibilities of academic researchers, small market entrants, and large commercial actors. 

If we don’t look to libraries to guide the training of AI on the profound content of books, we will see a reinforcement of the same oligopolies that rule today’s tech sector. Only the largest, most well-resourced companies will acquire these valuable texts, driving further concentration in the industry. Others will be prevented from creating imaginative new forms of AI based on the best that has been thought and said. As they have always done, by democratizing access libraries can support learning and research for all, ensuring that AI becomes the product of the many rather than the few.

Further reading on this topic: “Towards a Books Data Commons for AI Training,” by Paul Keller, Betsy Masiello, Derek Slater, and Alek Tarkowski.

This week, Authors Alliance celebrates its 10th anniversary with an event in San Francisco on May 17 (We still have space! Register for free here) titled “Authorship in an Age of Monopoly and Moral Panics,” where we will highlight obstacles and opportunities of new technology. This piece is part of a series leading up to the event.

Authors Alliance Submits Amicus Brief in Tiger King Fair Use Case

Posted May 6, 2024

By Dave Hansen

Have you ever used a photograph to illustrate a historical event in your writing? Or quoted, say from a letter, to point out some fact that the author conveyed in their writing? According to the 10th Circuit, these aren’t the kinds of uses that fair use supports. 

On Thursday, Authors Alliance joined with EFF, the Association of Research Libraries, the American Library Association, and Public Knowlege in filing an amicus brief asking the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider its recent fair use decision in Whyte Monkee v. Netflix. 

The case is about Netflix’s use of a funeral video recording in its documentary series Tiger King, a true crime documentary about Joseph Maldanado, aka Joe Exotic, an excentric zookeeper, media personality, exotic animal owner, and convicted felon. The recording at issue was created by Timothy Sepi/Whyte Monkee, as a memorial for Travis Maldonado, Joe Exotic’s late husband. Netflix used about 60 seconds of the funeral video in its show. Its purpose was, among other things, to “illustrate Mr. Exotic’s purported megalomania, even in the face of tragedy.” 

A three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit issued its opinion in late March, concluding that Netflix’s use was not “transformative” under the first fair use factor and therefore disfavored as a fair use. The panel relied heavily on the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Andy Warhol v. Goldsmith, taking that case to mean that uses that do not comment or criticize the artistic and creative aspects of the underlying work are generally disfavored. So, the court concluded: 

Defendants’ use of the Funeral Video is not transformative under the first fair use factor. Here, Defendants did not comment on or “target” Mr. Sepi’s work at all; instead, Defendants used the Funeral Video to comment on Joe Exotic. More specifically, Defendants used the Funeral Video to illustrate Mr. Exotic’s purported megalomania, even in the face of tragedy. By doing so, Defendants were providing a historical reference point in Mr. Exotic’s life and commenting on Mr. Exotic’s showmanship. However, Defendants’ use did not comment on Mr. Sepi’s video—i.e., its creative decisions or its intended meaning.

You can probably see the problem. Fair use has, for a very long time, supported a wide variety of other uses that incorporate existing works as historical reference points and illustrations. Although the Supreme Court talked a lot about criticism and comment in its Warhol opinion (which made sense, given that the use before it was a purported artistic commentary), I think very few people interpreted that decision to mean that only commentary and criticism are permissible transformative fair uses. But as our brief points out, the panel’s decision essentially converts the Supreme Court’s decision in Warhol from a nuanced reaffirmation of fair use precedent into a radical rewrite of the law that only supports those kinds of uses. 

Our brief argues that the 10th Circuit misread the Supreme Court’s opinion in Warhol, and that it ignored decades of fair use case law. We point to a few good examples – e.g., Time v. Bernard Geis (a 1968 case finding fair use of a recreation of the famous Zapruder film in a book titled “Six Seconds in Dallas,” analyzing President Kennedy’s assassination), New Era Publications v. Carol Publishing (a 1990 case supporting reuse of lengthy quotations of L Ron Hubbard in a book about him, to make a point about Hubbard’s “hypocrisy and pomposity”) and Bill Graham Archives v. Dorling Kindersley (a 2006 case finding fair use of Grateful Dead concert posters in a book using them as historical reference points). 

Our brief also highlights how communities of practice such as documentary filmmakers, journalists, and nonfiction writers have come to rely on fair use to support these types of uses–so much so that these practices are codified in best practices here, here, and even here Authors Alliance’s own Fair Use for Nonfiction Authors guide. 

Although it is rare for appellate courts to grant rehearing of already issued opinions, this opinion has drawn quite a lot of negative attention. In addition to our amicus brief, there were amicus briefs filed in support of rehearing from: 

Given the broad and negative reach of this decision, I hope the 10th Circuit will pay attention and grant the request. 

Book Talk: The Secret Life of Data

Book Talk: The Secret Life of Data

How data surveillance, digital forensics, and generative AI pose new long-term threats and opportunities—and how we can use them to make better decisions in the face of technological uncertainty.

Book Talk: The Secret Life of Data
April 18 @ 10am PT / 1pm ET ONLINE
Register now!

“I have been waiting a long time for a clearly written book that cuts through the hype and describes how data—big and small, old and new—actually operate in our lives. Neither utopian nor dystopian, The Secret Life of Data just tells it like it is.”   
—Siva Vaidhyanathan, Professor of Media Studies, The University of Virginia; author of Antisocial Media and The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry)

In The Secret Life of Data, Aram Sinnreich and Jesse Gilbert explore the many unpredictable, and often surprising, ways in which data surveillance, AI, and the constant presence of algorithms impact our culture and society in the age of global networks. The authors build on this basic premise: no matter what form data takes, and what purpose we think it’s being used for, data will always have a secret life. How this data will be used, by other people in other times and places, has profound implications for every aspect of our lives—from our intimate relationships to our professional lives to our political systems.

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ABOUT OUR SPEAKERS

ARAM SINNREICH is an author, professor, and musician. He is Chair of Communication Studies at American University. His books include Mashed Up, The Piracy CrusadeThe Essential Guide to Intellectual Property, and A Second Chance for Yesterday (published as R. A. Sinn).

JESSE GILBERT is an interdisciplinary artist exploring the intersection of visual art, sound, and software design at his firm Dark Matter Media. He was the founding Chair of the Media Technology department at Woodbury University, and he has taught interactive software design at both CalArts and UC San Diego.

DR. LAURA DENARDIS is Professor and Endowed Chair in Technology, Ethics, and Society and Director of the Center for Digital Ethics at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.  Her book The Internet in Everything: Freedom and Security in a World with No Off Switch (Yale University Press) was recognized as a Financial Times Top Technology Book of 2020. Among her seven books, The Global War for Internet Governance (Yale University Press) is considered a definitive source for understanding cyber governance debates and solutions. Professor DeNardis is an affiliated Fellow of the Yale Information Society Project, where she previously served as Executive Director, and is a life Member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She holds engineering degrees and a PhD in Science and Technology Studies, and was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship from Yale Law School.

Book Talk: The Secret Life of Data
April 18 @ 10am PT / 1pm ET ONLINE
Register now!

Book Talk – Unlocking the Digital Age: The Musician’s Guide to Research, Copyright & Publishing

Posted March 27, 2024

Join us for a book talk with ANDREA I. COPLAND & KATHLEEN DeLAURENTI about UNLOCKING THE DIGITAL AGE, a crucial resource for early career musicians navigating the complexities of the digital era.

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“[Musicians,] Use this book as a tool to enhance your understanding, protect your creations, and confidently step into the world of digital music. Embrace the journey with the same fervor you bring to your music and let this guide be a catalyst in shaping a fulfilling and sustainable musical career.”
– Dean Fred Bronstein, THE PEABODY INSTITUTE OF THE JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY

Based on coursework developed at the Peabody Conservatory, Unlocking the Digital Age: The Musician’s Guide to Research, Copyright, and Publishing by Andrea I. Copland and Kathleen DeLaurenti [READ NOW] serves as a crucial resource for early career musicians navigating the complexities of the digital era. This guide bridges the gap between creative practice and scholarly research, empowering musicians to confidently share and protect their work as they expand their performing lives beyond the concert stage as citizen artists. It offers a plain language resource that helps early career musicians see where creative practice and creative research intersect and how to traverse information systems to share their work. As professional musicians and researchers, the authors’ experiences on stage and in academia makes this guide an indispensable tool for musicians aiming to thrive in the digital landscape.

Copland and DeLaurenti will be in conversation with musician and educator, Kyoko Kitamura. Music librarian Matthew Vest will facilitate our discussion.

Unlocking the Digital Age: The Musician’s Guide to Research, Copyright, and Publishing is available to read & download.

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About our speakers

ANDREA I. COPLAND is an oboist, music historian, and librarian based in Baltimore, MD. Andrea has dual master’s of music degrees in oboe performance and music history from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University and is currently Research Coordinator at the Répertoire International de la Presse Musicale (RIPM) database. She is also a teaching artist with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s OrchKids program and writes a public musicology blog, Outward Sound, on substack.

KATHLEEN DeLAURENTI is the Director of the Arthur Friedheim Library at the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University where she also teaches Foundations of Music Research in the graduate program. Previously, she served as scholarly communication librarian at the College of William and Mary where she participated in establishing state-wide open educational resources (OER) initiatives. She is co-chair of the Music Library Association (MLA) Legislation Committee as well as a member of the Copyright Education sub-committee of the American Library Association (ALA) and is past winner of the ALA Robert Oakley Memorial Scholarship for copyright research. DeLaurenti is passionate about copyright education, especially for musicians. She is active in communities of practice working on music copyright education, sustainable economic models for artists and musicians, and policy for a balanced copyright system. DeLaurenti served as the inaugural Open Access Editor of MLA and continues to serve on the MLA Open Access Editorial Board. She holds an MLIS from the University of Washington and a BFA in vocal performance from Carnegie Mellon University.

KYOKO KITAMURA is a Brookyn-based vocal improviser, bandleader, composer and educator, currently co-leading the quartet Geometry (with cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, guitarist Joe Morris and cellist Tomeka Reid) and the trio Siren Xypher (with violist Melanie Dyer and pianist Mara Rosenbloom). A long-time collaborator of legendary composer Anthony Braxton, Kitamura appears on many of his releases and is the creator of the acclaimed 2023 documentary Introduction to Syntactical Ghost Trance Music which DownBeat Magazine calls “an invaluable resource for Braxton-philes.” Active in interdisciplinary performances, Kitamura recently provided vocals for, and appeared in, artist Matthew Barney’s 2023 five-channel installation Secondary.

MATTHEW VEST is the Music Inquiry and Research Librarian at UCLA. His research interests include change leadership in higher education, digital projects and publishing for music and the humanities, and composers working at the margins of the second Viennese School. He has also worked in the music libraries at the University of Virginia, Davidson College, and Indiana University and is the Open Access Editor for the Music Library Association.

Book Talk: UNLOCKING THE DIGITAL AGE
April 3 @ 10am PT / 1pm ET
VIRTUAL
Register now!

Announcing Departure of Rachel Brooke, Authors Alliance Senior Staff Attorney

Posted March 18, 2024
Photo by Jan Tinneberg on Unsplash

Dear Authors Alliance Members, Friends, and Allies,

It is with a heavy heart that I am announcing my departure from Authors Alliance. For me, the development is bittersweet—in a few weeks, I will be starting a new job at a law firm where I’ll focus on litigation and developing my advocacy skills in a new way. I’m excited for this next chapter, but I’ll sorely miss being an Authors Alliance staff member and working to advance the interests of our members, a dedicated and engaged community of authors who care deeply about access to knowledge and culture. 

My time at Authors Alliance has seen a lot of change, both on an organizational level and in terms of the world around us. I joined as a staff attorney in late 2020, during a stormy political season and in the midst of a public health crisis. Working with former executive director, Brianna Schofield, I got to know this community and began to understand what mattered to you. I wrote one of our guides, Third-Party Permissions and How to Clear Them, drawing on my past experience working as a literary agent in addition to what I had learned about copyright law and the particular needs of our members. I also spent nine months as our interim executive director before Dave joined us back in 2022. Along the way, with the blessing and guidance of our outstanding board of directors, Authors Alliance began to focus more on policy and scale back our education work. Back in 2014, there was a dearth of these kinds of educational resources for authors, but that has changed over time, particularly with the increasing presence of scholarly communications offices to guide academic scholars.  

This week is my last as an employee of Authors Alliance, and next week will be my first as a regular member. During my years with Authors Alliance, I’ve been asked a lot of times “who can join” and whether a person “qualified” as an author. Unlike other authors’ organizations, we don’t gatekeep when it comes to membership. If you—like me—write, for business or for pleasure, and you—like me—believe in our mission, Authors Alliance would love to have you join as a member. And what I love about this organization is that it truly does want to be responsive to the needs of its members. Our two amicus briefs in the Hachette Books v. Internet Archive litigation (that Dave and Kyle Courtney wrote about just last week) were based on a survey we conducted of members and other authors, because we saw how author interests were taking a back seat to the interests of large publishers in the litigation. I wrote both of these briefs, and it was an absolute pleasure to use my legal training to share this important perspective with the courts. 

We created our most recent guide, Writing About Real People, because we so often heard from nonfiction authors writing about real people who had questions about whether they might be exposing themselves to legal risk. The same is true for the permissions guide—it was partially inspired by the fact that a guest blog post on clearing rights for images had been one of our most popular of all time, indicating the need for this kind of resource. We began conducting advocacy work in the realm of AI and copyright because it was clear that generative AI had the potential to reshape authorship and intellectual property laws, and we thought our voice could be useful as a sensible, measured one that remained optimistic about technology and innovation. 

On a personal level, being an attorney for Authors Alliance has given me both a strong sense of job satisfaction and the feeling that my work is helping people and making a difference in the world (something many lawyers can only dream of!). Whether it is seeing our views shape the development of the laws and regulations governing information policy, or hearing from an author who got their rights back or successfully negotiated with their publisher to retain their copyright, the effects of our work have reminded me that our organization really matters. It’s one I have been honored to be a part of for the past three and a half years. Please feel free to reach out over email (for now, you can reach me at rachel@authorsalliance.org) in the next few days, or add me on twitter or LinkedIn—I’d love to stay engaged with this community, even if I’m no longer involved professionally. I also plan to attend our 10th Anniversary celebration in May, and hope to see many of our members and allies there!

Fondly,

Rachel

Publishers’ brief in Hachette v. Internet Archive: First Impressions

Posted March 15, 2024

Dave Hansen and Kyle Courtney jointly authored this post. They are also the authors of a White Paper on Controlled Digital Lending of Library Books. We are not, as the Publishers claim in their brief on page 13, a “cadre of boosters.” We wrote the paper independently as part of our combined decades of work on libraries and access to knowledge.

Earlier today the publishers (Hachette, Harper Collins, John Wiley, and Penguin Random House) filed their reply brief on appeal in their long-running lawsuit against Internet Archive, which challenges (among other things) the practice of controlled digital lending. 

For the months after the decision, we had been observing all the hot takes, cheers, jeers, and awkward declarations about the case, the Internet Archive itself, and Controlled Digital Lending (CDL).

This post is not part of that fanfare. Here, we want to identify a few critical issues that the publishers focus on in their brief, including some questionable fair use analysis that they repeat from the district court below. Much of the brief is framed in heated rhetoric that may cause alarm, but much like publishers’ announcements about interlibrary loan, e-reserves, or document delivery, we believe controlled digital lending is here to stay, regardless of the lower court’s poor copyright analysis and current publisher’s brief.

Framing the Question

As is often the case, the parties disagree on what this case is actually about. For its part, Internet Archive says in their “Statement of the Issue on Appeal” that the question is  “whether Internet Archive’s controlled digital lending is fair use.” Publishers, on the other hand, reframe the question more broadly, which in combination with their arguments through the brief,  seems intended to not just kill IA’s implementation of controlled digital lending, but to encourage the court to rule in a way that would call into question all other library applications of CDL.. They say that the question is  “whether IA’s infringement of the Publishers’ Works is fair use based on IA’s CDL theories and practices.” 

This litigation, coordinated by the AAP,  seems to us an attempt to undermine what libraries have done for centuries: lend the books that they already lawfully own. Ironically, the opposition calls CDL a made-up theory created by a “cadre of boosters,” but in actuality, it’s the publishers’ licensing system that is a modern, made-up invention. The works themselves are unchanged, but the nature of digital delivery allows publishers to charge people in new ways. There is nothing in the Copyright Act that states ebook licensing is, or should be, the default way for libraries to acquire and lend books. 

Commercial vs. Non-Profit Use

One of the most criticized aspects of the decision below is the lower court’s conclusion that IA’s activities are commercial, as opposed to non-profit. The publisher’s brief enthusiastically embraces this conclusion, while also attempting to drive a wedge between IA’s lending and that of other libraries: “IA’s practices are distinctly commercial – especially in comparison to public and academic libraries.” 

The district court concluded that IA’s activity was commercial because it “stands to profit” through its partnership with Better World Books on its website, and by “us[ing] its Website to attract new members, solicit donations, and bolster its standing in the library community” (p. 26).

As many amici pointed out earlier in the appeal, the use of a nonprofit’s website to solicit donations is routine; it would be chilling for sites like Wikipedia, Project Gutenberg, Hathitrust and others (all of whom filed briefs in this case) to face heightened copyright liability just because they seek donations in combination with aspects of their sites that rely on a fair use assertion.  The publishers attempt to distance themselves from this absurd result (“The concern that Judge Koeltl’s analysis “would render virtually all nonprofit uses commercial” is wildly overblown”), but it is clear from the number and diversity of amici who filed to speak to just this issue that the concern is very real. 

As for Better World Books (BWB): BWB  is an online bookstore and a Certified B Corporation, meaning that it achieves high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. B Corps are committed to using business as a force for good in the world. According to its website, BWB donates books to nonprofit organizations, including the Internet Archive. As of November 2019, IA and BWB have a partnership to digitize books for preservation purposes. 

The focus on the supposedly commercial relationship with Better World Books (a used book reseller) seems to us a stretch based on the facts. The publishers’ brief makes a big deal of Better World Books (referencing them over 20 times in the brief), and argues that IA’s use is commercial because a)  IA encourages readers to purchase books through links on its site to Better World Books, and b) Better World Books donates some funds back to IA.  The first point is perplexing–one would think they’d be pleased that readers are encouraged to purchase copies of their books–even if on the used market. But the later point about BetterWorld Books’ commercial influence on IA’s operation is just not rooted in the facts of the case. As IA laid out in its opening brief, it has only received $5,561.41 from Better World Books in the relevant time frame.  That’s an infinitesimally small drop in the bucket compared to the costs that IA has borne to digitize and lend books for no monetary return from readers. It’s hard to see how such an amount could be construed to tilt IA’s entire operation into a commercial activity. 

For anyone who has actually worked on such projects, it is clear that IA is not archiving or lending books for commercial purposes. The idea that there is money to be made in doing so is laughable. Instead, it is providing access to knowledge and cultural heritage. This fundamental point somehow got lost on the publishers on the road to enormous profits.

eBooks vs. Digitized Books

There are lots of nuances that got lost in the decision below, which we believe were helpfully addressed by amici filings earlier in this appeal (e.g., the privacy implications of licensed ebooks vs. CDL copies lent by libraries).  The publishers seem happy to gloss over the details again in this brief, particularly when it comes to the differences between licensed ebooks and those that are lent out with CDL. 

First, the publisher’s brief makes clear they really don’t like it when books are available for free.. They use the word 33 times (about every other page of the brief)! Many of the references obscure what “free” really means though –  for example, asserting that  “Two Publishers believe that 39-50% of American ebook consumers read their ebooks for free from libraries rather than paying for their own commercial ebooks” (emphasis added) while ignoring the exorbitant costs and other burdens placed on libraries and the public to fund that licensed access. This is a major part of why libraries have responded both by embracing CDL and by advocating for laws that would require fair licensing terms for ebooks. . 

Second, as far as market harm goes, the Publisher’s assert that “IA offered the Publishers’ library and consumer customers a free competing substitute to the authorized ebook editions” essentially arguing that “you can’t compete with free.” But, that is just not true.  Examples are trivially easy to conjure up open source software vs. Microsoft or iOS. How often do you run into someone who uses Libre Open Office, or Ubuntu? And of course in creative industries, we’ve seen this kind of model take hold in numerous areas, including book publishing, with “freemium” models.’

That’s because products that are free often offer a different user experience than those that aren’t. Usually when someone opts to pay, they’re paying for an enhanced experience. The same holds true of books scanned for CDL vs. licensed ebooks. CDL books are just that – they are digitized physical books. They don’t have the nice, crisp text of licensed ebooks, nor the interactive features. You can’t highlight, or change the font, or look up a word by touching it, or do any of the myriad of functions that you can with an ebook. 

That a library is loaning and controlling those copies is also a major distinguishing factor, because borrowing a book from a library (along with all the special privacy protections one receives) provides a vastly different reading environment than one in which vendors can scrape, process and sell data about your reading experience. Notably, the publishers did not engage with this argument. 

“IA refuses to pay the customary price and join the Publishers’ thriving market for authorized library ebooks…”

Good gravy! According to the publishers, libraries should be forced to pay over and over again for the same book, to join a market for which there is no evidence that they are harming. 

The publishers’ devote a large portion of their brief – nearly 20 pages– to arguing about market harm. Most of it comes down to the assertion that mere fact of the existence of a digital book market means that  CDL must negatively impact the rightsholders’ profits (despite no empirical evidence of market harm). The lower court decision stated that IA has the “burden to show a lack of market harm” (p. 43), and concluded (without reference to meaningful evidence) that “that harm here is evident” (p. 44), an assumption which the publishers are happy to rest on. 

There is a genuinely important legal question raised here about which party needs to prove what when it comes to market harm. The publisher’s brief relies heavily on the idea that IA bears the burden on every point of its fair use defense, especially market harm. But as IA points out in its opening brief, 

“Although the Supreme Court has stated fair use is an affirmative defense for which defendants bear the burden (Campbell, 510 U.S. at 1177), it has also suggested this burden may apply differently to noncommercial uses than commercial ones. Sony stated that noncommercial cases require “a showing by a preponderance of the evidence that some meaningful likelihood of future harm exists.” 464 U.S. at 417; see Princeton Univ. Press v. Mich. Document Servs., Inc., 99 F.3d 1381, 1385- 86 (6th Cir. 1996) (“The burden of proof as to market effect rests with the copyright holder if the challenged use is of a ‘noncommercial’ nature.”). 

Conclusion

The brief is predictably hyperbolic, and continues to refuse to allow for any room for digital lending based on a misreading, in our view, of precedents such as Sony, TVEyes, and ReDigi. But, CDL is not some form of library-sanctioned piracy. CDL is based in copyright, fair use, and the public mission of libraries, while also broadening access to the books that library systems spend billions of dollars to collect and maintain for the public—including long-neglected, out-of-print books with enormous social and scholarly value and books for which commercial ebook licenses are not available.

During the pandemic, the importance of digital library access became strikingly apparent. It is unfortunate that the Publishers chose that moment of national emergency to sue a non-profit library for loaning books digitally. CDL simply seeks to preserve the library’s long-established and vital mission to collect and lend books in an increasingly licensed-access digital world.

Writing About Real People Update: Right of Publicity, Voice Protection, and Artificial Intelligence

Posted March 7, 2024
Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

Some of you may recall that Authors Alliance published our long-awaited guide, Writing About Real People, earlier this year. One of the major topics in the guide is the right of publicity—a right to control use of one’s own identity, particularly in the context of commercial advertising. These issues have been in the news a lot lately as generative AI poses new questions about the scope and application of the right of publicity. 

Sound-alikes and the Right of Publicity

One important right of publicity question in the genAI era concerns the increasing prevalence of “sound-alikes” created using generative AI systems. The issue of AI-generated voices that mimicked real people came to the public’s attention with the apparently convincing “Heart on My Sleeve” song, imitating Drake and the Weeknd, and tools that facilitate creating songs imitating popular singers have increased in number and availability

AI-generated soundalikes are a particularly interesting use of this technology when it comes to the right of publicity because one of the seminal right of publicity cases, taught in law schools and mentioned in primers on the topic, concerns a sound-alike from the analog world. In 1986, the Ford Motor Company hired an advertising agency to create a TV commercial. The agency obtained permission to use “Do You Wanna Dance,” a song Bette Midler had famously covered, in its commercial. But when the ad agency approached Midler about actually singing the song for the commercial, she refused. The agency then hired a former backup singer of Midler’s to record the song, apparently asking the singer to imitate Midler’s voice in the recording. A federal court found that this violated Midler’s right of publicity under California law, even though her voice was not actually used. Extending this holding to AI-generated voices seems logical and straightforward—it is not about the precise technology used to create or record the voice, but about the end result the technology is used to achieve. 

Right of Publicity Legislation

The right of publicity is a matter of state law. In some states, like California and New York, the right of publicity is established via statute, and in others, it’s a matter of common law (or judge-made law). In recent months, state legislatures have proposed new laws that would codify or expand the right of publicity. Similarly, many have called for the establishment of a federal right of publicity, specifically in the context of harms caused by the rise of generative AI. One driving force behind calls for the establishment of a federal right of publicity is the patchwork nature of state right of publicity laws: in some states, the right of publicity extends only to someone’s name, image, likeness, voice, and signature, but in others, it’s much broader. While AI-generated content and the ways in which it is being used certainly pose new challenges for courts considering right of publicity violations, we are skeptical that new legislation is the best solution. 

In late January, the No Artificial Intelligence Fake Replicas and Unauthorized Duplications Act of 2024 (or “No AI FRAUD Act”) was introduced in the House of Representatives. The No AI FRAUD Act would create a property-like right in one’s voice and likeness, which is transferable to other parties. It targets voice “cloning services” and mentions the “Heart on My Sleeve” controversy specifically. But civil societies and advocates for free expression have raised alarm about the ways in which the bill would make it easier for creators to actually lose control over their own personality rights while also impinging on others’ First Amendment rights due to its overbreadth and the property-like nature of the right it creates. While the No AI FRAUD Act contains language stating that the First Amendment is a defense to liability, it’s unclear how effective this would be in practice (and as we explain in the Writing About Real People Guide, the First Amendment is always a limitation on laws affecting freedom of expression). 

The Right of Publicity and AI-Generated Content

In the past, the right of publicity has been described as “name, image, and likeness” rights. What is interesting about AI-generated content and the right of publicity is that a person’s likeness can be used in a more complete way than ever before. In some cases, both their appearance and voice are imitated, associated with their name, and combined in a way that makes the imitation more convincing. 

What is different about this iteration of right of publicity questions is the actors behind the production of the soundalikes and imitations, and, to a lesser extent, the harms that might flow from these uses. A recent use of a different celebrity’s likeness in connection with an advertisement is instructive on this point. Earlier this year, advertisements emerged on various platforms featuring an AI-generated Taylor Swift participating in a Le Creuset cookware giveaway. These ads contained two separate layers of deceptiveness: most obviously, that Swift was AI-generated and did not personally appear in the ad, but more bafflingly, that they were not Le Creuset ads at all. The ads were part of a scam whereby users might pay for cookware they would never receive, or enter credit card details which could then be stolen or otherwise used for improper purposes. Compared to more traditional conceptions of advertising, the unfair advantages and harms caused by the use of Swift’s voice and likeness are much more difficult to trace. Taylor Swift’s likeness and voice were appropriated by scammers to trick the public into thinking they were interacting with Le Creuset advertising. 

It may be that the right of publicity as we know it (and as we discuss it in the Writing About Real People Guide) is not well-equipped to deal with these kinds of situations. But it seems to us that codifying the right of publicity in federal law is not the best approach. Just as Bette Midler had a viable claim under California’s right of publicity statute back in 1992, Taylor Swift would likely have a viable claim against Le Creuset if her likeness had been used by that company in connection with commercial advertising. The problem is not the “patchwork of state laws,” but that this kind of doubly-deceptive advertising is not commercial advertising at all. On a practical level, it’s unclear what party could even be sued by this kind of use. Certainly not Le Creuset. And it seems to us unfair to say that the creator of the AI technology sued should be left holding the bag, just because someone used it for fraudulent purposes. The real fraudsters—anonymous but likely not impossible to track down—are the ones who can and should be pursued under existing fraud laws. 

Authors Alliance has said elsewhere that reforms to copyright law cannot be the solution to any and all harms caused by generative AI. The same goes for the intellectual property-like right of publicity. Sensible regulation of platforms, stronger consumer protection laws, and better means of detecting and exposing AI-generated content are possible solutions to the problems that the use of AI-generated celebrity likenesses have brought about. To instead expand intellectual property rights under a federal right of publicity statute risks infringing on our First Amendment freedoms of speech and expression.

A Copyright Small Claims Update: Defaults and Failure to Opt Out

Posted February 1, 2024

We’ve been tracking for a few years the new copyright small claims court known as the Copyright Claims Board. My last update was in September when I posted a summary of a paper I wrote with Katie Fortney summarizing data about the first year of operations of the court (thanks entirely to Katie for doing the hard work of extracting that data and sharing it in an easy-to-understand format). 

As explained then, the CCB has been slow in processing cases; it only entered a final judgment on the merits in one case when I last wrote. It has now issued a total of 18 final determinations, about half of which are default determinations (cases where the respondent failed to appear or refused to participate in the CCB process). The facts for most of these cases are not very interesting, but two of the most recent caught my attention. 

Oakes v. Heart of Gold Pageant System

The first case, Oakes v. Heart of Gold Pageant System Inc., highlights a concern from opponents of the CCB when it was being debated in Congress. Namely, the CCB’s ability to make default determinations could be a trap for the unwary defendants who don’t understand what the CCB is, what a case before it could mean for them, or what their rights are to opt out of a CCB proceeding. 

The facts are unspectacular: Oakes, a professional photographer represented by Higbee & Associates, filed a CCB complaint against Heart of Gold and its owner, Angel Jameson, for using photographs taken by Oakes on Heart of Gold’s Facebook page and in materials for events it sponsored. Oakes originally filed the claim in July 2022 and then refiled it in August 2022 with some corrections. Oakes then provided the CCB with the required proof of service (proof that Oakes had adequately informed Heart of Gold and Jameson of the CCB claim) in October 2022. 

At this point, the ball was in Heart of Gold and Jameson’s court; she could either respond and defend her use, or (if done within 60 days of service) opt out of the CCB proceeding altogether. Unfortunately for her, she did neither, which resulted in a default determination against her for $4,500. 

We learn in the final determination a little more about Jameson’s lack of participation. As the CCB recounts in its final default determination: 

“At multiple points in this procedural history, Jameson has contacted the CCB, and after communicating with staff, has affirmed each time her intent to not participate in this proceeding.”

“Jameson initially contacted the Board in response to this Zoom link, expressing her disbelief that the Board is a government tribunal.”

“Jameson then sent another email in response to the First Default, requesting an ‘official day in court.’”

“In a subsequent call with CCB staff in March, Jameson indicated that she would not participate.”

“Shortly after the order scheduling the hearing, Jameson contacted the U.S. Copyright Office’s Public Information Office, who placed her in contact with CCB staff. In a follow-up call, CCB staff again explained the proceeding and Jameson again affirmed that she would not participate in the proceeding.”

Jameson missed her opportunity to opt out early in the case – she had a sixty-day window to do so, as defined by CCB regulations. So, her protests later were ineffective to opt out, even though it seems clear that she did not want her case to be heard by the CCB. 

Joe Hand Promotions v. Dawson 

A second default determination case offers a slightly different view of how the CCB treats defaults. The facts are similarly straightforward: Joe Hand is a company that “specializes in commercially licensing premier sporting events to commercial locations such as bars, restaurants, lounges, clubhouses, and similar establishments.” Joe Hand had obtained the exclusive right to sell pay-per-view access to a boxing event–” Deontay Wilder vs. Tyson Fury II,” to commercial establishments, including bars. Joe Hand provided evidence that a California bar, “Bottoms Up,” had shown the match without permission. 

Joe Hand (a frequent filer with the CCB, with 33 cases to its name) ran into a problem in this case, however, because it didn’t actually file its case against Bottoms Up, but instead against the individual that is listed on the bar’s liquor license and ownership documents, Mary Dawson. Even in Dawson’s absence, the CCB was unwilling to rubber-stamp Joe Hand’s claims against her. The final determination explained, 

Beyond the conclusory and clearly boilerplate allegations in the Claim that Dawson (and now-dismissed respondent Giglio) ‘owned, operated, maintained, and controlled the commercial business known as Bottoms Up Bar & Grill’ and ‘had a right and ability to supervise the activities of the Establishment on the date of the Program and had an obvious and direct financial interest in the activities of the Establishment on the date of the Program’ (Dkt. 1), Claimant offers absolutely no information linking Respondent to the infringement.” 

I will spare you the details, but the CCB went on to cite case after case explaining why courts have routinely rejected such boilerplate claims, and required plaintiffs to at least allege meaningful facts connecting an individual to an act of infringement.  Even in this default case where Dawson was not present to defend herself, the CCB put in the effort on her behalf. 

Takeaways

I have a few observations. In the first case, given that Jameson clearly did not want her case heard before the CCB, I think it would have been fair for the CCB to allow her a second chance to opt out. At least on the record we have available, there is no indication that the CCB offered her that chance.  Although the normal opt-out period extends only sixty days after service, the CCB opt-out regulations also state that “the Board may extend the 60-day period to opt out in exceptional circumstances and in the interests of justice.” 

It seems to me, given the newness of the CCB system, the small number of cases filed to date, and the relative lack of awareness among most people that the CCB is a legitimate government forum (Jameson expressed such doubt herself), the “interests of justice” may well dictate a more flexible approach at least at the outset of operations of the CCB. 

The CCB has demonstrated an extraordinary willingness to offer helpful guidance, flexibility, and multiple opportunities to claimants, and so respondents may have expected a similar approach to help them along through the process. At least in this case, we see a more stringent approach. An obvious takeaway for respondents then is to pay attention to notices about CCB claims and associated deadlines, and opt-out early on in the process if they think they don’t want their case heard there. 

The Dawson case, however, does show that the CCB isn’t willing to let claimants make unsubstantiated claims against absent respondents. Though Joe Hand is surely familiar with the process and it would have been easy for the CCB to accept its barebones allegations against Dawson as true, the CCB made the case itself–with ample legal support–that even claims against absent respondents require claimants to make a real case. 

Overall, these are just two cases,  so I don’t want to read into them too much. But it’s already looking like a large portion of CCB cases will be defaults (10 out of the 18 final determinations to date, and more than half of the existing active cases are trending in that direction). So, it’s good to keep an eye on how the CCB will treat these types of cases, given the risks they pose for unwary and uninformed respondents. 

Authors Alliance Submits Long-Form Comment to Copyright Office in Support of Petition to Expand Existing Text and Data Mining Exemption 

Posted January 29, 2024
Photo by Simona Sergi on Unsplash

Last month, Authors Alliance submitted detailed comments in response to the Copyright Office’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in support of our petition to expand the existing Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) exemptions that enable text and data mining (TDM) as part of this year’s §1201 rulemaking cycle

To recap: our expansion petitions ask the Copyright Office to modify the existing TDM exemption so that researchers who assemble corpora of ebooks or films on which to conduct text and data mining are able to share that corpus with other academic researchers, where this second group of researchers qualifies under the exemption. Under the current exemption, academic researchers are only able to share their corpora with other qualified researchers for purposes of “collaboration and verification.” This simple change would eliminate the need for duplicative efforts to remove digital locks from ebooks and films, a time and resource-intensive process, broadening the group of academic researchers who are able to use the exemption. 

Our comment argues that the existing TDM exemption has begun to enable valuable digital humanities research and teaching, but that the proposed expansion would go much further towards enabling this research and helping TDM researchers reach their goals. The comment is accompanied by 13 letters of support from researchers, educators, and funding organizations, highlighting the research that has been done in reliance on the exemption, and explaining why this expansion is necessary. Our thanks go out to our stellar clinical team at UC Berkeley’s Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic—law students Mathew Cha and Zhudi Huang, and clinical supervisor Jennifer Urban—for writing and submitting this comment on our behalf. We are also grateful to our co-petitioners, the Library Copyright Alliance and American Association of University Professors, for their support on this comment. 

Ambiguity in “Collaboration”

One reason the expansion is necessary is the uncertainty over what constitutes “collaboration” under the existing exemption. Researchers have open questions about what level of individual contribution to a project would make researchers “collaborators” under the exemption. As our comment explains, collaboration can come in a number of different forms, from “formal collaborations under the auspice of a grant, [to] ad hoc collaborations that result from two teams discovering that they are working on similar material to the same ends, or even discussions at conferences between members of a loose network of scholars working on the same broad set of interests.” But it is not clear which of these activities is “collaboration” for the purposes of the exemption. And this uncertainty has had a chilling effect on the socially valuable research made possible by the exemption. 

Costly Corpora Creation 

Our comment also highlights the vast costs that go into creating a usable corpus for TDM research. Institutions whose researchers are conducting TDM research pursuant to the exemption must lawfully own the works in question, or license them through a license that is not time-limited. But these costs pale in comparison to the required computing resources—a cost which is compounded by the exemption’s strict security requirements—and human labor involved in bypassing technical protection measures and assembling a corpus. Moreover, it’s important to recognize that there is simply not a tremendous amount of grant funding or even institutional support available to TDM researchers. 

Because corpora are so costly to assemble and create, we believe it to be reasonable to permit researchers to share their corpora with researchers at other institutions who want to conduct independent TDM research on these corpora. As the exemption currently stands, researchers interested in pre-existing corpora must duplicate the efforts of the previous researchers, incurring massive costs along the way. We’ve already seen indications that these costs can lead researchers to avoid certain research questions and areas of study altogether. As our comment explains, this “duplicative circumvention” can be avoided by changing the language of the exemption to permit corpora sharing between qualified researchers at separate institutions. 

Equity Issues

Worse still, not all institutions are able to bear these expenses. Our comment explains how the current exemption’s prohibition on sharing beyond collaboration and verification—and consequent duplication of prior labor—-”create[s] barriers that can prevent smaller and less-well-resourced institutions from conducting TDM research at all.” This creates inequity in what type of institutions can support TDM projects, and what types of researchers can conduct them. The unfortunate result has been that large institutions that have “the resources to compensate and maintain technical staff and infrastructure” are able to support TDM research under the exemption, while smaller institutions are not. 

Values of Corpora Sharing

Our comment explains how allowing limited sharing of corpora under the exemption would go a long way towards lowering barriers to entry for TDM research and ameliorating the equity issues described above. Since digital humanities is already an under-resourced field, the effects of enabling researchers to share their corpora with other academic researchers could be quite profound. 

Researchers who wrote letters in support of the petition described a multitude of exciting projects, and have built “a rich set of corpora to study, such as a collection of fiction written by African American writers, a collection of books banned in the United States, and a curated corpus of movies and television with an ‘emphasis on racial, ethnic, sexual, and gender diversity.’” Many of those who wrote letters in support of our petition recounted requests they’ve gotten from other researchers to use their corpora, and who were frustrated that the exemption’s prohibition on non-collaborative sharing and their limited capacity for collaboration prevented them from sharing these corpora. 

Allowing new researchers with new research questions to study these corpora could reveal new insights about these bodies of work. As we explain, “in the same way a single literary work or motion picture can evince multiple meanings based on the lens of analysis used, when different researchers study one corpus, they are able to pose different research questions and apply different methodologies, ultimately revealing new and original findings . . . . Enabling broader sharing and thus, increasing the number of researchers that can study a corpus, will allow a body of works to be better understood beyond the initial ‘limited set of research questions.’”

Fair Use

The 1201 rulemaking process for exemptions to DMCA § 1201’s prohibition on breaking digital locks requires that the proposed activity be a fair use. In the 2021 proceedings, the Office recognized TDM for research and teaching purposes as a fair use. Because the expansion we’re seeking is relatively minor, our comment explains that the types of uses we are asking the Office to permit researchers to make is also fair use. Our comment explains that each of the four fair use factors favor fair use in the context of the proposed expansion. We further explain why the enhanced sharing the expansion would provide does not harm the market for the original works under factor four: because institutions must lawfully own (or license under a non-time-limited license) the works that their researchers wish to conduct TDM on, it makes no difference from a market standpoint whether researchers bypass technical protection measures themselves, or share another institution’s corpus. Copyright holders are not harmed when researchers at one institution share a corpus created by researchers at another institution, since both institutions must purchase the works in order to be eligible under the exemption. 

What’s Next?

If there are parties that oppose our proposed expansion, they have until February 20th to submit opposition comments to the Copyright Office. Then, on March 19th, our reply comments to any opposition comments will be due. We will keep our readers and members apprised as the process continues to move forward.

Authors Alliance 2023 Annual Report

Posted January 23, 2024

Authors Alliance is pleased to share our 2023 annual report, where you can find highlights of our work in 2023 to promote laws, policies, and practices that enable authors to reach wide audiences. In the report, you can read about how we’re helping authors meet their dissemination goals for their works, representing their interests in the courts, and otherwise working to advocate for authors who write to be read. 

Click here to read the full report.