Category Archives: News

Update: Hearing on New 1201 Exemption to Enable Text and Data Mining Research

Posted April 8, 2021
Abstract pattern of green oblong shapes on black background
Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

Authors Alliance, joined by the Library Copyright Alliance and the American Association of University Professors, is petitioning the Copyright Office for a new three-year exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) as part of the Copyright Office’s eighth triennial rulemaking process. If granted, our proposed exemption would allow researchers to bypass technical protection measures (“TPMs”) in order to conduct text and data mining research on literary works that are distributed electronically and motion pictures. Yesterday, Authors Alliance participated in public hearings hosted by the Copyright Office to consider the merits of the proposed exemption.

Text and data mining (“TDM”) refers to automated analytical techniques aimed at analyzing digital text and data in order to generate information that reveals patterns, trends, and correlations in that text or data. TDM has great potential to enable groundbreaking research and contribute to the commons of knowledge. As a highly transformative use of copyrighted works done for purposes of research and scholarship, TDM fits firmly within the ambit of fair use.

But TDM researchers are currently hindered by Section 1201 of the DMCA, which prohibits the circumvention of TPMs used by copyright owners to control access to their works. Section 1201 makes TDM research on texts and films time consuming and inefficient—and in some cases, impossible—working against the promotion of the progress of knowledge and the useful arts that copyright law has been designed to incentivize.

At yesterday’s hearing, the clinical team from the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at UC Berkeley Law School representing Authors Alliance testified about the details of the exemption and its immense value for TDM researchers. The team explained how section 1201 prevents those researchers from creating the corpora of works they need to discover new insights from text and data mining, interfering with their ability to generate new copyrighted works that add to our cultural understanding and advance human knowledge.

Specifically, clinic students, Ziyad Alghamdi, Tait Anderson, and Erin Moore, and clinical supervisor, Professor Erik Stallman, shared how section 1201’s prohibitions chill new research and hinder the progress of knowledge in at least three ways: 1) forcing researchers to limit datasets in a way that makes their findings less illuminating than they would otherwise be, 2) causing researchers to artificially constrain research to public domain texts, and 3) leading researchers to abandon potential TDM projects altogether.

Opponents of the exemption testifying in the hearing—representing publishers, the software industry, and content licensing organizations— raised concerns about whether TDM was fair use under copyright law, whether the proposed security measures for the TDM corpora were sufficient to allay their security concerns, and whether alternatives like pre-assembled TDM corpora would be adequate for TDM researchers.

Regarding fair use, Erin Moore testified that relevant case law firmly establishes TDM as a fair use, and that the fact that the use could have been officially licensed by the copyright holder does not mean the use is not a fair one. Moore also emphasized the noncommercial and educational nature of the uses TDM researchers seek to make under this exemption, classic features of fair use. To address opponents’ security concerns, Tait Anderson explained that “reasonable security measures” as used in our petition was concrete enough to require researchers to take precautions to prevent against public dissemination and unauthorized sharing, while not being overly prescriptive in order to accommodate a wide range of TDM projects with different levels of sensitivity in the underlying data. On the topic of existing alternatives to the TDM corpora the TDM researchers seek to compile, Ziyad Alghamdi highlighted the limitations of commercial TDM databases like Hathitrust, which are both limited in the scope of works they contain and how TDM research can be conducted using these works. TDM researchers are seeking this exemption in part because these databases are costly, difficult to use, and incomplete for answering research questions about contemporary literary works and films.

Other topics discussed during the lively hearing included whether the proposed exemption should align with similar carve outs for TDM research in Europe and Japan, how sharing corpora with affiliated researchers for peer review purposes might work, and how and whether literary works and films should be analyzed differently for the purposes of the exemption. The Librarian of Congress is expected to issue a final decision on the proposed exemption in October 2021. We will keep our members and readers apprised of any updates on our proposed exemption as the process moves forward. We’re grateful to law students from the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at UC Berkeley Law School for their work supporting our petition for this new exemption.

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.

Creation is Not a Closed Book Exam: Developing the Best Practices in Fair Use for Open Educational Resources

Posted March 16, 2021

by Will Cross and Meredith Jacob, originally posted on the Copyright at Harvard Library blog

You can learn a lot from which questions people ask you, and which they don’t. As educators and advocates for building openly-licensed textbooks and other open educational resources (OER), we spend a lot of our time at conferences and workshops talking about how to understand and use Creative Commons licenses. As we’ve done presentations over the past few years, however, we noticed that attendees generally listened politely to our presentation and then spent the entire question and discussion period asking pointed questions about how fair use fits in.

As fair use advocates, we love these questions – what’s more fun than digging into a juicy fair use discussion! But bringing discussions about fair use into the open education community raised a second set of questions from creators and especially gatekeepers, and we needed to give people a way forward that went beyond a quick conference Q&A but still didn’t promise individualized legal advice. Some open educators felt unprepared to analyze fair use in particular contexts. Many felt apprehensive about fair use as a whole, often based on anxieties grounded in copyright folklore left over from the era of Napster and LimeWire. Strikingly, many institutional gatekeepers felt unable to make broad, uniform decisions about whether and how to acknowledge fair use at all. While they recognized that some authors were in fact relying on fair use sub rosa, without any tool for systematically understanding and applying fair use they felt that their options were either “allow anything” or “(pretend to) allow nothing.”

Of course, the reality is that every textbook relies to some extent on fair use. It would be practically impossible to build a textbook – certainly a good textbook – without quoting anyone, critiquing anything, or illustrating ideas with text, images, music, or other materials from the real world. Creating anything, including OER, is not a closed book exam. Good pedagogy explicitly builds on the work that has come before and great pedagogy connects to the real world and the lived experiences of the learners it is meant to engage.

Our job, then, was to understand what type of guidance the community needed in order to find a happy medium between “no fair use allowed” and “anything goes.” Fortunately, we had a great tool for exactly this type of work: the Codes of Best Practice in Fair Use. For two decades, the Codes of Best Practice have proved to be an effective tool for many communities to document the repeated professional situations in which they can and must rely on fair use. The Codes are built on a framework that aligns fair use decision making with both the professional mission of the creators and the predictable legal principles of fair use law. These Codes have worked for such disparate communities as documentary filmmakers, librarians, poets, and dance archivists, just to name a few.  

As when creating past Codes, we began with a series of interviews with stakeholders across the community. These interviews helped us understand where questions about fair use were creating friction for OER creators, where authors were regularly relying on fair use, what parallel concerns such as accessibility and equity demanded attention, and finally where OER creators were getting information, advice, or even hard rules about the copyright decisions they were making. By early 2020 we felt ready to begin the focus groups that are the signature work of creating Best Practice documents. We felt inspired, connected, and ready to go. Nothing could stop us now . . .

Obviously 2020 didn’t go the way anyone expected, and we paused the process to support educators making the rapid move to fully online instruction with a series of webinars on building resilient materials for teaching and learning. This series also began with a question: “can I read aloud to my students in an online classroom?” The answer, of course, is “reading is most definitely allowed!”

Significantly, what we thought would be a brief detour turned out to be a critical reminder for all of our work, especially the Best Practices: “it’s always an emergency for someone.” While the pandemic brought into focus acute questions about rapid shifts in pedagogy and making do with substandard wifi, for many learners those challenges are chronic and exist beside and in the context of systematic injustice, inaccessible design, and deep digital divides. Relying on fair use as a tool to enable access seemed urgently necessary in that moment of crisis. But those needs are no less urgent and fair use is no less essential for students who face perennial challenges based on inequity and inaccessibility. 

As we returned to developing the Code, this core principle continued to animate our work and to resonate deeply in focus group discussions, particularly when we discussed the inadequacy of linking out rather than relying on fair use to reliably incorporate materials. By the late fall we had completed eighteen focus groups and were pleased that our outstanding team of legal reviewers enthusiastically supported the document we facilitated in partnership with the open education community. 

As we celebrate Fair Use Week 2021 we’re excited to share the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Open Educational Resources. As with all of the Codes, this resource describes an approach to reasoning about the application of fair use to issues both familiar and emergent but does not provide rules of thumb, bright-line rules, or other decision-making shortcuts. Using the Code to develop OER is also not a closed book exam. Instead, it is designed to empower you to bring together a team of educators, librarians, publishing experts, and others to develop resilient, inclusive OER that engages with and reflects the work that has come before and the world that learners are preparing to enter.

You can learn more about what the Code says, how it works, and how it fits into a global body of educational exceptions in this recorded webinar. We’re also developing a series of community-specific events for open educators, librarians, and legal gatekeepers such as offices of general counsel over the coming weeks. We invite you to work with us to develop guidance and models for applying the Code in specific disciplines and communities through workshops and project development. We’re just getting started with the really fun stuff and we know your questions and real world examples will help make this resource even more meaningful and exciting.

Meredith Jacob serves as the Assistant Director for Academic Programs at the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property (PIJIP) at American University Washington College of Law. Her work includes student outreach and advising, curriculum coordination, and academic research and advocacy. Currently her work also includes research and advocacy focused on open access to federally funded research, flexible limitations and exceptions to copyright, and public interest in international intellectual property. Previously, Meredith worked with state legislators on a variety of intellectual property and regulatory issues affecting pharmaceuticals and the privacy of prescription records.

Will Cross is the Director of the Copyright & Digital Scholarship Center in the NC State University Libraries, an instructor in the UNC SILS, and an OER Research Fellow. Trained as a lawyer and librarian, he guides policy, speaks, and writes on open culture and navigating legal uncertainty. As a course designer and presenter for ACRL, SPARC, and the Open Textbook Network, Will has developed training materials and run workshops across the US and for international audiences from Ontario to Abu Dhabi. Will’s current research focuses on the relationship between copyright and open education. In addition to this project he serves as co-PI and co-developer of the IMLS-funded Library Copyright Institute.

Update: Response Comment in Support of New 1201 Exemption to Enable Text and Data Mining Research

Posted March 11, 2021
Abstract pattern of green oblong shapes on black background
Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

Authors Alliance, joined by the Library Copyright Alliance and the American Association of University Professors, is petitioning the Copyright Office for a new three-year exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) as part of the Copyright Office’s eighth triennial rulemaking process. If granted, our proposed exemption would allow researchers to bypass technical protection measures (“TPMs”) in order to conduct text and data mining research on literary works that are published electronically and motion pictures. This week, we responded to commenters who opposed the petition for this exemption.

Text and data mining (“TDM”) refers to automated analytical techniques aimed at analyzing digital text and data in order to generate information that reveals patterns, trends, and correlations in that text or data. TDM has great potential to enable groundbreaking research and contribute to the commons of knowledge. As a highly transformative use of copyrighted works done for purposes of research and scholarship, TDM fits firmly within the ambit of fair use.

But TDM researchers are currently hindered by Section 1201 of the DMCA, which prohibits the circumvention of TPMs used by copyright owners to control access to their works. Section 1201 makes TDM research on texts and films time consuming and inefficient—and in some cases, impossible—working against the promotion of the progress of knowledge and the useful arts that copyright law has been designed to incentivize. What’s more, Section 1201’s prohibitions force some TDM scholars to focus on works first published before 1926, which are in the public domain. Because authorship was far less diverse then than it is today, focusing TDM on pre-1926 texts privileges white male voices rather than being representative of authors contributing to the commons of knowledge today. For these reasons, our petition and supporting comments ask the Librarian of Congress to grant a new exemption to Section 1201’s anti-circumvention prohibitions that would allow researchers to bypass TPMs on e-books and films for the purpose of conducting TDM research.

Last month, four comments were submitted in opposition to our proposed new exemption, raising concerns about the scope of activities and works that would be covered by the exemption, the intended beneficiaries of the exemption, and security measures for databases of decrypted copies of copyrighted works.

This week, we responded to these comments, explaining that the concerns about the scope of activities and works covered could be addressed by clarifying the bounds of the exemption. We explained the exemption was intended to cover using text and data mining techniques for the purposes of scholarly research and teaching only. With regards to the scope of the works covered, we specified that “literary works,” as used in our petition, would exclude computer programs. Both of these clarifications were made with an aim towards allaying commenters’ concerns about the exemption’s breadth.

We also clarified that the intended beneficiaries of the exemption were “researcher[s] affiliated with a nonprofit library, archive, museum, or institution of higher education[,]” explaining that the exemption’s proponents were not commercial actors, nor were the other intended beneficiaries. Finally, we addressed commenters’ security concerns by explaining that the exemption will require researchers to take “reasonable security measures” to ensure that there is no unauthorized access, noting that the requirement of institutional affiliation will facilitate such security measures.

Next month, we anticipate participating in public hearings hosted by the Copyright Office to consider the merits of the proposed exemptions. We look forward to continuing to work with opposition commenters to address their concerns and with the Copyright Office as it evaluates our petition for this new exemption to facilitate TDM research.

The Librarian of Congress is expected to issue a final decision on the proposed exemption in October 2021. We will keep our members and readers apprised of any updates on our proposed exemption as the process moves forward. We’re grateful to law students from the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at UC Berkeley Law School for their work supporting our petition for this new exemption.

Authors Alliance Requests Leave to Intervene in Access Copyright v. York University

Posted March 9, 2021
Photograph of Supreme Court of Canada by lezumbalaberenjena, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Authors Alliance, together with Professor Ariel Katz, has requested leave to intervene in Access Copyright v. York University, currently on appeal before the Supreme Court of Canada.

The case involves a claim by Access Copyright, a Canadian copyright collective, which seeks to have York University comply with an interim tariff approved by the Copyright Board of Canada for works in its collection. In response, York University brought a counterclaim seeking a declaration that its guidelines for copying materials for education purposes constituted “fair dealing” under the Copyright Act of Canada. The case raises the question of whether copyright collectives can force users to license content from them, even if the users prefer to comply with their copyright obligations in other ways.

As our motion for leave to intervene explains, Authors Alliance’s interest in the case stems from our members’ desire to see their works reach the largest possible audience and have the greatest possible impact and use, especially by users at educational institutions like York University. Overbroad restrictions on the use of scholarly works frustrate these objectives. In particular, the enforcement of tariffs against educational institutions that choose to comply with their copyright obligations without obtaining a license from a copyright collective would affect Authors Alliance’s members. Mandatory tariffs for academic institutions do not help all authors and may, in fact, harm many of them by making it more difficult for their works to reach readers. In addition, if copyright collectives can impose themselves and their business model on readers as a matter of law, this could imperil the development of alternative business models that would be more amenable to the interests of many of Authors Alliance’s members.

The issue that the appeal raises regarding fair dealing will also affect many of Authors Alliance’s academic author members, including Professor Katz, who are primarily motivated to produce scholarly work in an effort to share and advance knowledge. Academic authorial goals of sharing knowledge and insights, as well as of enhancing their reputations, will be affected by the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision on fair dealing.

If we are granted leave intervene in this appeal, we anticipate participating in written and oral arguments in May. We will keep our readers updated on our intervention and the case.

Authors Alliance is grateful to attorneys Sana Halwani, Paul-Erik Veel, and Jacqueline Chan of Lenczner Slaght for pro bono assistance with this intervention.

Authors Alliance Responds to Draft Digital Copyright Act of 2021

Posted March 8, 2021
Photo by Matthew Bornhorst on Unsplash

Authors Alliance has submitted feedback on the draft Digital Copyright Act (“DCA”) of 2021, released by Senator Thom Tillis in December 2020.

The DCA proposes many amendments to key provisions of copyright law. The bill would replace the current “notice-and-takedown” system with a “notice-and-staydown” system whereby, once a copyright holder notifies a service provider that they believe a particular use is infringing, the service provider must remove all subsequent infringing uses unless the user notifies it that the use is licensed or otherwise authorized by law (such as being a fair use). The draft bill would also limit liability for users who use orphan works after a diligent but unsuccessful search for the copyright holder, establish the Copyright Office as a division of the Department of Commerce, and make changes to the Copyright Office’s triennial rule-making process for creating exemptions to the DMCA’s prohibition on bypassing technical protection measures, among other changes.

Our comment responded to the sections of the draft bill that would have the most impact on how our members create, use, and share copyrighted works.

Limitations on Liability Relating to Material Online

Authors Alliance opposes proposed changes in the draft bill that would shift the notice-and-takedown system under section 512 to a notice-and-staydown system. Whether a particular use is infringing depends on context and facts that the relevant online service provider (“OSP”) is unlikely to have. The notice-and-staydown procedure does not account for these fact-sensitive determinations, and a notice-and-staydown requirement would harm authors relying on fair use, a license, or another lawful reason for sharing a work on the platform.

Moreover, a notice-and-staydown requirement will likely jeopardize the vibrant array of platforms for online speech that have been allowed to grow and thrive under the notice-and-takedown system. Authors Alliance supports copyright policies that lead to widespread dissemination of knowledge, from a diversity of viewpoints and using a diversity of platforms. Policies that privilege the most well-resourced OSPs work against these values.

The summary of the draft bill states that it makes reforms which would make it easier for content creators to see their content restored after being improperly removed in response to a “staydown” notice. While Authors Alliance supports making it easier for creators who have had their content removed to see their content restored sooner than under the current system, it is unclear how the language in the draft bill would enable content to be restored sooner than under the current system. Instead, statutory reform should incorporate changes that would allow for the immediate put back of targeted content in response to a valid counter-notice. We suggest that one of the most impactful ways that Congress could reduce the burden on authors who have their content improperly removed would be to amend section 512 to incentivize accurate notice sending and to make it more feasible for authors to recover for harms caused by inaccurate notices. 

Limitation on Remedies in Cases Involving Orphan Works

Authors Alliance supports reforms that limit liability for good faith users who are unable to identify or locate the copyright owner of a work after a diligent search and decide to use the work in question. Our members care about the dissemination of knowledge and, more specifically, seeing their own works disseminated broadly, and the threat of liability for the use of orphans is contrary to these priorities. That said, we are concerned with language in the draft bill that would that users file a “notice of use” with the Copyright Office in order to take advantage of the limitation on liability. This procedural hurdle makes the limitation less accessible for individual authors and creators, who are less likely to be familiar with Copyright Office procedure than sophisticated commercial entities.

Copyright Office Relocation

Authors Alliance opposes language in the draft bill which would reclassify the Copyright Office—a division of the Library of Congress and part of the legislative branch of the federal government for over 150 years—as pan executive agency with a politically appointed register housed within the Department of Commerce. This is contrary to our members’ interests for three distinct reasons. First, the relocation would politicize the Copyright Office, intended to be impartial and removed from partisanship. Second, the relocation would shift the focus of copyright policy towards commercial interests and away from creativity and individual authorship. Finally, relocation would disrupt the mutually beneficial relationship between the Library of Congress and the Copyright Office, which furthers our members’ interests in preservation of knowledge and broad dissemination of creative works. 

Modernizing Circumvention Exemptions

First and foremost, the revisions and new provisions in the draft bill are only a partial remedy to the fundamental problem that section 1201 stifles speech, access, and onward creation—even where those activities are clearly non-infringing—and in doing so creates heavy burdens for authors. To update section 1201 in a way that would truly benefit authors, Congress should make clear in reforming legislation that there must be a nexus between the relevant circumvention and infringement for there to be a violation of section 1201 and a claim for copyright infringement. Failing this change, we offer support for several proposals that would streamline the triennial rulemaking process, provide suggestions for improving proposals intended to ensure that the intended beneficiaries of exemptions are actually able to utilize exemptions, and propose ways to improve the proposed permanent exemption for assistive technologies.

Authority to Reduce Fees for Individual Authors and Small Businesses

We support the language in the draft bill which would make it clear that the Copyright Office has the authority to implement tiered fees for individual authors and small businesses. The current fees for registration and recording documents with the Copyright Office can be a barrier for individual authors or other copyright owners whose works have low or unproven commercial value but are nonetheless culturally or historically valuable. Because of the benefits associated with registration and recordation and the deterrent effect when fees are too high, Authors Alliance believes that it is important that the Copyright Office have the flexibility to adopt a fee schedule that accommodates all authors, particularly individual authors.

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To read our full comment, click here.

We look forward to working with Senator Tillis and other members of Congress and they consider reforms to the Copyright Act. Senator Tillis has indicated that he will release a second discussion draft of the DCA in April, and we will keep our members and readers updated as the process unfolds.

Fair Use Week 2021: Resource Roundup

Posted February 23, 2021
Colorful neon sign of a cowboy on a rearing horse
Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Authors who want to incorporate source materials into their writings with confidence may find themselves faced with more questions than answers. What exactly does fair use mean? What factors do courts consider when evaluating claims of fair use? How does fair use support authors’ research, writing, and publishing goals? Fortunately, help is at hand! This Fair Use/Fair Dealing Week, we’re featuring a selection of resources and articles to help authors understand and apply fair use.

Fair Use 101

Cover of the Fair Use Guide for Nonfiction Authors

Authors Alliance Guide to Fair Use for Nonfiction Authors: Our guidebook, Fair Use for Nonfiction Authors, covers the basics of fair use, addresses common situations faced by nonfiction authors where fair use may apply, and debunks some common misconceptions about fair use. Download a PDF or purchase a copy today.

Authors Alliance Fair Use FAQs: Our Fair Use FAQs cover questions such as:

  • Can I still claim fair use if I am using copyrighted material that is highly creative?
  • What if I want to use copyrighted material for commercial purposes?
  • Does fair use apply to copyrighted material that is unpublished?

Codes of Best Practices in Fair Use: The Center for Media and Social Impact at American University has compiled this collection of Codes of Best Practices in Fair Use for various creative communities, from journalists to librarians to filmmakers.

Don’t miss the latest best practices document, the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Open Educational Resources. This document is intended to support authors, teachers, professors, librarians, and all open educators in evaluating when and how they can incorporate third party copyright materials into Open Educational Resources to meet their pedagogical goals.

Fair Use Evaluator Tool: This tool, created by the American Library Association, helps users support and document their assertions of fair use.

Dig Deeper

U.S. Copyright Office Fair Use Index: The U.S. Copyright Office maintains this searchable database of legal opinions and fair use test cases.

Fair Use and Fiction: Learn about fair use and parody in fiction.

Fair Use and Text Data Mining: Explore the intersection of fair use and non-consumptive text mining in this new chapter on legal issues in text data mining.

Fair Use and Publication Contracts: Learn how to tell if your publication contract allows you to rely on fair use when you incorporate third-party content into your work—and options for negotiating if it doesn’t.

Fair Use and Controlled Digital Lending: Read about why we believe Controlled Digital Lending (“CDL”) is supported by a good faith interpretation of fair use, and take a moment to share how CDL has helped you meet your goals for your work.

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.

Presidential Libraries, Preservation, and Authorship

Posted February 16, 2021
“JFK Presidential Library and Museum – Boston” by Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

At Authors Alliance, we speak out in favor of policies that make knowledge more discoverable and accessible for authors and the public. While our work is often within the realm of copyright, there are other, less obvious ways that the law helps make knowledge discoverable. In the United States, the custom of preserving presidential papers in so-called presidential libraries has led to the archiving of millions of valuable documents. Presidential libraries are veritable treasure troves, containing archives of presidents’ correspondence, documents, gifts, and more, and are by custom located in former presidents’ home states. Presidential papers can be excellent sources of research for authors, and, as we round the corner on Presidents’ Day, recent moves to make presidential papers more accessible to the public are worth celebrating.

History of Presidential Libraries

For the first 150 years of U.S. history, presidential papers and effects were considered to be the private property of the president, and remained so after he had left office. But in 1938, Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed the concept of the presidential library after deciding he wanted to give his presidential papers to the public to create an archive of his time in office and beyond. The result was a privately constructed, publicly maintained institution where the public could freely or cheaply access records from FDR’s presidency and his time in the public eye before taking office. A similar path was followed to establish Herbert Hoover’s presidential library. To codify this practice, Congress established the presidential library arrangement through legislation in 1955. The first Presidential Libraries Act gave the Administrator of the General Services Administration the authority to accept presidential documents for preservation as well as receiving land, buildings, and equipment necessary to maintain and run the library. These arrangements allowed for the libraries to be substantially privately funded yet run by the government. 

A variety of subsequent laws strengthened the Presidential Library system. Beginning with the Reagan administration, two important laws related to government transparency—the Freedom of Information Act and the Presidential Records Act—worked together to make presidential papers the property of the public and make the records available to anyone who requested access after the president has left office (with certain limited exceptions for national security and similar issues). Presidential papers are presumptively open to the public after the administration has left office, and bound hardcover volumes of unclassified presidential papers are even available for purchase from the government.

Today, the nation’s presidential libraries are operated by the National Archives and Records Administration’s Office of Presidential Libraries, in partnership with a variety of public and private institutions like universities and foundations. While the Presidential Records Act requires only that textual records from presidential administrations be made public, by custom presidents often donate works of art, gifts, and other artifacts to presidential libraries, as well as correspondence from their lives before taking office. For this reason, many presidential libraries contain or double as museums of that president’s life.

Early Presidential Papers

Efforts to preserve presidential papers from administrations pre-dating the Presidential Libraries Act have also bore fruit. For U.S. presidents from George Washington to Calvin Coolidge, innumerable presidential papers have been donated or sold to the Library of Congress, which is then responsible for their preservation. Separately, presidential museums and libraries for former presidents before Hoover exist across the country, though these are not organized pursuant to the Presidential Libraries Act or run by the federal government.

Because no law required these early presidential papers to be given to the government, some collections are housed in universities or museums, typically in those presidents’ home states: the historical papers of John Adams and John Quincy Adams are housed in the Massachusetts Historical Society, the historical papers of Millard Fillmore are held by the State University of New York at Oswego, the historical papers of James Buchanan are held by Penn State University, the historical papers of Rutherford B. Hayes are held by the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museum, and the historical papers of Warren G. Harding are held by the Ohio History Connection. The lack of a uniform procedure for presidential papers has unfortunately made some of these early documents less accessible or unavailable altogether—the majority of Zachary Taylor’s presidential papers were lost when his son’s home was destroyed during the Civil War, and Chester A. Arthur burned an unknown quantity of personal documents from his presidency the day before his death. The Presidential Records Act effectively prevents this loss of knowledge and culture from happening again by guaranteeing that presidential textual records are preserved and available to the public in the future. 

Digitization and New Challenges

A next step in making presidential papers more accessible is digitizing the collections. It is not always feasible for researchers and authors to travel to presidential libraries to examine the papers in person, and the closure of most if not all of the presidential libraries due to the COVID-19 pandemic has only underscored the need for greater access to historical records. The Library of Congress finished a decades-long initiative to digitize the collections of the papers of early presidents held by the Library of Congress just last year, and the full collection is freely available online. With respect to the post-Coolidge government-sanctioned presidential libraries and the early presidents whose papers are housed elsewhere, efforts to digitize the collections have been mixed. But in recognition of the importance of making presidential papers freely available online, last year, the National Archives launched a presidential library “explorer” allowing the public to view and search through the digitized portions of the presidential library collections (though as of February 2021, only about 0.25% of the collection has been digitized). 

While digitization efforts for presidential papers have been uneven, navigating the presidential library explorer and browsing through the collections of the Library of Congress reveal fascinating historical information for authors and curious Internet users alike. Browsing through the collections is not always straightforward, with records being disorganized even in digitized form and containing many dry and often poorly scanned letters and speeches. But when one digs a bit deeper, it is not hard to uncover records which reveal an intimate behind-the-scenes glimpse of these presidents’ times in office: a love letter from Woodrow Wilson to his wife, Ladybird Johnson’s favorite recipes to serve on the Johnsons’ Texas ranch, a letter from Disney to Richard Nixon asking him to appear on the the Mickey Mouse Club television show, and a photograph of Bill Clinton jogging in D.C. during the early days of his presidency, to name just a few. 

Changes to the Presidential Library System

President Obama’s “presidential center” will be the first contemporary presidential library not established under the Presidential Libraries Act. The Obama Presidential Center, set to open in Chicago with construction to begin this year, will be entirely private, run by the Barack Obama Foundation, and will not house textual records from the Obama presidency at all. Instead, the Foundation, in partnership with the National Archives, will work to digitize the collection of textual presidential records that are the property of the public under the Presidential Records Act. The Obama Presidential Center will display “works of fine art, cultural artifacts, books, clothing, domestic furnishings, sporting equipment, and other materials that represent the era and accomplishments of the Obama Administration,” such as gifts from heads of state, rather than donating these to the public to be maintained by the National Archives, as presidents from Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush have done. The plan has been controversial, but financial changes to the arrangement between the National Archives and the private foundations that pay to build these libraries have made operating presidential libraries less financially viable for the private institutions. Regardless, the Obama presidential papers remain the property of the public, and his presidential center has framed the end product of digitization as “the first fully digital presidential library.” 

It is unknown whether President Trump will have a traditional presidential library, or even a private presidential center as Obama plans to build. The National Archives launched a placeholder website for President Trump’s presidential library or center, but has noted only that it will maintain his collected presidential papers (as required by the Presidential Records Act). And a recently-launched sophisticated parody website for the Trump presidential library, designed by a New York based architect who purchased the domain name the very week President Trump was elected, has garnered attention in the meantime. 

Presidential Records and Authorship

The presidential papers are intended to be a source of information for historical researchers, and are invaluable source material for a variety of books, films, and other research projects. In proposing the first modern presidential library (prior to the passage of the Presidential Records Act), FDR said that he sought to take the advice of historians which advised him not to break up his collection of papers, but dedicate it in whole to the public, “because, so often in the past, Presidential papers and other public papers have been culled over during the lifetime of the owner, and the owner has thrown out a great deal of material which he personally did not consider of any importance which, however, from the point of view of future history, may have been of the utmost importance.” Presidential libraries “preserve the raw materials that constitute our nation’s history,” creating invaluable information for authors desiring a unique perspective American history, including matters of diplomacy and conflict.  

Historian Robert Caro described his experience conducting research in the “forty thousand boxes” of documents in the Lyndon B. Johnson archives as interminable but incredibly illuminating. Caro was able to trace LBJ’s ascension from a junior member of the House of Representatives to a massive fundraiser and later a successful presidential candidate by paging through numerous memos, letters, and speeches, producing an acclaimed and groundbreaking biography of the former president. 

Today, with the digitization of presidential archives, the possibilities for scholarship are tremendous. Authors desiring an intimate and unique portrait of former presidents who are willing to browse through stacks—both physical and virtual—would be wise to peruse presidential libraries and archives, which, as the Caro example above shows, can yield new insights decades or centuries later. 

“Atlanta: Carter Presidential Center” by harry_nl is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
“George Bush Presidential Library” by Jujutacular is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
“File:William J. Clinton Presidential Library, Little Rock, Arkansas (exterior view – 2007).jpg” by Zereshk is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
“George W. Bush Presidential Center” by TheBushCenter is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0