Category Archives: Copyright Basics

Distinguishing Trademarks from Copyrights: A Q&A for Authors

Posted January 14, 2020

Authors Alliance is grateful to Nicolas Charest, Copyright Research Assistant, for researching and drafting this post.

There is longstanding confusion between trademarks and copyrights, which can sometimes lead to controversy in author communities. Notably, in 2018 an author sparked what came to be known as “CockyGate” after she registered a trademark for the word “cocky” in connection with her series of romance novels and asked to take down all romance novels with “cocky” in the title. The trademark application was later surrendered and cancelled following legal proceedings (more details here). More recently, another author sought trademark registration for the word “dark,” used in the titles of a series of her books, though she also later abandoned the application.

In light of these recurring issues, what should authors know about trademarks and copyrights, and how they might apply to their works? We’ve got you covered with this Q&A providing an overview of trademark rights and copyright and how these rights can arise in the publishing industry.

What are copyrights and trademark rights?

Copyright protects original works of expression and gives the author the exclusive rights to reproduce the work, to distribute the work, to prepare derivative works (like translations or movie adaptations), or to perform or display the work publicly. Each of these rights can be transferred by the author to a third party through an assignment or license.

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, or design (or a combination thereof) that identifies and distinguishes goods from one source from those manufactured or sold by others. Rights in a trademark are used to prevent others from using similar signs that would cause confusion to consumers in the marketplace, helping to avoid situations where products from another vendor would be mistakenly believed to come from the trademark owner or suggest such an association. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”), the federal agency responsible for the registration of federal trademarks in the U.S., has adopted the view that the title of a book cannot be registered as a trademark, but the title of a collection or series can. This is because the latter is more likely to identify a source of goods than the former.

Examples of trademarks from the publishing industry include the Penguin Group’s illustration of a black and white penguin on an orange background and the words “For Dummies” in a series of books from Wiley.

What is the purpose of copyrights and trademark rights?

While copyrights and trademarks are both intellectual property rights, they serve markedly different functions in the publishing world. In short, copyright controls the ways a work can be copied, distributed, and adapted, while trademark rights control the use of signs which have become distinctive to a particular author, series, or publisher.

For example, copyright protects the thirteen volumes of Lemony Snicket’s Baudelaire Orphan series, allowing the copyright owner to control the printing and selling of new copies of the books. A copyright owner’s rights are said to be “infringed” if someone exercises one or more of the copyright owner’s exclusive rights—by reproducing one of the books in the series, for example—without authorization or a copyright exception covering that use.

The trademarks “A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS” (TM Reg No. 2732326) and “LEMONY SNICKET” (TM Reg No. 5432563), on the other hand, give the trademark owner the right to prevent others from using these word signs in contexts that would cause consumer confusion as to the source or affiliation of the goods sold under the mark. This gives consumers assurance that books marked as being part of the “Series of Unfortunate Events” come from the author, Daniel Handler, publishing under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket, and indicates to potential readers that any books bearing the mark will be of the same literary quality and style as the other books in the series.

Trademarks are not limited to words. For instance, the exterior appearance of a collection of books can be a distinguishing sign that indicates a source and could be considered a trademark, over which the editor or publisher could claim trademark rights. Examples of such abound, including the recognizable layout of the paperback Penguin Classics collection and the Aspen Casebook Series, which the editor says is “famously known amongst law faculty and students as the ‘red and black’ casebooks.”

An author or publisher may wish to secure a trademark as an indicator of source to protect the goodwill created by the works of the author and to prevent other from usurping the reputation of the author.

How are copyrights and trademark rights obtained?

Under today’s copyright laws, copyright protection for original, creative works is automatic from the moment the work is “fixed in a tangible medium” (e.g., as soon as the author puts pen to paper, paintbrush to canvas, or saves a computer file). Although authors do not need to register their works in order to enjoy the protection of copyright law, registration with the United States Copyright Office has several benefits which make it an advantageous practice. Authors interested in the advantages of registering a copyright in their work can read our blog post Why Register Your Copyright.

“Common law” trademark rights can arise based solely on the use of a mark in commerce where it is used as source identifier over a period of time and consumers recognize the mark as indicative of the specific source. However, like copyright, there are significant benefits to registering the work with the USPTO, including: a legal presumption of your ownership of the mark and your exclusive right to use the mark nationwide on or in connection with the goods listed in the registration; public notice of your claim of ownership of the mark; listing in the USPTO’s online databases; and the ability to bring an action concerning the mark in federal court. Federal trademark applications can be filed on the basis of the mark being used in commerce in connection with the goods specified or on and “intent-to-use” basis. A registration of a trademark at the state level is also available, though the protection that it offers is limited to that state only.

How long do copyright and trademark protection last?

Under current copyright law in the United States, copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. Rights in a federally registered trademark can last indefinitely if you continue to use the mark and file all necessary maintenance documents with the USPTO. Common law trademark rights can continue as long as the sign remains distinctive.

Ringing in the New Year with Public Domain Works from 1924

Posted January 2, 2020
Montage of Public Domain works courtesy of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain

As we ring in the New Year, authors have one more reason to celebrate: another batch of works has entered the public domain in the United States. Last year, the new year brought works published in 1923 that had previously been protected by copyright into the public domain—the first time in 20 years that published works have entered the public domain due to copyright expiration. This January 1, the trend continued as we welcomed works published in 1924 that were previously protected by copyright into the public domain. Many of these works have been out of reach long beyond their creators’ lifetimes and for decades after their commercial potential was exhausted.

According to the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke, new public domain works include Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India, Edith Wharton’s Old New York, Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit, and A. A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young.

While 2020 brings certainty that works first published in the United States in 1924 are in the public domain, changes in copyright duration and renewal requirements during the 20th century mean that works first published in the United States between 1925 and March 1, 1989 could also be in the public domain because their copyrights were not renewed or the copyright owner failed to comply with other “formalities” that used to be required for copyright protection. Analysis undertaken by the New York Public Library reveals that approximately 75% of copyrights for books were not renewed between 1923-1964, meaning roughly 480,000 books from this period are most likely in the public domain.

Once in the public domain, works can be made freely available and can be adapted into new works of authorship. Last year, we covered some of the benefits of the public domain:

  • The public domain provides opportunities to freely translate works to help fill the gap in stories available to children in their native language; and

Authors Alliance looks forward to the new public domain works from 1924 being made more available and to the new works that are created by building upon this rich collection.

Obtaining Image Permissions For Your Book: An Author’s Perspective

Posted August 14, 2018

We are grateful to award-winning filmmaker, author, and Authors Alliance member Lois Farfel Stark for sharing her experience of sourcing image permissions for her most recent book, The Telling Image: Shapes of Changing Times. Read on to learn her tips and tools for finding copyright holders and securing permission to use copyrighted images in a new work. (For information about fair use, an exception to copyright law that allows creators to use copyrighted works without permission in certain circumstances, visit Authors Alliance’s fair use resource page.)


Front cover of The Telling ImageOver ten years ago—when I began writing my new book, The Telling Image: Shapes of Changing Times—I knew I wanted to create a book that focused on images. The central topic of the book is how humans make sense of the world by finding a shape, an image, to hold everything together.

The journey from that moment to now has been one of discovery mixed with learning. In order to gather the over 200+ images into the book, I had to teach myself about copyright law—a task that is not easy, even on paper. Your book’s journey may be different, and you may even find yourself needing to consult with a lawyer, depending on the situation.

Copyrights for image use are complex, and copyright duration can be extremely long. The U.S. Copyright Act defines an image as a “work of visual art” which includes painting, drawing, print, sculpture, and photographic images. Other copyrightable pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works noted in the Act include “. . . two-dimensional and three-dimensional works of fine, graphic, and applied art, photographs, prints and art reproductions, maps, globes, charts, diagrams, models, and technical drawings, including architectural plans.”

Eventually, I included a variety of images in my book, from early blueprints of corporate boardrooms to charts and diagrams used by physicists. Many uses of images require permission from the copyright holder, unless the use falls under an exception to copyright law like fair use or when the work is in the public domain. Uses within the copyright owner’s exclusive rights include reproducing the image in print or online, creating derivative works (new works based on the original), distributing copies of the image (i.e., by publication), or displaying the image in public. Seems pretty straightforward, right? Not so much. Each image in this book ended up having its own acquisition story.

Continue reading

Supreme Court to Weigh in on Copyright Registration Circuit Split

Posted June 28, 2018

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to resolve the question of what the Copyright Act means when it says that a work must be registered prior to filing an infringement lawsuit.

Under the Copyright Act, an infringement action cannot be brought until “registration of the copyright claim has been made” (or, alternatively, registration of the claim has been refused by the Copyright Office). Next term, the Supreme Court will review the case of Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. LLC to resolve a circuit split over what it means to fulfill this requirement. The essential question is whether a copyright owner may commence an infringement suit after delivering the proper deposit, application, and fee to the Copyright Office, but before the Register of Copyrights has acted on the application for registration.

Currently, the Tenth Circuit follows the “registration approach,” which requires that the Register of Copyrights act on the application for registration, either by approving or denying it, before a copyright owner can file and infringement action. The Fifth and Ninth Circuits follow an “application approach,” which requires a copyright owner to file the deposit, application, and fee required for registration before filing a suit for infringement. In the case now before the Supreme Court, the Eleventh Circuit followed the registration approach, explaining that in its view “[t]he Copyright Act defines registration as a process that requires action by both the copyright owner and the Copyright Office.” The Supreme Court will now have the opportunity to review and resolve this circuit split in its next term.

We will follow this case and update our readers as the Supreme Court considers this question.

The ability to bring an infringement lawsuit is just one of the benefits of registration. For more information about registration, read our articles on the benefits of registration, how to register your works with the U.S. Copyright Office, and when to update or supplement a registration.

When to Update or Supplement a Copyright Registration

Posted April 25, 2018

Copyright registration is a claim to copyright filed with the U.S. Copyright Office which creates a public record of facts about a copyrighted work, including authorship and ownership information. Although authors do not need to register their works in order to enjoy the protection of copyright law, registration has several benefits which make it an advantageous practice. We’ve previously written about why and how to register your works with the Copyright Office.

While copyright owners no longer need to renew registration[1] under U.S. copyright law, there are several situations in which updating or supplementing the Copyright Office’s record of your work is beneficial (or, in the case of termination of transfer, required).

Filing a Supplementary Registration 

The Copyright Office allows authors, copyright owners, and their agents to file a supplementary registration to augment an initial registration. Copyright owners can file a supplementary registration to correct, update, or clarify information in a registration. For example, supplementary registration can be used to add a missing author or provide the name of the correct author, to reflect a change in name or address, to correct the spelling of a name or title, or to add a subtitle or an alternative title of the work.

A supplementary registration can be submitted any time after the Copyright Office has issued the original registration by completing Form CA and paying a filing fee (currently $130). For more information on supplementary registration, see Copyright Office Circular 8: Supplementary Registration.

Registering Derivative Works

Copyright owners often create works that are based on or derived from their existing works. These are called “derivative works”. Common examples of derivative works include translations, movie versions of literary works, abridgments, or compilations. Derivative works can be copyrighted, but the copyright in the derivative work covers only the additions, changes, or other new material appearing for the first time in the new version.

If copyright owners want to enjoy the benefits of registration for a derivative work, the derivative work can be registered with the Copyright Office. This will not extend the copyright in the original work; however, it provides a registered copyright in the new material in the derivative work. To register copyright claims in derivative works, copyright owners should follow the normal process to register a copyright and be prepared to provide information about previous registrations of preexisting material and a description of the new material added in the derivative work. For more information, including how to avoid common mistakes or omissions in registration for a derivative work, see Copyright Office Circular 12: Copyright in Derivative Works and Compilations.

Recording Transfers of Copyright Ownership and Other Documents Pertaining to Copyright Provides Certain Benefits

The U.S. Copyright Act allows copyright owners to record with the Copyright Office a transfer of copyright (for example, an assignment, a grant of an exclusive license, or a will). It also provides for the recordation of other “document[s] pertaining to a copyright.” A document is considered to pertain to a copyright if it has a direct or indirect relationship to the existence, scope, duration, or identification of a copyright, or to the ownership, division, allocation, licensing, transfer, or exercise of rights under a copyright. This covers a broad range of documents including nonexclusive licenses, contracts, and powers of attorney.

Recording transfers of copyright ownership and other documents establishes a public record of the facts in the documents and makes it easier for future users to identify and locate the current copyright owner of the work. You can read more about why Authors Alliance thinks that improved copyright records benefit authors here. To encourage recordation, the Copyright Act also provides certain benefits for recording documents. These benefits include establishing priority between conflicting transfers or between a transfer and a nonexclusive license under certain circumstances, and providing constructive notice to the public of the facts stated in the recorded document if certain requirements are met.

A transfer or other document related to copyright can be recorded by submitting a signed or certified, complete, and legible copy of the document being recorded to the Copyright Office, together with the required fee (currently $105 for a single title) and Form DCS cover sheet. If accepted, the Register of Copyright will record the document and issue a certificate of recordation. As of March 2018, the processing time for recording transfers or other documents related to copyright is 10 months. For more information on recording transfers of copyright ownership, see Copyright Office Circular 12: Recordation of Transfers and Other Documents.

Recording Terminations of Transfers

The U.S. Copyright Act gives authors or their heirs, under certain circumstances, the right to terminate an agreement that transferred the author’s copyright to a third party. Authors Alliance, together with Creative Commons, has created a tool at to help authors learn more about termination of transfer rights and how to evaluate whether a work is eligible for termination.

To effectuate a termination, the author or the author’s heirs must 1) provide the current rightsholder with advance written notice of termination and 2) record a copy of that notice with the Copyright Office. Authors Alliance provides notice of termination templates designed to meet the requirements set forth in the Copyright Office’s regulations. The notice of termination can be recorded with the Copyright Office by submitting a copy of the notice, together with the required fee (currently $105 for a single title) and Form TCS cover sheet. As of March 2018, the processing time for recording notices of termination of transfers is 3 months.

Last updated April 25, 2018.

We are grateful to Allison Davenport, former Authors Alliance Research Assistant, for her help researching and drafting this post.

[1] If your work was copyrighted after January 1, 1978, copyright registration lasts the length of a copyright and does not need to be renewed. For copyrights secured between January 1, 1964 and December 31, 1977, renewal of the initial 28-year term was automatic and the term of copyright is now 95 years from the date the work was copyrighted. For these works, renewal is optional but carries a number of benefits, as discussed in the Copyright Office’s Renewal of Copyright circular. For copyrights secured prior to January 1, 1964, if the registration was not renewed, it is likely that the copyright has expired.

Copyright Registration Part 2:
How to Register Your Copyright

Posted February 21, 2018

Last week we outlined the benefits of registering your work with the U.S. Copyright Office. If you missed it, start here to learn why registration is an advantageous practice for authors. In the second half of this two-part series, we explain how to register your works with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Copyright registration is a claim to copyright filed with the Copyright Office which creates a public record of facts about a copyrighted work, including authorship and ownership information. Copyright registration includes three essential elements: a completed application form, a filing fee, and a “deposit” (a copy of the work submitted to the Copyright Office). Each of these steps are outlined below. Authors, their agents, and owners of an exclusive right in a work can register a copyright. Often, but not always, if you are publishing your work, your publisher will register the work for you—but it is best to check, especially if you are retaining your copyright or publishing with a smaller press. If you are self-publishing your work, it will be up to you (or your agent) register the copyright to your work.

Registration can be made at any time within the life of copyright, but some benefits of registration are contingent upon timely filing, as described in last week’s post.

Application Form

Application forms for copyright registration can be completed and submitted online or through a paper application. The Copyright Office encourages authors to register online, where possible. Advantages of registering online include lower filing fees, faster processing times, and the ability to track the application status.

Online applications for copyright registration can be accessed from the Copyright Office’s Registration Portal, paper forms are available on the Copyright Office’s Forms page, or you can request forms through the mail by calling (202) 707-3000.

Before you begin an application, you will need to select the category of work that best corresponds to the work you want to register (e.g. literary works, visual arts, motion pictures, photographs, etc.). The information collected on the form is based on the type of work you are registering, but generally includes information about the work (such as the title, completion year, and publication year, if applicable), the author, and the copyright owner. Once the application is submitted to the Copyright Office, the application is a part of the public record, meaning anyone can request to see a copy of your application.

Filing Fee

The filing fee for online applications is currently $35 (single application) or $55 (standard application). The filing fee for paper applications is currently $85. If you are submitting your application online, the Copyright Office accepts credit cards, debit cards, or electronic checks. Fees accompanying paper forms must be paid by check or money order (unless the registrant maintains a deposit account with the Copyright Office).

Deposit Copy of the Work

You normally must submit a copy or copies of your work (known as a “deposit”) to complete the application process.

Some works, such as unpublished works and works published only in an electronic format, may be submitted electronically with an online application form. If you are submitting a work electronically, make sure that you submit it in an electronic file type acceptable to the Copyright Office. The maximum size for an uploaded file is 500MB.

If you are registering a work first published in the United States after January 1, 1978, you may be subject to “best edition” and mandatory deposit requirements. In this case, you must submit two complete hard copies of your work (or, in the case of certain types of published literary works and musical compositions, a single copy). If there are multiple editions of your work, you may be required to deposit the “best edition”. The best edition is the edition published in the United States at any time before the date of deposit that the Library of Congress determines is most suitable. For example, the Copyright Office’s Best Edition Statement requires that you submit the hard cover edition of your work rather than the soft cover edition, if your work is available in both forms. If multiple versions of your work are published, review the Best Edition Statement to determine which edition to submit.

Hard deposit copies can be mailed to:
Library of Congress
U.S. Copyright Office
101 Independence Avenue SE
Washington, DC 20559

If you are mailing a hard copy of your work after submitting an online registration form, be sure to include the shipping slip that was created when you filled out the application on your computer. If you are filing for registration using a paper form, send the work, the completed application form, and the fee in one package.

Please note that some works have special rules, considerations, or exemptions from the deposit requirement. For example, if you are registering a sculptural work or a computer program, you generally should submit “identifying material” (like photographs or drawings in the case of a sculptural work or source code in the case of a computer program) instead of the work itself. To learn more, read Copyright Office Circular 7D.

Processing time

As of February 2018, the average processing time for online applications is 6-8 months and for paper applications is 8-10 months. If your registration is approved, the Copyright Office will mail a registration certificate to the address specified in your application form and the effective date of registration will be the date that the Office received all of the required elements (the application, fee, and deposit).

For more information on copyright registration, see the Copyright Office Circular 2.

Last updated February 20, 2018.

We are grateful to Allison Davenport, former Authors Alliance Research Assistant, for her help with researching and drafting this post.

Copyright Registration Part 1:
Why Register Your Copyright?

Posted February 14, 2018

Under today’s copyright laws, copyright protection for original, creative works is automatic from the moment the work is “fixed in a tangible medium” (e.g., as soon as the author puts pen to paper, paintbrush to canvas, or saves a computer file). Although authors do not need to register their works in order to enjoy the protection of copyright law, registration has several benefits which make it an advantageous practice.

In this first article in a two-part series, we outline some of the benefits of registering your copyrights. Next week, we’ll explain how to register your works with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Copyright registration is a claim to copyright filed with the Copyright Office which creates a public record of facts about a copyrighted work, including authorship and ownership information. Copyright registration includes three essential elements: a completed application form, a filing fee, and a “deposit” (a copy of the work submitted to the Copyright Office). We’ll cover those steps in more detail in next week’s post on how to register copyrights. Authors, their agents, and owners of an exclusive right in a work can register a copyright. Often, but not always, if you are publishing your work, your publisher will register the work for you—but it is best to check, especially if you are retaining your copyright or publishing with a smaller press. If you are self-publishing your work, it will be up to you (or your agent) register the copyright to your work.

Registration can be made at any time within the life of copyright, but some benefits of registration are contingent upon timely filing, as described below.

Registration Establishes a Public Record of Ownership

Registering your work—and recording subsequent transfers of ownership—creates a record of copyright ownership that allows the public to identify and locate copyright owners. This benefits both authors and the public, and it helps prevent works from becoming orphans. Ownership records enable would-be users of works to locate the copyright owner in order to ask for permission or a license to make uses that are within the copyright owner’s exclusive rights, to provide attribution to the author, or to discover when a work is in the public domain. In the absence of a public record of copyright ownership, would-be users of a work may not know whom to contact, and may abandon potential onward uses of your work. This means that you could lose revenue from licensing opportunities and miss out on the chance to grant permission for uses which you would welcome (even without payment); consequently, your work may not have the vibrant life you hoped for in years to come.

Flora Foxglove retained all of the copyrights to her book of gardening tips and registered the work with the Copyright Office. Horace Horticulture wants to copy and share the book with his community gardening class, so he searches the Copyright Office’s records to find out how to contact Flora. He sends a request to Flora’s PO Box, asking for her permission to copy and distribute her work with his students. Delighted to share gardening know-how with budding enthusiasts, Flora gives Horace her permission to reproduce the work so long as he includes her name on the copies.

Blaine Blockbuster thinks that a movie adaptation of Betsy Bestseller’s latest novel would make the next Hollywood hit. He searches the Copyright Office’s records, and finds that Percy Publisher owns all of the exclusive rights in the work. Blaine contacts Percy and negotiates for a license to make a movie adaptation of the novel.

Registration is Necessary Before Initiating an Infringement Suit

In addition to facilitating downstream uses of a work, registration gives you additional rights in the event that your work is infringed. In fact, registration is a necessary precursor to a copyright infringement lawsuit: If someone uses your work in a way that you think infringes on your copyright and you want to initiate a copyright infringement lawsuit, you must register your copyright before you can do so.

Registration Within Five Years of Publication Provides Favorable Presumptions

If a work is registered before or within five years of publication, registration brings with it the presumption that the work is copyrightable and that the facts stated in the registration certificate are true. This may include information such as the name of the author, the name of the copyright owner, the title of the work, the date the work was published, and the effective date of registration. This means that in an infringement suit, if your registration was timely, the burden of proving your copyright is invalid will fall on the defendant. If you do not register within five years of publication, you can still do so, but how much weight a court will give the facts stated in the registration is at its discretion.

Registration Within Three Months of Publication, or Prior to Infringement of the Work, Opens Up the Possibility of Statutory Damages and Attorneys’ Fees

If registration is made within three months of publication of the work, or prior to the infringement of the work, statutory damages (predetermined payments established by law) and attorneys’ fees are available to the copyright owner in the event of an infringement lawsuit. Statutory damages typically range from $750 to $30,000 per infringed work (though they can be as high as $150,000 per infringed work for willful infringement, or as low as $200 where the infringer was not aware and had no reason to believe the use was infringing.) Timely registration also allows you to request reimbursement of your attorneys’ fees and costs of filing the lawsuit. If you do not register your work prior to the infringement or within three months of publication, your remedy in an infringement action is limited to the actual damages you suffered from the infringement (and any of the infringer’s additional profits that are attributable to the infringement), as well as injunctive relief (e.g., a court order restraining the defendant from copying the work).

Last updated February 13, 2018.

We are grateful to Allison Davenport, former Authors Alliance Research Assistant, for her help with researching and drafting this post.

Resource Roundup: The Public Domain

Posted January 15, 2018

public domain image courtesy of the Library of Congress

The first day of Copyright Week is dedicated to the public domain and creativity. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the most recent Public Domain Day, which took place on January 1. On that date, a host of works entered the public domain in Canada, New Zealand, and Europe, as detailed here. But due to copyright term extensions that went into effect in 1998, those of us in the United States have been in a public domain drought for decades. We’ll have to wait until 2019 to freely access many works first published in 1923—almost 100 years ago.

Although some works first published in the United States in or after 1923 may already be in the public domain as a result of failure to comply with formalities, and some unpublished works may also be in the public domain, it can be devilishly difficult to determine when this is the case. We recommend Peter Hirtle’s Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States and Berkeley Law’s “Is it in the Public Domain?” Handbook to help you evaluate a work’s copyright status.

We at Authors Alliance are already looking forward to next January 1, when all works first published in the United States in 1923 will (finally) enter the public domain in the United States and become “free as the air to common use.” Read why in Molly Van Houweling’s post on how the public domain benefits authors.

In the meantime, check out Public Domain Review’s Guide for thorough guidance on how to find public domain works online.

Notice and Takedown and Academic Digital Libraries

Posted August 8, 2017

photo of academic library

photo by Redd Angelo | CC0

Prior to joining Authors Alliance as Executive Director earlier this year, Brianna Schofield was the Clinical Teaching Fellow at UC Berkeley Law’s Samuelson Clinic, where she co-authored an article with Jennifer M. Urban, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Samuelson Clinic at UC Berkeley School of Law, examining academic libraries’ experiences with notice and takedown. Takedown and Today’s Academic Digital Library has now been published by Ohio State University Moritz College of Law’s I/S Journal of Law and Policy. We share a summary of the article below, and invite readers who are interested in learning more to access the full article here.

In recent years, academic libraries and archives have increasingly used digital means to preserve materials and provide access to users, allowing them to serve more diverse, and much more far-flung, populations. For example, libraries and archives are increasingly digitizing collections with unique or rare material that otherwise has limited circulation in order to improve long-term preservation and expand access to cultural heritage. The growth of online scholarship repositories and sharing sites, where academic authors post papers for wide access, is another central development. The evolution and the dissemination of academic works from print collections to open digital forms is widely heralded as increasing access to academic knowledge and fueling research.

Academic libraries have emerged as key players in the move to open access and are rapidly developing platforms that provide digital access to scholarship. As libraries and archives increasingly move into the online open access space, they are thrust more directly into debates over the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) section 512 notice and takedown regime than they have been in the past. Section 512’s safe harbor from copyright liability is aimed at online services that host material contributed by others; however, libraries did not often host material posted by others and were therefore unlikely to be eligible for this protection. Newer institutional open-access repositories, on the other hand, may hold many works placed there by third parties, usually authors. These author-directed postings to institutional repositories may put academic libraries into the role of host, thus bringing them under the aegis of the formal notice and takedown system created by the DMCA.

Using survey questions and interviews, Schofield and Urban examined academic libraries’ interactions with both DMCA and non-DMCA takedown notices. They found that academic libraries most commonly receive non-DMCA takedown requests that are based on non-copyright issues (such as privacy) or that target materials the library itself placed online. In general, libraries have well-developed norms and practices in place to manage these types of requests to remove material.

They also found, however, that formal DMCA notices directed to libraries have historically been rare, but that this may be changing as open-access repositories hosted by libraries grow. Library respondents worried that an increase in DMCA takedown requests could result in valuable scholarship being removed from online repositories, thus limiting libraries’ ability to fulfill their missions to preserve and disseminate knowledge. In tracing the recent experience of academic libraries that have received DMCA takedown notices targeting materials in open access repositories, Schofield and Urban found that libraries have not yet developed norms and practices for addressing these requests.

To help libraries effectively manage increased takedown requests while maintaining publishers’ ability to monitor content made available in online repositories, Schofield and Urban recommend that:

  • Academic libraries should continue to educate authors about author-friendly publishing practices, and authors should retain more control of their own works.
  • Publishers, authors, and academic libraries should take steps to make the terms of publication agreements transparent.
  • Academic libraries should continue to support—and authors should embrace—open access policies.
  • Academic libraries should consider developing shared norms and best practices for DMCA notice handling similar to those they have developed for non-DMCA requests.
  • Academic institutions should ensure that librarians receive any DMCA notices targeting library materials that are sent to DMCA agents in other departments, and that library-developed best practices are followed in handling these notices.
  • Publishers should develop and publicly communicate reasonable notice-sending policies.
  • Publishers should ensure that third-party rights enforcement organizations, if used, comply with publisher notice-sending policies.
  • Academic libraries should consider creating educational materials about the counter notice process and tools that make it easy for authors whose works are challenged to send counter notices if their content is inappropriately targeted for takedown.

For more information about Schofield and Urban’s findings and recommendations, we invite you to read Takedown and Today’s Academic Digital Library.

Authors Alliance Submits Comments in Support of Modernization Efforts at the U.S. Copyright Office

Posted July 17, 2017

Today, Authors Alliance submitted comments in response to the United States Copyright Office’s recent Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Modernizing Copyright Recordation. By reducing the barriers to recording transfers of copyright ownership and submitting notices of termination, the proposed rules lay the foundation for improved copyright ownership records and make it easier for authors to exercise their termination rights.

We fully support these goals, which would not only help authors increase the compensation for and dissemination of their own works, but also make it easier for others to find accurate information about the rights in a given work and therefore reduce the number of works likely to become “orphans.” We also suggested that the Office consider:

  • providing better incentives for rights holders to record transfers of copyright ownership;
  • providing incentives to record transfers by operation of law;
  • strengthening incentives to keep ownership contact information accurate and up to date;
  • providing a mechanism to record diligent search data for orphan works;
  • reducing fees for electronic submission of documents; and
  • hiring technologists and economists to support modernization efforts.

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