Category Archives: Copyright Basics

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 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.


DMCA Takedown Notices: Know Your Rights

Posted June 22, 2017

Last week, the American Psychological Association (APA) issued Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notices targeting APA articles on 80 university websites in an attempt to restrict unauthorized use of submissions to APA journals. In some cases, this resulted in the removal of academic authors’ articles from personal websites and university repositories. In response to the outcry from authors, the APA altered its pilot program to focus on removing articles from piracy sites rather than also targeting individual authors. APA also reiterated that authors may post their pre-print submissions (not the final version as published by an APA journal), as per their publication agreements with the APA.

This is not the first time that a journal publisher has targeted academic articles on university websites with DMCA takedown notices. In 2013, Elsevier, publisher of nearly 2,000 research journals, began sending takedown notices to individual researchers and universities targeting articles posted on university-hosted pages. Like the APA, Elsevier distinguished between authors posting the final versions of articles from those posting earlier versions.

Although these publishers may have acted within their rights to send these takedown notices, for authors looking to share work broadly, it is hard to imagine a situation more frustrating than not being being able to share their own works. In the face of the possibility that DMCA takedown notices targeting institutional repositories may increase, what can authors do?

  • Review the terms of your publishing agreement: Many journal publishing agreements allow for journal authors to self-archive pre-print versions of their articles on personal websites, university repositories, and author networking sites (sometimes with an embargo period). Check the terms of your agreement to see whether this is permitted, and, if so, replace your article with an allowed version.
  • Review your institution’s open access policy: If your institution has an open access policy, it may allow you to deposit a copy of your work in your institutional repository without infringing on your publisher’s rights. If in doubt, check with your institution’s Copyright or Scholarly Communications Office.
  • Retain the rights you need to make future works available in the ways you want: When presented with a publishing contract, review the terms of the contract and don’t be shy about negotiating for terms that allow you to share your work on personal websites, university repositories, and author networking sites. For more information on how to negotiate with your publisher to allow you to share your work, see Chapter 6 of our guide to Understanding Open Access. You can also review journal publishers’ standard policies regarding self-archiving on the SHERPA/RoMEO database and opt to submit your work to journals that give you more control of your work.
  • Reach out to your institution’s Copyright or Scholarly Communications Office:  Copyright and scholarly communications staff can help you understand what rights you retained in your publication agreement, whether any version of your work can be posted online, and whether a copy can be uploaded to your institution’s repository. They can also help you understand your publishing contract before you sign.

For more information, check out our FAQ on copyright, which outlines some of the ways that authors can manage their copyrights in innovative ways, including with regard to academic journals. And our guide to Understanding Open Access provides even more detail about OA publication strategies.

“A Good Guy Offering a Good Product at a Fair Price”:
Cory Doctorow on Fair Trade E-books, Publishing, Copyright, and the Optimism of Disaster

Posted May 9, 2017
photo by Jonathan Worth

portrait of Cory Doctorow by Jonathan Worth | CC BY-SA 2.0

As part of our mission to empower authors in the digital age, Authors Alliance encourages authors to embrace new strategies for publishing and ensuring the ongoing lifespan of their work, both in print and in digital formats. Best-selling novelist, blogger, and Authors Alliance founding member Cory Doctorow epitomizes this innovative spirit in myriad ways. We sat down recently with Cory for a wide-ranging talk about his newly-launched platform for selling fair trade ebooks, the pros and cons of traditional publishing, and his brand-new novel, Walkaway.


AUTHORS ALLIANCE: At the London Book Fair this past March, you announced your new model for selling fair trade ebooks, affectionately known as “Shut Up and Take My Money.” What was your inspiration for this new platform? How does it address some of the issues with traditional retailing?

CORY DOCTOROW: There are ongoing disputes among publishers and writers about the equitable way to share ebook royalties. I kept hearing from people in publishing that hell would freeze over before publishers would pay 50% instead of 25% for ebook royalties. Now, “never ever” is a long time, and things do change, but if this is a thing you want to feed your kids with, you shouldn’t hold your breath. I got started by retailing my own audiobooks on my website with a modest shopping cart program after I had been kicked out of the traditional audiobook market by refusing to agree to DRM [digital rights management, which controls users’ access to, and use of, copyrighted material]. When I sell my audiobooks directly on my website, I get paid twice: I get the retail cut, as well as the royalty from my publisher, which is pretty damn close to 50%. The same is true for the ebook fair trade model: if you sell an ebook on your website, the royalty plus your retail cut is close to 50%.

There is also the fact that, in the time since Creative Commons licenses were negotiated, publishers have entered into agreements with the large ebook retailers that allow for price matching. This is in part an artifact of anti-trust litigation, but it means that if someone somewhere offers the book at $0, it technically allows all of the other ebook stores to offer the book at $0 as well.

Thus far my publishers have been good about grandfathering in the CC-licensed books that I already had, but for the last couple of books I haven’t done CC licensing, in part because of the real fear that Amazon could set the price at $0 and there would be no recourse for my publishers—not even the recourse of not letting Amazon sell the book, because of deals ensuring that if Amazon sells one book of a publisher’s, they have to sell the whole catalog.

So I thought, “What can I do to accommodate the CC books and the non-CC books that will maximally benefit all the entities here, and play within the Realpolitik of these regulatory settlements?” And I came up with this fair trade ebooks idea.

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Authors Alliance Submits Comments on Moral Rights to the U.S. Copyright Office

Posted March 30, 2017
“Author from BL Harley 4425, f. 133” by Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun is licensed under PDM 1.0

“Author from BL Harley 4425, f. 133” by Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun is licensed under PDM 1.0

Today, Authors Alliance submitted comments in response to the U.S. Copyright Office’s study of moral rights. We support creators’ rights to integrity and attribution (subject to some limitations and exceptions that protect downstream creative reuse), and we believe that these non-economic authorial rights should be formally recognized in U.S. copyright law—as they are in many other countries. We also encourage the Copyright Office to consider recognizing other non-economic author rights, namely, the right to revive one’s work if it is no longer available commercially and the right to revise one’s work over time.

Hover over the document below to view in your browser, or download here. We will continue our series of posts on moral rights in the coming weeks and will keep our readers up to date on developments at the Copyright Office.


A Case For Recognizing Attribution and Integrity as Authorial Rights

Posted March 22, 2017

The following is a guest post by Authors Alliance President Pamela Samuelson. We welcome your comments as we continue to explore the topic of moral rights over the coming weeks.

In preparing Authors Alliance’s forthcoming comments in response to the Copyright Office’s Notice of Inquiry for its Study on the Moral Rights of Attribution and Integrity, I thought of eight reasons why it is in the interest of authors as well as the public for authorial attribution and integrity to be statutorily recognized in U.S. copyright law, as they are in the laws of virtually every other nation on earth.

First and foremost, many authors care deeply about having their names associated with the works they create and about their works being available to the public in the form in which their creators authorized dissemination. These authors experience lack of attribution and mutilation of their works as significantly injurious to their well-being.

Second, statutory recognition of attribution and integrity interests would send an important signal to the public about the respect that members of Congress have for the myriad contributions that authors make to the ongoing “progress of Science,” consonant with the constitutional clause under which Congress enacts copyright laws.

Third, recognition of authorship attribution and work integrity is in the public interest insofar as members of the public care about the authenticity of creative works with which they interact. Readers, viewers, and listeners want reassurance that the works to which they have access were created by specific individuals and have been vetted by the authors as the works authorized for public dissemination. For example, someone who has read several William Gibson novels and just purchased another will want to see Gibson’s name on the cover and be assured that the book just purchased is in the form the author wanted to reach his readers.

Fourth, being attributed as a work’s author and being able to control the integrity of one’s work is important to building and maintaining authorial reputations. Although it is often difficult to quantify the value to authors of reputation enhancement by virtue of public dissemination of their works, the value is real and meaningful to authors. It is indeed akin to the goodwill that firms build up over time associated with trademarks as the public comes to trust products or services bearing the protected mark.

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Authors Alliance Submits Comments Regarding the U.S. Copyright Office to the House Judiciary Committee

Posted January 31, 2017

Today, Authors Alliance submitted comments to the House Judiciary Committee in response to an initial proposal by Representatives Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and John Conyers (D-MI) to reform the U.S. Copyright Office. The Committee invited comment on four proposed reforms intended to reorganize the office, bolster expertise, modernize technology infrastructure, and allow for pursuit of small claim infringements.

We applaud the Judiciary Committee for soliciting stakeholder input on these important issues, and we will continue to monitor developments at the Copyright Office and keep our members up to date as the Office seeks a new Register of Copyrights and works to implement reforms. The full text of our comments may be read below:

Copyright Week 2017: Building and Defending the Public Domain

Posted January 16, 2017


It’s copyright week! This week, Authors Alliance is joining a group of organizations in reflecting on some of the principles that help make copyright law an engine of creativity.

The public domain—the realm of works not subject to copyright restrictions—is a vital part of our creative system, providing the shared history, raw material, and expressive freedom essential to authorship and intellectual inquiry. It is worth celebrating and protecting, as Authors Alliance noted in our Principles and Proposals for Copyright Reform. In that document, we wrote that the law should “recognize the interests of both authors and the public in the public domain.” We elaborated:

The public domain . . . is critical to the scholarly and creative activities of authors. For too long, the law has ignored the importance of works in the public domain as essential building blocks for new creations. Copyright law should expressly recognize the public domain and the interests of authors and the public in its continued existence. Moreover, the law should recognize the public domain as inviolable: once made free to all, works and ideas should not again be subject to restrictions imposed by copyright law, by contracts, or by technology.

This bedrock principle is one we continue to support and are pleased to highlight this Copyright Week. Share our belief in the importance of the public domain to creative work? Join us as a member and show your support!

Moving Toward a “Moral Right” of Attribution in U.S. Copyright Law

Posted May 4, 2016

Authors Alliance Executive Director Michael Wolfe

When Authors Alliance launched two years ago with its Principles and Proposals for Copyright Reform, one of the reforms we endorsed was support for a formal “moral right” of attribution. In that document, we said:

The law should recognize the right of authors to be acknowledged as creators of our works. This is especially important for those of us who create in order to contribute to knowledge and culture. Attribution serves not only our interests as authors, but also the reading public’s interest in knowing whose works they are consuming and society’s interest in an accurate record of the intellectual heritage of humankind.

A fitting way for Authors Alliance to celebrate its second birthday was to serve as an invited speaker at Authors, Attribution, and Integrity: Examining Moral Rights in the United States, a symposium organized by the U.S. Copyright Office in Washington, D.C. on April 18.

Although you might expect otherwise, copyright law in the United States does not provide authors with the right to be acknowledged as the creator of their works. The United States has long resisted adoption of so-called “moral rights,” including the right of attribution, mostly because of objections from copyright industry firms, not from authors. However, there has been increasing momentum in particular around our adoption of a right of attribution. The Symposium reflected this renewed energy, and a building consensus toward the idea that a right of attribution could work here, to the benefit of our creative economy.

The Copyright Office announced that it will be seeking public comments on moral rights issues very soon. Authors Alliance plans to submit formal comments, but below is a summary of some of the discussion at the April 18 symposium.

On the topic of attribution, two central themes were explored. First, what would an American attribution right look like? Second, what do authors and the public stand to gain from an attribution right?

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Europe’s Fractured Public Domain: An Update on Anne Frank’s Diary

Posted April 26, 2016

anna_frank-EVENT_cover1200x420April 26 is World Intellectual Property Day—an opportunity to highlight and learn more about IP issues around the world. This year, a group of Polish and European organizations has provided a sobering example of what can go wrong with overlong, complicated, and internationally inconsistent copyright terms.

To call attention to these issues, Centrum Cyfrowe, in Poland, has published The Diary of Anne Frank online—but most would-be readers won’t be able to actually see it. Due to a quirk of copyright law, the original manuscripts of the diary are in the public domain in Poland, but not in the much of the EU or the United States. That means that the text of the Diary will be visible to readers within Poland only, and will be geo-blocked throughout the rest of the world. CC Poland’s project website provides a succinct explanation of this strange state of affairs.

Authors Alliance wrote an analysis of the unfortunate status of this beloved book late last year, when it appeared that the Diary might come into the public domain in parts of Europe on January 1, 2016. However, even within Europe copyright terms are set by a confusing patchwork of inconsistent national laws. According to CC Poland’s analysis, the Diary will finally be released into the public domain in 2037 (in the Netherlands) and 2042 (in the US). Other countries, such as France, Spain, and the UK, all have their own term lengths.

When copyright terms are overly long and conflict with one another, as in the case of The Diary of Anne Frank, public access to culture and knowledge is unnecessarily curtailed. Europe would benefit from consistent, reasonable laws across borders. In the words of CC Poland, “if we want to fully unlock the potential of our rich cultural heritage we need clear rules that allow anyone to determine whether a work is still protected by copyright.” For public-minded authors, having their works eventually enter the public domain, where they might be shared and stewarded by communities across national borders and languages, is a safeguard for their legacies. Access to works of global importance should not be arbitrary. World Intellectual Property Day reminds us that we can do better.