The Authors Guild

Journalist Will Not Be Compelled to Testify; Guild Renews Call for Federal Shield Law

In a minor victory for press freedom, journalist James Risen has prevailed after a seven-year legal battle to maintain the confidentiality of a source in the face of government demands that he reveal it. According to a New York Times report (subscription required), the Justice Department said on Monday it would not call Risen to the stand in the trial of former CIA official Jeffrey Sterling. Sterling, whose trial began Tuesday, is charged with leaking the details of a poorly-executed plan to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program, which Risen recounted in his 2006 book State of War. The Risen case, however, still underscores the glaring absence of a federal reporters’ shield law.

Risen’s struggle had become a cause célèbre among journalists and free speech groups concerned that the government’s crackdown on internal leaks doubles as a crackdown on the reporters receiving those leaks. After Risen refused to comply with a subpoena compelling his testimony in the Sterling trial, a federal appeals court ordered him to do so. Risen then took his case to the Supreme Court, which in June declined to hear his case.

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Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

Miranda July’s arrival as a first-time novelist made a big splash in The New York Times. The book’s title is The First Bad Man and publication date is January 13. July, 40, lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two-year-old son. She is an artist, an actor, screenwriter, film director and author of a book of stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You (2007).

She was the subject of a major article on the front of the Times’s Art section last Friday and the “By the Book” interview in Sunday’s Book Review. On Friday it was revealed that she is planning a large-scale work of art for exhibition in London next year. She said, “What’s most comfortable for me is to know that the next thing I’m going to do is completely different. That’s my security blanket.”

In the Review, she was asked what drew her to the work of Lydia Davis, Steven Millhauser and Amy Hempel. July said, “They are liberating writers, writers who make you feel like you can write (even if you can’t really). They seem to show seams, process, unfinished thoughts, and that gives dignity to one’s own imperfections. One starts to feel that if her imperfections are perfect, then maybe mine are too.”

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New Books by Members

A new year means new books! This week’s recent and upcoming books by our members include titles by Chris Atkins, Win Blevins, JL Fields, Gregory Funaro, Gail Godwin, David Hicks, Tami Hoag, Sophie Littlefield, Jan Moran, Roy A. Teel Jr., Lisa Unger, and Ben Yagoda. Titles below the jump.

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Court Filing Ends AG v. HathiTrust Copyright Litigation

Court papers filed yesterday evening brought to an end the Guild’s copyright infringement lawsuit against the group of research libraries known as the HathiTrust. The Guild claimed the library group infringed by reproducing copyright-protected books for inclusion in its HathiTrust Digital Library, a searchable database.

The case arose in June 2011 when the HathiTrust announced its “Orphan Works Project,” which would begin freely distributing digital copies of “orphan works”—books that are still under copyright, but whose rightsholders cannot be found. HaithiTrust abandoned the Orphan Works Project shortly after the lawsuit was filed. The Guild had demonstrated that the copyright owners of most of the books were easily found, forcing HaithiTrust to acknowledge that its search methodology was flawed.

The resolution of the case follows a June 2014 decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which approved two limited uses of the HathiTrust Digital Library—full-text search and display to the print-disabled—but sent down to the district court the question of whether the copies made by HathiTrust for “preservation” or “replacement” purposes were done in accordance with the copyright law’s exceptions governing libraries, which require that libraries determine that the original was either damaged or lost and not obtainable at a reasonable price before making a copy to replace the original.

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Guild Condemns Attack on Paris Newspaper

Yesterday the Republic of France suffered its most deadly terrorist attack of the millennium. The target of the attack was a Parisian satirical newspaper. As of today, at least twelve are dead, including its editor.

The Authors Guild is appalled and saddened by this morally impoverished attempt to suppress free expression and to intimidate those who practice it. We support the free speech of authors around the world as part of our core mission, and today we join the countless others speaking out to condemn this cowardly act.

Authors Guild Announces Support for Copyright and Marriage Equality Bill

As the 114th Congress begins on Capitol Hill today, the Authors Guild is lending its support to a bill that would close a loophole in the Copyright Act and ensure equal treatment for authors’ same-sex spouses. The bill, number S. 23, which has been introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, is identical to the Copyright and Marriage Equality Act Senator Leahy introduced last November, which followed an earlier bill introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Derek Kilmer, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Jared Polis.

The nation’s current split between states that recognize same-sex marriage and those that don’t creates a double standard under the Copyright Act. The law grants rights to an author’s surviving spouse only if the marriage is recognized in the state where the author dies. But what if an author marries validly in Vermont but dies in Georgia, which does not currently recognize the marriage? There’s the rub: if an author enters a lawful same-sex marriage but moves to and dies in a state that doesn’t recognize the marriage, the author’s spouse may lose out—particularly, the surviving spouse would lose the statutory right to terminate book contracts after 35 years.

The proposed bill changes the law to consider only whether a couple is lawfully married—not whether the state an author lives in at the time of death recognizes that marriage.

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Along Publishers Row

Alex Clark, a literary critic, wrote about “the most eagerly awaited fiction in 2015” in The Guardian.

Among the notable books due early in the year are Jane Smiley’s Early Warning and Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread in February. In March will be Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant. Sarah Hall’s The Wolf Border is due in April, and May is publication month for Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins.

John Williams added to this list in the January 4 New York Times Book Review. He noted that Toni Morrison’s God Help the Child is due in April, Anthony Marra’s The Tsar of Love and Techno in September, and Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night in November. (Haruf died last month at 71.)

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Amazon Losing Support of Indie Authors

When Amazon started withholding or delaying the shipment of books of Hachette authors this past May during its dispute with Hachette, authors—mainly other traditionally-published authors—stood up in support of the Hachette authors and books being unfairly penalized by Amazon. And Authors United was born. But, as David Streitfeld describes in a front-page article in Sunday’s New York Times (subscription required), self-published authors also have much to lose from the loss-leader pricing and market pressures Amazon is able to impose because of its monopoly over the book market. In its drive to dominate the online consumer goods markets, Amazon has used books as a loss leader to draw in, and acquire data from, consumers with disposable income. In doing so, Amazon has run roughshod over authors, commoditizing and devaluing the books it sells.

Now, Amazon’s dominance in e-book publishing is allowing it to put a squeeze on the self-published authors who use its Kindle Direct platforms to release their own books, as well as traditional publishers and their authors. Just five months after Amazon launched its e-book subscription service, Kindle Unlimited, there’s growing evidence of frustration among independent authors, reports Streitfeld.

Independent authors who thought they had a partner in Amazon, to help them build a career are starting to feel victimized by its monopoly power. Authors are taking issue with the decreased earnings they receive when their books are enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, which gives subscribers all-you-can-read access to around 700,000 e-books for $9.99 a month. Kindle Unlimited readers aren’t purchasing individual titles at the rate they had been, it seems. Romance writer H.M. Ward told the Times that, after a mere two months in the Unlimited program, her income dropped 75 percent. The sole purpose of the subscription model is to reel in even more readers and guide them toward other consumer purchases, not to make a profit, and certainly not to allow authors to be fairly compensated. Rather, the Unlimited Program’s all-you-can-eat model will inevitably lead consumers to think of books as essentially free, as many now do with music. “The books, in that sense, are loss leaders,” writes Streitfeld, “although the writers take the loss, not Amazon.”

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Season’s Greetings from Authors Guild Executive Director Mary Rasenberger

Dear Member,

I’d like to wish you a wonderful holiday season and a happy and healthy 2015!

I am delighted to be the new Executive Director of the Authors Guild. For over 100 years the Guild has been working arduously for the rights of authors to make a living—and providing services to enable them to do so. As I begin my tenure at the Guild, I can attest to the fact that the hard work continues. Our work is more important than ever in these turbulent times when many authors find it more and more challenging to make a living with their words.

It’s an exciting time to be at the Guild. The Council and staff have done a tremendous job laying the groundwork for a number of new initiatives and services. In the coming months, we will be focusing on new programs such as recruitment, branding, an ambassador program, and further development of the new website, together with our ongoing advocacy and litigation initiatives. We will also be fundraising to help us carry out these initiatives.

It has been a busy couple of months. For one, there has been much activity on the advocacy front. On December 3rd, we argued our appeal in the Google Books case, Authors Guild v. Google, to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. We expect a decision in two to six months, and, if necessary, may take the case to the Supreme Court.

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Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

The New York Times Book Review devoted last Sunday’s edition to “spiritual matters.” Writers were asked to recommend novels with religious themes.

Poet Christian Wiman suggested Fanny Howe’s Indivisible. He said, “Any real faith includes, rather than simply refutes, atheism.” This “brilliant novel . . . gives as stark and marvelous a rendering of this truth as any book I know.”

Novelist Christopher Beha named Evelyn Waugh’s The Sword of Honor trilogy. Beha said it is Waugh’s “most explicitly religious” work.”

Cynthia Ozick named The Second Scroll by Canadian poet A. M. Klein. Ozick said, “Think not of Roth but Blake.”

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