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The Authors Guild

New Books by Members

This week’s recent and upcoming books by our members include titles by Tracy Barrett, Homer Hickam, Victoria Houston, Michael Kahn, Lily King, Katherine Hall Page, Barbara Samuels, S. Chris Shirley, Kenneth Turna, Don Wallace, Alex Wright, Morowa Yejidé, and Allen Zadoff. Titles beneath the jump.

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$18 Million Settlement of Freelance Suit Against Electronic Databases Granted Final Approval

After 14 years, on June 10, 2014, we have received final approval from the U.S. Distinct Court, Southern District of New York, of our $18 million class-action settlement in In Re Literary Works in Electronic Databases Copyright Litigation.  While there is a 30-day period to appeal any objections made at the final hearing, we still believe that Authors who filed valid claims in accordance with the initial settlement in 2005 will receive payment sometime this year.  There is nothing any of the claimants need to do at this point except deposit your checks when you receive them.

The Authors Guild, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the National Writers Union, and 21 freelance writers brought the class-action suit in 2000 on behalf of thousands of freelancers whose stories had appeared in online databases—including those run by The New York Times, Dow Jones, and Knight-Ridder—without their consent.  In 2005, a negotiated settlement that pegged award amounts to whether an article had been registered with the U.S. Copyright Office was challenged by 10 authors who had not registered their works. Their challenge eventually made it to the Supreme Court, which decided in favor of the class action litigants in 2010, clearing the way for the revised settlement.

The amounts that will be paid to individual writers depend on a number of factors: the original fee paid for the article, the year it was published, whether the writer registered the copyright and whether he or she agrees to future use of the article in the databases.  Defendants have agreed to pay writers up to $1,500 per work for registered stories. Writers who failed to register their copyrights will receive up to $68.40 per article. The revised settlement sets a minimum award level of $10 million in payments to writers, the same floor that was set in the 2005 settlement.

More information regarding exactly when payment will soon be available at www.copyrightclassaction.com.

Narrow Fair Use Ruling Permits Limited Library Uses, Shoots Down Replacement Copying

We received yesterday’s Second Circuit decision in Authors Guild v. HathiTrust with mixed feelings.  The decision was not a total victory for either side.  While the Court, over our objections, allowed HathiTrust to maintain its database of digitized books in light of the present security protections, the Court was clear that any breach of that security leaves HathiTrust at risk of future litigation.  We also were pleased that the Court refused to issue the blanket approval HathiTrust requested to use the database to replace books in its holdings that had reached the end of their physical life and vacated the District Court decision on that point.  Overall, we also were heartened that the Court, while approving two very limited uses of the database—for word search and display to the disabled—emphasized that the decision did not extend to the display of the text of the books to all HathiTrust users, or even authorize universal display of snippets.

The Authors Guild remains committed to the notion that the digital revolution cannot come at the cost of authors’ rights to preserve writing as a livelihood.  Our pursuit of this claim led directly to HathiTrust’s abandonment of the Orphan Works Project, which would have posed a major threat to authors’ rights by allowing these libraries to fully display their digital copies of in-copyright works with no more basis than the bare claim that they couldn’t find the rights-holders.  The related case against Google will come before the Court next.  We continue to believe that it is fundamentally unfair for Google to make use of the entire text of copyrighted books for its own commercial purposes without any compensation to authors.

Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

“Historical fiction may be the literary equivalent of cilantro,” wrote Barbara Kingsolver in the New York Times Book Review this Sunday. “Consumers tend to love or hate it irrationally, and rare is the artist who can rally a conversion. I’m of the former persuasion, keen for the surprise bits of fact that shake out of a well-researched story.”

The occasion was a front page review of Kimberly Elkins’s novel What Is Visible, a fictional exploration of the Pygmalion story of Laura Bridgman. A childhood illness left Bridgman blind, deaf, and with no sense of smell or taste. She was famous 50 years before Helen Keller came along.

The Elkins review ran side by side with one titled Euphoria, by Lily King, a fictional account of an event in the life of Margaret Mead. Reviewer Emily Eakin wrote: “The steam the book emits is as much intellectual as erotic (for Mead these hardly seem to have been a distinction).”

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Robinson and Alexie Draw the Focus to Authors in Amazon-Hachette Dispute

In the flurry of media stories over the last few weeks covering the dispute between Amazon and Hachette Book Group, one perspective has largely been overlooked: that of the author. Two Guild members recently took to the airwaves to fix that.

Authors Guild President Roxana Robinson was a guest Thursday morning on NPR’s On Point, reminding listeners that while Amazon may be the bully in this particular dispute, Hachette and the rest of the Big Five don’t exactly have clean records when it comes to e-book revenue, which seems to be the object of the two firms’ standoff.

Just as Amazon is pressuring Hachette now, Hachette and other major trade publishers, Robinson said, regularly put the squeeze on their authors when it comes to e-book royalty rates. As we’ve maintained for years, an e-book royalty of 25% of net receipts is a windfall to the publisher and a major step back for authors. To begin with, it’s not reflective of publishing’s traditional “joint venture” arrangement, in which authors and publishers effectively split the net proceeds of book sales. What’s more, it incentivizes publishers to favor e-books, from which they profit at a higher rate than from hardcover sales.

Robinson also touched on the potential antitrust violations of Amazon’s market dominance, particularly its predatory pricing schemes. The New York Times covered similar ground in an editorial on Tuesday. The Times’ editorial board wrote that “when a company dominates the sale of certain products as Amazon does with books, it has the power to distort the market for its own benefit and possibly in violation of antitrust laws.”

Robinson wasn’t the only member of the Authors Guild family in the news. Council member Sherman Alexie made a Wednesday evening appearance on The Colbert Report, standing up for the authors affected by the corporate standoff and even suggesting a boycott of Amazon.

When two publishing giants fight, Colbert asked Alexie, who do you root for? Alexie responded without hesitation: “You root for the authors.” Colbert and Alexie, both Hachette authors, expressed frustration not only at what Amazon’s tactics have done to their own royalties, but also at how they could affect new authors.

The authors also took the time to remind readers that Amazon’s not the only bookstore on the block. When Colbert asked Alexie what we can do to fight back, the novelist responded with a solution we can all bear in mind: “Well, number one, you don’t shop there . . . for anything.”

The American Booksellers Association hasn’t passed up this opportunity to convert readers’ ill-will towards Amazon into more support for their members. The organization released a logo this week sporting the following message: “Thanks, Amazon, the indies will take it from here. Independent bookstores sell books from all publishers. Always.”

We’re hopeful that independent bookstores, at least, can find a way to turn this strife to their advantage.

Bulletin Board

This week’s batch of contests includes two poetry book contests! Deadlines range from June 30-July 1.

Bauhan Publishing is now accepting submissions for the 2014 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Book Prize. The contest is open to international residents but the book must be written in English (translations are not eligible). The winner receives $1,000, book publication, and 100 copies of the published book. Entry fee: $25. Deadline: June 30, 2014. For complete guidelines, please visit the website.

Glimmer Train’s Fiction Contest is currently accepting submissions. The winner will receive $2,500, publication in Glimmer Train Stories, and 20 copies of that issue. Second place will receive $1,000 and 10 copies if accepted for publication. Third place will receive $600, or $700 and 10 copies if accepted for publication. Stories can range from 2,000 to 20,000 words. Entry fee: $19. Deadline: June 30, 2014. For complete guidelines, please visit the website.

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Supreme Court’s Pass on Journalist’s Appeal Puts Focus on Federal Shield Law

On Monday the Supreme Court issued a one-line order declining to hear the appeal of New York Times journalist James Risen. A lower court had ordered the reporter to comply with a subpoena requiring him to reveal a confidential source.

The case began after Risen’s 2006 book, State of War, reported on a botched CIA operation that may have given valuable nuclear technology to Iran. During a Justice Department investigation of the operation, Risen was issued a subpoena to testify about a confidential source. He refused.

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Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

Sarah McGrath is executive editor at Riverhead. Last year that publisher had four big bestsellers. McGrath was interviewed by PW, and she described what she looks for when she opens a manuscript:

“I want a book that makes you forget what you are doing. That can be because of the beauty of the sentences, or because of the propulsion of the plot, or the emotional effect it has on you. Hopefully, it’s all three of those things.”

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New Books by Members

This week’s recent and upcoming books by our members include titles by Sophie Blackall, Jane Cutler, Anna Dewdney, Meryl Gordon, Paul Dubois Jacobs, Steven James, Maggie Rudy, David McCullough, Jr., Claudia Mills, Matteo Pistono, Amy Plum, Patricia Skalka, Dennis Snelling, Susan Spano, Eileen Spinelli, George Vecsey, and Yvonne Ventresca. Titles under the jump.

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Hachette and Amazon Trade Barbs in Public Statements

In a remarkable move, Amazon released a statement yesterday defending its slow-walking of Hachette Book Group titles. The normally tight-lipped corporation broke its silence amid a barrage of press—including Authors Guild President Roxana Robinson’s appearance on the Bloomberg TV program “Market Makers”—concerning its ploy to pressure Hachette into accepting unfavorable contract terms.

Today, Hachette shot back.

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