Report Calls Out Credit Cards’ Ties with Piracy; Senator Leahy Takes Action

There’s no question that websites trafficking in stolen creative works profit handsomely from their piracy, compete unfairly with legitimate sites, and generally play the role of the thorn in the side of creators everywhere.

The question is how to stop them. Many of these sites are hosted offshore, and any writer who’s tried to send a DMCA takedown notice knows that once a pirated work has been taken down, there’s a decent chance it will pop back up somewhere else.

A recent report commissioned by the Digital Citizens Alliance proposes an answer: put pressure on the companies whose services the pirates depend on, and who profit in turn from the piracy. “All it takes for bad operators to succeed,” the report says, “is for the facilitators of commerce—payment processors and the advertising industry, among other stakeholders—to do nothing.”

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Posted in Advocacy

Amazon Is Not the Reader’s Friend, Says Debate Audience

A lively audience of readers gathered last Thursday evening at New York City’s Kaufman Center to hear a panel of four authors hash out the contentious proposition that “Amazon is the reader’s friend.”

The Oxford-style debate, hosted by Intelligence Squared (IQ2), featured two writers arguing for the motion and two against it. In the Amazon corner were self-publishing guru Joe Konrath and Matthew Yglesias, Executive Editor of Vox. Pitted against them, former Authors Guild President Scott Turow and Franklin Foer, former Editor of The New Republic, contended that Amazon is not, by a long shot, the reader’s friend.

The IQ2 debates declare a winner by polling the audience at both the beginning and the end of the arguments, and comparing the results. The side that sways more people takes the cake. Before the debate, 41% of the audience voted for the proposition that Amazon is the reader’s friend, 28% voted against it, and 31% were undecided. At evening’s end, there was a clear victor: the Amazon apologists managed to increase their backers by a mere one percentage point, while Turow and Foer earned a 22% spike, overwhelmingly capturing the undecided vote.

Throughout the evening, Yglesias and Konrath largely stuck with the appealing arguments that Amazon’s low prices for readers and higher royalty rates for its self-published authors are benefits without downsides. But Turow and Foer’s effectiveness lay in taking a position that honored the diversity of the literary ecosystem. Left unchecked, they suggested, we may end up with a book world controlled by Amazon. The better option by far is a competitive plurality of publishers and distributors.

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Posted in Advocacy

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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Posted in Advocacy, Copyright

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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Posted in Advocacy, Copyright, General

Macmillan Strikes Deal with Amazon, but “Irony Prospers in the Digital Age”

Macmillan CEO John Sargent announced yesterday in a letter to authors and agents that Macmillan has reached a multiyear agreement with Amazon for the sale of both print books and e-books. Under the deal, e-books will be sold under the agency model, which allows the publisher to set its own prices and avoid Amazon’s strategic discounting of key titles. This will allow Macmillan to sell books above Amazon’s artificially deflated prices, potentially leading to more income for authors, but it leaves in place the inequitable 25% of net proceeds royalty rate that Macmillan regularly offers authors on e-book sales. The agreement will take effect of January 5, 2015.

The deal makes Macmillan the third major publisher to announce a new agreement with Amazon after the expiration of the publishers’ settlement agreements with the U.S. government, which banned the agency model and required each publisher to allow retailers to discount e-books for a defined period. These agreements, known as “consent decrees”—whose durations were staggered at six-month intervals (Macmillan’s ended December 18)—were settlements of the lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice accusing five major publishers and Apple of conspiring to fix e-book prices in the lead-up to Apple’s 2010 iPad launch. After the publishers each settled, the case continued as U.S. v. Apple.

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Posted in Advocacy, General

Get Thee to Your Local Bookstore: Celebrate ‘Indies First’ on 11/29

We all know that books make the best gifts. So do our friends at the American Booksellers Association, who have brought back a winning initiative this holiday season to help spread the word in support of independent bookstores.

That’s right, Indies First returns to your local independent on November 29, otherwise known as Small Business Saturday (think of it as the grassroots Black Friday). The brainchild of Guild Council member and self-confessed “book nerd” Sherman Alexie, Indies First recruits authors to spend Thanksgiving Saturday hand-selling books at their favorite independent bookshops. Last year—its first—over 1,100 authors participated in the program.

This year Indies First will be helmed by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer. Take a look at their letter about the project here. Per Gaiman and Palmer, directions are as follows:

Choose your independent bookshop, talk to the owner or manager, and agree on what you are going to do that day. If you have a website, put that store’s buy button in a prominent place on your website, above the Amazon button and the IndieBound button. If you prefer, you can sign up on the author registry so that a store can contact you.

We wish everyone involved the absolute best. There’s still time to sign up on the author registry. While you’re at it, take a look at IndieBound’s map to see participating stores. Hundreds of authors have signed up so far, including David Baldacci, Roz Chast, and Jeanne Birdsall.

Even if you can’t participate, remember that books make great gifts. Support your local independent this holiday season.

Posted in Advocacy

AG Director Rasenberger Speaks to Congressional Caucus on Behalf of Authors

In her first official appearance as Executive Director of the Authors Guild, Mary Rasenberger traveled to Washington, D.C. last Thursday and presented a speech to the Congressional Creative Rights Caucus, a bipartisan group of lawmakers dedicated to protecting the rights of creators.

Rasenberger’s speech was part of a panel co-hosted by the Authors Guild and aimed at giving the Congressional group a behind-the-scenes look at “a book’s passage from manuscript to marketplace.” The panel consisted of authors, editors, and publishers.

In her speech, Rasenberger focused on the “urgent state” of authorship today. “Even authors who made a living writing books for decades now need to find alternative sources of income,” she told the assembly. “This means they write less—and, in some cases, not at all. Fewer professional authors means fewer types of books that might take years of research and writing. These are precisely the kinds of books that further the knowledge and learning that copyright is meant to foster.”

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Posted in Advocacy

Amazon and Hachette Shake Hands on Distribution Deal; Hachette Authors No Longer in Limbo

It’s over.

This morning, after a nasty and very public corporate stalemate, Amazon and Hachette jointly announced they have come to terms. Their new multiyear contract will allow Hachette to set its own e-book prices, but that arrangement will be tempered by “financial incentives” for Hachette to keep those prices low, according to the companies’ joint statement.

The dispute became big news in the book world this May, when it became known that Amazon was purposefully chilling Hachette authors’ book sales as a way to pressure Hachette to adopt the retailer’s preferred terms. The most immediate beneficiaries of the détente are Hachette authors, whose books will once again receive standard treatment from Amazon, their visibility and shipping time restored. In a letter to Hachette authors and agents, CEO Michael Pietsch promised that “Hachette titles will be restored as soon as possible to normal availability on Amazon, will be available for pre-order, and will be included in promotions on the site.”

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Posted in Advocacy


Many in the book world—including the Authors Guild—expressed disbelief when it was announced in March 2013 that Amazon and other private companies (including Google, as it turns out) were angling to purchase the Internet domain name “.book,” among other generic domain names. That dismay was substantiated yesterday when it became official that Amazon won “.book” at auction—for a cool $10 million, according to reports.

The auction was hosted by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which manages domain names—those letters that come at the end of a web address, such as “.com” or “.org.” We have long objected to ICANN’s decision to auction generic Internet domain names to the highest bidder. As former Guild President Scott Turow stated in a March 2013 open letter to ICANN, “Placing such generic domains in private hands is plainly anticompetitive, allowing already dominant, well-capitalized companies to expand and entrench their market power.”

In addition to remaining concerned about ICANN’s auctioning of generic domain names, the Authors Guild is dismayed that Amazon won the auction. “The ‘.book’ domain should not be owned by a for-profit company that is in a position to use it for its competitive advantage,” said the Guild’s Executive Director, Mary Rasenberger, “much less by Amazon, which we believe is already a monopolistic force in the publishing marketplace.”

Posted in Advocacy

HarperCollins Makes a Costly Stand on E-book Royalties in Open Road Litigation

Last week, concluding the final chapter of the three-year legal dispute between HarperCollins and digital publisher Open Road over the e-book rights to Jean Craighead George’s 1971 young-adult novel Julie of the Wolves, a court rejected HarperCollins’ attempt to recover over $1 million in lawyers’ fees from its opponent. But not everything came up roses for Open Road: the court awarded HarperCollins $30,000 in damages and also blocked Open Road from distributing its e-book edition.

This phase of the litigation—HarperCollins v. Open Road—came on the heels of a March 2014 ruling that Open Road’s e-book edition of Julie infringed on HarperCollins’ right to publish electronic versions of George’s classic. At issue was whether language in the 1971 contract between George and her publisher granted HarperCollins exclusive electronic rights. Complicating the interpretation of the contract was this little thorn: there was no market for e-books when the contract was signed. The court found, however, that the contract’s “forward-looking reference to technologies ‘now known or hereafter invented’ [was] sufficiently broad to draw within its ambit e-book publication.”

Many in the industry had wondered whether this case had the potential to chip away at the precedent of the watershed authors’ victory in 2001’s Random House v. Rosetta Books, which held that pre-digital-era contracts where an author grants her publisher the right to publish a work “in print book form” or even “in book form” with no mention of electronic rights should be interpreted to reserve electronic rights to the author.

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Posted in Advocacy, E-Books