Advocacy

Are Copyright Laws “Still Working in the Digital Age”? House Judiciary Chair Pledges Comprehensive Review

Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chair of the House Judiciary Committee, announced last Wednesday that the committee “will hold a comprehensive series of hearings on U.S. copyright law in the months ahead. The goal of these hearings will be to determine whether the laws are still working in the digital age.”

Goodlatte made his remarks at the World Intellectual Property Day celebration at the Library of Congress, and invited interested parties to submit their views to the Judiciary Committee. His full statement is here.

Goodlatte noted that Maria Pallante, Register of Copyrights, had called for such a comprehensive review leading to “the next great copyright act” in testimony on March 20th. In her prepared statement, Pallante said that “authors do not have effective protections, good faith businesses do not have clear roadmaps, courts do not have sufficient direction, and consumers and other private citizens are increasingly frustrated.”

In her March 20th testimony, Pallante made clear her view that “the issues of authors are intertwined with the interests of the public.” Authors, Pallante said,

are not a counterweight to the public interest but instead are at the very center of the equation. In the words of the Supreme Court, “[t]he immediate effect of our copyright law is to secure a fair return for an ‘author’s’ creative labor. But the ultimate aim is, by this incentive, to stimulate artistic creativity for the general public good.” Congress has a duty to keep authors in its mind’s eye, including songwriters, book authors, filmmakers, photographers, and visual artists. A law that does not provide for authors would be illogical — hardly a copyright law at all.

Pallante pointed out, however, that the last major overhaul of U.S. copyright law, the 1976 Copyright Act, took two decades to negotiate. We expect to be hearing much more about this in the months ahead.

Posted in Advocacy, Authorship, Copyright

Fair Use Ruling: Artist Sufficiently Transformed 25 of 30 Photos

On Thursday, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a trial court’s decision, ruling that an artist’s uses of 25 copyrighted photographs were sufficiently transformative to be protected by copyright’s fair use defense. The court was uncertain, however, whether the artist’s uses of five other photographs should be considered adequately transformative to trigger the defense. The court’s opinion, Cariou v. Prince, is available here.

The artist, Richard Prince, had copied the work of photographer Patrick Cariou, who had taken the photographs over a six-year period in Jamaica. Cariou had  published the collection in a book, “Yes Rasta,” in 2000.

Prince used 30 photos from Cariou’s book in creating “Canal Zone,” a series of large-scale works exhibited at galleries in St. Barth’s and New York City in 2007 and 2008. Prince’s modifications to the black-and-white photos varied, but included enlarging the images, adding acrylic paint, pasting on new elements, tinting them, and using them in collages. According to the court, some of Prince’s works exhibited at the galleries almost entirely obscure Cariou’s original photographs. In others, Cariou’s original images are still readily apparent.

The court found that 25 of Prince’s works “manifest an entirely different aesthetic from Cariou’s photographs”:

Where Cariou’s serene and deliberately composed portraits and landscape photographs depict the natural beauty of Rastafarians and their surrounding environs, Prince’s crude and jarring works, on the other hand, are hectic and provocative. Cariou’s black-and-white photographs were printed in a 9 1/2″ x 12″ book. Prince has created collages on canvas that incorporate color, feature distorted human and other forms and settings, and measure between ten and nearly a hundred times the size of the photographs.

The court cautioned, however, that not all “cosmetic changes to the photographs would necessarily constitute fair use. A secondary work may modify the original without being transformative.” As an example, the court cited its 1998 ruling that a book providing synopses of Seinfeld television episodes infringed the original shows’ copyrights, since the book simply repackaged the episodes’ content in a new form.

The appellate court was uncertain whether Prince’s modifications were merely cosmetic for five of the thirty works.  The court remanded the case to the trial court to determine whether those “relatively minimal alterations” were sufficiently transformative to be deemed fair uses of Cariou’s photographs.

Posted in Advocacy, Copyright

Ebooks, International Part 2: In Russia, Amazon Readies Kindle. Can Harvard/Goldman Alum Make It Work?

Earlier, we reported on ebook developments in Brazil. Now, on to Russia.

Ingrid Lunden of TechCrunch reports that Amazon appears to be getting ready open ebook operations in Russia. Although Amazon hasn’t confirmed the report, on April 19 Forbes posted news at its Russian website that Amazon had hired Arkady Vitrouk to head its Russian office. Vitrouk is the former CEO of ABC-Atticus, a Russian publishing conglomerate owned by Alexander Mamut, which Forbes says is one of Russia’s 50 wealthiest people.

Lunden of TechCrunch confirmed Forbes’ report through Vitrouk’s LinkedIn profile, which lists him as director of Kindle Content for Russia. (It also shows that he attended Harvard Business School and worked at Goldman Sachs before joining Atticus Publishing Group and now Amazon.) Lunden dug further, finding that Amazon is seeking to hire two content acquisition managers for Kindle Russia, and a senior manager for Kindle content pricing in Russia.

Ebook pricing may prove to be particularly tricky in Russia, where digital piracy is rampant. One commenter on Forbes’ Russian site seems to think so, asking what sense it made for Amazon to enter the Russian market, “if the books on the Internet [I] will not be buying one.” (Translated by Google.)

The Russian Federation has been on the U.S. Trade Representative’s Priority Watch List for years. (Brazil, which we discussed in an earlier post, lags Russia as a haven for piracy in our government’s estimation. The USTR places it on its Watch List — without priority.) Perhaps things in Russia will soon improve, however. On December 21st, the USTR announced that it had reached an agreement with Russia on an Intellectual Property Rights Action Plan. The IPR Action Plan calls for Russia to take various steps to combat online piracy.

Then again, maybe not. The new IPR Action Plan was announced shortly after the 6-year anniversary of a US-Russia bilateral agreement (referred to here, p. 23) on the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights. Russia’s been on the US Trade Representative’s Priority Watch List ever since.

Arkady Vitrouk has his work cut out for him.

Posted in Advocacy, Authorship, Copyright, E-Books

Ebooks, International Part 1: In Brazil, a Publishers’ Consortium and an Early Lead for Apple

The U.S. has a strong lead over other countries in ebook adoption. How are things going elsewhere? Recent news from Brazil and Russia shed some light on the state of the ebook market in two key emerging economies. We’ll present these in two bite-sized reports.

First, Brazil.

Edward Nawotka reports in Publishing Perspectives that ebook sales have lept an order of magnitude in Brazil in recent months. December 5, 2012, was “D-Day” (digital day) for the Brazilian book world  — Kobo, Google, and Amazon all launched their ebookstores that day. Apple had begun selling Brazilian titles in October.

Six large Brazilian publishers had been preparing for their D-Day for more than two years. In March 2010, just as the first iPads were scheduled to ship in the U.S., the publishers announced plans to distribute ebooks through a jointly developed platform known as DLD. That platform accounts for an estimated 30% of Brazilian ebook sales at the moment, Nawotka reports. Apple, Amazon, Google, and Kobo all distribute through DLD, through nonexclusive arrangements.

The early ebook market leader? Apple, according to DLD’s figures, with 29% of sales in March, followed by Amazon with 22%, Google 18%, Saraiva (a Brazilian bookseller) 15%, and Kobo 12%.

These sales amount to little, so far: ebooks are a tiny portion of the Brazilian book market. That’s changing fast. DLD’s sales have increased nearly tenfold since Apple’s October 2012 entry into the market, reaching nearly 44,500 units in March.

Posted in Advocacy, Authorship, E-Books

Audio of Authors Guild Seminar on Book Contracts — Traditional, Ebook & POD

Here’s a clip from last week’s phone-in seminar with Anita Fore, Authors Guild Director of Legal Services, on the basics of understanding and negotiating contracts with both traditional book publishers and stand-alone ebook/POD publishers. The clip (about 15 minutes) focuses on traditional book contracts:

Members are welcome to contact us for a link to the full-length audio of the 60-minute seminar and a handout that accompanies Anita’s talk. (Not a member? Join up! You must be a published author to join, but many self-published authors now qualify for membership.)

The Guild is hosting additional phone-in seminars for members this week and next:

Magazine Contract Issues (Wednesday, April 24th)
Anita Fore will discuss several clauses freelancers should be aware of when negotiating magazine agreements. Sign up here.

Authors’ Statutory Right to Terminate Publishing Contracts After 35 Years (Wednesday, May 1st)
Paul Aiken, Authors Guild Executive Director, will explain the rules governing publishing contract terminations under Section 203 of the Copyright Act. Sign up here.

Posted in Advocacy, E-Books, General, Royalties

Amazon’s Kindle Singles a Win for Readers, Authors

We’ve been frequent critics of Amazon’s tactics in conquering established book markets, but credit is due to the company for doing what many would have considered impossible: creating a genuine market for novellas and novella-length nonfiction. In the New York Times this morning, Leslie Kaufman profiles Kindle Singles editor David Blum and cites Amazon’s statistic that about 28 percent of the 345 Singles published since January 2011 have sold more than 10,000 copies. Kindle Singles are a curated list of short e-books (5,000 to 30,000 words in length) available through Amazon’s Kindle Store.

Though publishing arrangements vary — some Kindle Singles are published by traditional publishers, others are self-published or put out by an emerging group of new publishers, such as Byliner — authors may earn as much as 70% of the proceeds from sales. Since bestselling Kindle Singles sell for an average price of $1.50 or so, a self-published author selling 10,000 or more Singles would likely earn revenues of $10,000 or more.

Read More…

Posted in Advocacy, Authorship, E-Books

NYT’s Report on David Mamet’s Self-Published Book Heightens Debate

David Mamet’s decision to self-publish his latest book through a new service offered by his literary agency, ICM Partners, adds fuel to the debate raging over whether authors will do better on their own than with a traditional publishing house.

“The announcement by ICM and Mr. Mamet suggests that self-publishing will begin to widen its net and become attractive also to more established authors.” Leslie Kaufman wrote last week in the New York Times.

The news has drawn hundreds of responses from bloggers, authors and others, including bookseller Marion Abbott, who in the Sunday edition of the Times warned about the perils of self-publishing.

The latest post by Huffpo blogger Julie Gerstenblatt offers a cautionary tale that echoes Abbott’s sentiments.

A far more optimistic picture comes from Jon R. Anderson of the Navy Times, who on Friday urged service members to get their story out, writing, “While self-publishing used to bear the vanity press stigma… independent publishing is quickly becoming the preferred road to readers for many authors.”

Self-publishing has indeed borne a stigma, even though it has a history to be proud of. Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” Irma S. Rombauer’s “Joy of Cooking,” and Christopher Paolini’s “Eragon” are prominent examples of self-published works from the 19th, 20th and 21st Centuries. Is that stigma now gone? Maybe not, but the stigma seems to be fading as the economics of self-publishing improve for some authors.

Posted in Advocacy, Authorship, E-Books

User Discussion and Privacy Policies

Now that we’re posting to our blog more regularly, we’ve been grappling with user discussion guidelines. We’ve looked to newspapers for useful models, and The Washington Post seems to have a good one. We’ll use that as a starting point (though we have no plans to implement the “badge” system the Post uses) and assign a staff member to oversee that. Our general privacy policy applies to user comments.

Posted in Advocacy

Scott Turow on Piracy, Lowball E-Royalties & Literary Culture

In a New York Times Op-Ed today, Scott Turow takes on the threat posed by book piracy, e-lending and traditional publishers’ lockstep, 25% ebook royalties to the health of our literary culture. Check it out: The Slow Death of the American Author

Posted in Advocacy, Authorship, Copyright, E-Books

Turow on Amazon/Goodreads: This is how modern monopolies can be built

Amazon’s garden walls are about to grow much higher. In a truly devastating act of vertical integration, Amazon is buying Goodreads, its only sizable competitor for reader reviews and a site known for the depth and breadth of its users’ book recommendations. Recommendations from like-minded readers appear to be the Holy Grail of online book marketing. By combining Goodreads’ recommendation database with Amazon’s own vast databases of readers’ purchase histories, Amazon’s control of online bookselling approaches the insurmountable.

Read More…

Posted in Advocacy