General

Times Revisits 1988 Guild Campaign to Credit Phantom Novelist

When The Phantom of the Opera opened on Broadway in 1988, the musical—which Andrew Lloyd Weber adapted from Gaston Leroux’s 1910 French novel—was an immediate hit, securing 10 Tony nominations in its first year on stage. But Leroux didn’t receive credit in the official production billing. The Authors Guild was part of a group that fixed that, and the New York Times revisited the 27-year-old story in its Morning Briefing earlier this week (subscription required).

Leroux’s absence from the billing had irked a young film assistant named Bill O’Connell, who organized a coalition of rights groups and authors to make sure Leroux received credit.

The coalition included the Authors Guild, the Dramatists Guild, the Mystery Writers of America and the authors Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, E.L. Doctorow and Harlan Ellison.

Posted in Authorship, General

“We All Gotta Eat, Even When Making Art”—Stiles Responds to Salon Piece on Money and Authorship

Money is the single biggest practical issue facing a working writer—so why don’t we talk about it more often and more openly? Enter Ann Baur’s refreshing call for writers to be more honest about money, published in Salon yesterday.

In the article, which is generating some worthwhile discussion in the comments section, Baur pulls back the curtain on what allows her to sustain her writing life: her husband’s substantial salary. In doing so, she recognizes the importance of open discussion about the financial realities of authorship in the digital age, especially now that downward pressures on book revenue have made it difficult for even the most dedicated writer to make ends meet. “In my opinion,” Baur writes, “we do enormous ‘let them eat cake’ disservice to our community when we obfuscate the circumstances that help us write, publish and in some way succeed.”

AG Council member T.J. Stiles applauded the Baur piece when he posted a response to it. Stiles’ response took the conversation a step further, connecting decreasing book revenues to the erosion of copyright protection and the growth of digital piracy. Here it is, in full.

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Posted in Authorship, General

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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Posted in General

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.

Posted in General

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

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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Posted in General

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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Posted in 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

New Sales Models Prove There’s More than One Way to Sell a Book

A page one headline in the New York Times’ business section caught our eye this morning: “Amazon Not as Unstoppable as It Might Appear.” The article describes Amazon’s susceptibility to competition from start-ups in the retail sector. We’ve noticed a similar trend in the publishing industry. Now there are more—and more inventive—ways than ever to buy books without logging in to Amazon. We’d like to highlight a few of them. In our view, the more ways there are to get our books to readers, the better things are for us all.

One of the major developments has been publishers’ experimentation with selling directly. Last week Hachette rolled out a new sales program, letting readers purchase select titles from the publisher by clicking a “buy” button embedded in an author’s Twitter message. The program pairs books with limited edition collectibles: it began last Thursday when Amanda Palmer announced in a tweet that the first 100 people to buy her new release, The Art of Asking, would get a signed manuscript draft page. The program also includes astronaut Chad Hadfield’s book You Are Here—accompanied by an outer-space photograph of the Greek island of Corfu—and an offering from the satirical paper The Onion. So far, these are the only books slated for inclusion in the program.

While most major publishers sell directly nowadays, HarperCollins has distinguished itself by sweetening the deal for authors. In October, HarperCollins launched an e-commerce platform that lets readers buy books straight from its web page—sans bookstore, sans Internet retail giant. Kudos to Harper for passing on some profit to authors when it cut out the middleman: writers who offer their books through the program receive an additional 10% net royalty on e-book, print and audio sales. This applies even when authors sell the books through their own web page.

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Posted in General

Authors Guild Opposes Google’s Fair Use Claim in Federal Appeals Court

Reporters, observers and lawyers lined up early Wednesday afternoon to guarantee themselves a seat in Courtroom 1703 of the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse in downtown New York City. The case of the day was the oral argument in the appeal of the Authors Guild’s ongoing copyright infringement case against Google. The Guild is appealing a November 2013 district court ruling that Google’s unauthorized copying of millions of copyrighted books was a fair use of those works.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit spent over an hour and a half hearing lawyers’ arguments while peppering them with questions.

Paul Smith, a recent addition to the Guild’s legal team, argued for the Authors Guild. Smith, who has appeared in the Supreme Court fifteen times and in scores of appellate courts over a span of three decades, will also help the Guild position the case for an appeal to the Supreme Court, if that becomes necessary. He is perhaps best known for successfully arguing the landmark gay rights case Lawrence v. Texas.

The issue before the court today was whether Google’s scanning and snippet display of millions of books from the collections of leading research libraries, without regard to copyright status and without authorization or compensation, was fair use. The lower court had found that it was fair use and that Google therefore owed the authors nothing for the use. Fair use is a defense to an accusation of copyright infringement; it permits a work to be used in ways that otherwise would be considered infringing, in order to enable socially beneficial activities such as commentary, parody, reporting and teaching.

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Posted in General