2019 has been a busy year for us—our 107th year of fighting for authors' rights. We are looking forward to an exciting 2020 as some of our long-term efforts come to fruition.
Much of our advocacy this past year has been in D.C. where we lobbied for important legislation like the CASE ACT and set the stage for 2020 legislative initiatives. We educated members of Congress and government regulators on new forms of book piracy and counterfeiting—and their harm to authors—and participated in numerous discussions with government agencies around issues ranging from modernizing the Copyright Office to the concentration of political and economic power in the hands of tech platforms.
We have offered more education this past year than ever, including six full-day Business and Legal Bootcamps around the country, an educational series focused on book marketing and publicity called Age of the Story Teller, and webinars ranging on wide-ranging topics from rights termination to estate planning. We hosted our sister organizations from all over the world at the Internarial Authors Forum held in April in New York City, and attended international meetings to learn how other countries are addressing issues affecting their authors.
In addition to our government advocacy, we have been talking to publishers, libraries, and other industry stakeholders on the impact of increasing library e-book lending, and libraries’ reliance on fair use to make older works available in the absence of licensing solutions. And last but not least, our legal department this year handled a record number of close to 1500 member queries, including more than 350 publishing contract reviews.
Below is a summary of some of our 2019 advocacy work, as well as initiatives planned for the year ahead. Writing has never been an easy vocation, and it is not getting any easier. The Authors Guild is the only organization committed to supporting working writers and protecting authors' rights. Please consider making a donation so we can keep fighting for authors, as we have for the last 107 years.
2019 Advocacy Initiatives:
CASE Act for a Small Claims Copyright Court
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement ("CASE") Act this October – as most of you have heard from us. The legislation, which we have been working on for several years and will create a small copyright claims court with the Copyright Office to allow authors and creators an affordable forum to bring their copyright claims. This historic piece of legislation, unfortunately, has been held up in the Senate by Senator Wyden (D-OR). Please take a chance to voice your support for creators and small businesses by telling Sen. Wyden to #respectcopyright.
Copyright Office Modernization
We have been working closely with Senator Tillis’ (R-NC) office on a draft bill to ensure that the Copyright Office has the resources and authority to upgrade its registration and recordation systems and simplify copyright registration and recordation, as well as the independence it needs from the Library of Congress on crucial policy issues. A modern 21st century Copyright Office is critical in meeting the needs of today’s creative economy.
Audible Captions Lawsuit Amicus Brief
We filed an amicus brief in a lawsuit challenging Audible's introduction of Audible Captions program, a feature in Audible apps that converts speech from audiobooks into unauthorized text. Although the lawsuit is still pending, we expect Audible to settle and end this clearly infringing program.
Department of Commerce Comments on Counterfeiting and Piracy
As part of our expanded efforts to fight piracy, we submitted comments to the Department of Commerce explaining how the availability of inexpensive but high-quality counterfeit copies from print-on-demand services, the expansion of ebook piracy, and the lack of internet platform liability is driving down author incomes.
Letter to the FTC on Internet Scams
We provided input on a letter to the FTC from Senators Tillis, Hirono and Representative Deutch about internet scams, and how phishing and pirate websites hurt the book industry.
Comments to the Copyright Office on Copyright and Artificial Intelligence
We are working on our comments to the Copyright Office in response to the rise of artificial intelligence, and its consequences for authors. This is an evolving question with serious consequences for authors and books.
Meetings with FTC and Congress on Big Tech’s Impact on Authors
Guild lawyers met with the FTC and members of Congress to discuss the ways that the big internet platforms have impacted the writing business and contributed to the decline in authors incomes.
Looking forward to our 2020 Advocacy:
A new Authors Guild Model Trade Book Contract will be released in early January. We will conduct a campaign on several issues addressed in the new model contract, including (1) the increasing use of deep discounts and need to revise deep discount clauses so the lower rates start at higher discounts and de-escalate, (2) marking remainders, overstock, foreign editions and review copies so that they cannot legally enter the Amazon third party market place as competing “new” books; and (3) increasing transparency in royalty statements.
The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property has announced its intention to hold hearings on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) starting in January, and the Copyright Office’s long-awaited report will finally be released in the coming months. We have participated in hearings and submitted comments expressing our dissatisfaction with Section 512, the part of the DMCA that allows internet platforms and websites to host and link to infringing copies with no liability or responsibility at all—catalyzing Internet piracy in the last two decades. We will be heavily engaged in efforts to reform the DMCA to bring it in line with its original purpose of protecting creators instead of making Internet platforms richer at their expense.
Freelance Worker Laws
We have been working with labor activists and legislative staff in various staff to ensure proper carve-outs for freelance writers in laws addressing worker mis-classification in the gig economy. While we strongly support efforts to extend employment protections for freelance workers and independent contractors, we also understand that freelance writers need to have the flexibility to continue working as independent contractors. We will continue working with stakeholders in this area to ensure that legislation strikes the proper balance between the need for protection and flexibility.
Next year, we will begin lobbying Congress to give authors an exemption from anti-trust laws so that authors may engage in collective bargaining. Given the dramatic decline in author incomes, authors' right to bargain collectively on payment issues is more important than ever.