Reprinted from the Spring-Summer 2018 issue of the Authors Guild Bulletin.
Welcome to the new look of the Authors Guild Bulletin! After 24 years, we thought it was time for a change. We hope you like it. As always, we appreciate your feedback and thoughts on the types of articles you would like to read.
It was a fruitful spring here at the home office. Several projects that have been in the works for some time are coming to fruition, and we report on them in these pages.
Author Income Survey
You should have received our Author Income Survey by now. Thanks to all of you who completed it. We know it was long, but the information we obtained was crucial to a comprehensive understanding of the economics of authorship today. The survey went to almost 200,000 U.S. authors, with 15 author groups and platforms participating. The results of the survey will help us better advocate for you by giving us data to support our demands for improvements in the law and in publishing agreements. We have begun culling the data and will issue a report on its findings early this fall.
Local Guild Chapters
We are very excited about our new local Guild chapters. (See p. 23.)We are off to a great start, with inaugural events already planned in several cities. If you reside in or near any of the cities where these chapters have formed, look out for e-mails explaining how to connect. The Guild will be launching chapters in other regions in the coming year. Let us know if you are interested in seeing one in your town in the next chapter rollout.
Our online community platform, supported by Higher Logic, is launching this summer. It will allow you to interact with other members, ask questions, and debate in private, secure forums. You can e-mail, post threads and connect with other members instantly. Your discussion threads will flow seamlessly among e-mail, mobile devices and the online community, and most importantly, conversations will be forwarded to your e-mail if you choose. That way you do not have to remember to visit the forums. If a subject you are interested in appears in your inbox, you can click on a link in the e-mail and jump right into the conversation.
Each local chapter or interest group (such as translators and children’s book authors) will have its own forum to facilitate communication among group members.
The CASE Act, the bill to create a new small copyright claims tribunal, is still in process to go to the House for a vote. (See p. 18.) We have beenworking on the legislation with the Songwriters Guild of America, several photographer groups and the Copyright Alliance. In April, we held our first-ever joint lobbying day with the songwriters’ and photographers’ groups, sending a strong message to Congress that creators are united. We will be working with our new policy coalition on other legislative initiatives down the road. Many thanks to our lobbyist, Marla Grossman, for all her work on the bill.
Trademark Litigation: Preventing Monopolized Words in Book Titles
The Authors Guild’s legal team, in cooperation with the Romance Writers of America, defended
an author who used the word “cocky”in book titles. We won a court ruling that allows writers to continue to sell books with titles that use the word “cocky,” despite a trademark registration owned by a single romance author. (See p. 30.) The Guild opposes registration of trademark applications for commonly used words and is meeting with the Trademark Office to help improve the registration policies for series titles so that no one can monopolize a commonly used word.
New Group Copyright Registration for Freelance Articles
In May, we organized a meeting with the Copyright Office to press the case for new regulations that would allow freelance writers to register up to 100 of their articles at one time, including online articles. Current group registration rules allow for registering only “contributions to periodicals,” with “periodicals” interpreted narrowly to exclude most online works. Registering articles on a one-by-one basis is impractical, and for most authors, economically unfeasible. But should your work be used without your permission, whether by a third-party website, a commercial pirate or any other infringer, you will need to have registered it in order to enforce your rights in court (and in the new small claims tribunal once it is enacted). Having your work registered helps significantly when trying to settle a claim, and it helps potential licensees find you as well. The new group registration, together with
the small claims court, will make it more affordable for freelance writers to enforce their rights.
At the March 1 Guild Council meeting, the Council adopted its first set of “principles.” These are formal positions or statements to which members can refer when asking to be respected and treated fairly as professionals. (See far right column.)
Unlike other workers—your plumber, say, or your doctor—authors are frequently asked and even expected to write or speak for free. It can be uncomfortable to
turn people down or ask to be paid. These principles will allow you to say, “As a Guild member, I do not write
for free,” or “I cannot allow my work to be used without compensation.” The principles are posted on our website with an explanation of why they are important. We hope you will find them useful and will link to the website on social media whenever you see the principles being violated.
Amazon Complaints Channel
Last but not least, the Guild has opened a new channel to resolve authors’ complaints to Amazon, in direct cooperation with the retailer. (See p. 30.)
Lest you fear we have forgotten the Fair Contract Initiative, we are close to completing our new Model Contract, which will serve as the basis for future conversations with publishers.
One of the issues we need to address with publishers is transparency in calculations of royalties, which includes accounting for deep discounts, and for that, we would like to hear from you about what information your royalty statements provide (or fail to provide), and whether the price at which various units were sold is provided, along with the number of units and the rate. There appears to be more deep-discounting than ever—where the publisher sells books at approximately 55 percent or more off the list price and is therefore contractually allowed to pay the author one-half to one-third of the normal royalty rate. We want to better understand the extent of deep-discounting since it can greatly reduce authors’ royalties. As freelancers, writers have few or no workplace protections and no collective bargaining. We aim to start changing that in the coming years, but to succeed, we need your collective support.
It is more important than ever that authors stand together in solidarity. That is what your Guild is for. You can help by encouraging your writer friends to join. The more of us there are, the stronger we are.