“We’re a meat-and-potatoes organization, not a wine-and-cheese organization.”
—former Authors Guild President Robert K. Massie
We helped restore authors’ legitimate tax deductions.
When the U.S. Treasury Department insisted a BENIGN-looking footnote in the Tax Reform Act of 1986 would force creative artists to capitalize their expenses against particular projects rather than deducting expenses in the year when they were incurred, the Guild mobilized artists, songwriters, and even Julia Child (who asked, “How do I allocate the oregano?”) in protest. By late 1988, the tax code was permanently changed in creators’ favor. Every time you take a deduction on your Schedule C, you have the Authors Guild to thank. Read more here.
We helped bring U.S. copyright law into line with the rest of the world.
For more than 100 years, the United States’ copyright laws were out of sync with much of the world and with the Berne Convention, an international treaty. Under Berne, works of authorship receive copyright protection for the life of the author plus many decades from the moment the work is fixed in tangible form. The American way was to require “formalities” like notice or registration before copyright was conferred and renewal to keep it in effect; an inadvertent error by an author or publisher could cause one’s work to become part of the public domain forever in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.
Because America’s unique rules left many foreign authors unprotected by American copyright, foreign countries often returned the favor and refused to cover American authors unless their work was published in a Berne signatory country like Canada.
The Authors Guild was at the forefront of urging a change in this country’s laws—and succeeded first with the passage of the Copyright Act of 1976, which removed many formalities, and then the Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988, which led directly to American membership in Berne the following year. Read more here.
We defended true “fair use” and helped expand what it means.
The Copyright Act of 1976 codified the concept of “fair use” in American law, but was silent on the issue of using unpublished material. In cases involving the letters of J. D. Salinger and the boyhood diaries of L. Ron Hubbard, decisions by U.S. Courts of Appeals stated that unpublished source materials were essentially protected from quotation—a terrible blow to reporters, historians, and biographers. In March 1990, the Guild announced its support for legislation to reverse the courts’ rulings. Thanks largely to the Guild’s efforts in cooperation with publishers, a law amending the Copyright Act was signed in October 1992. It added a single sentence: “The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.”
We won limits on authors’ legal liability.
As late as the early 1980s, it was standard practice for publishers to demand that authors indemnify them from any legal actions related to their books, such as libel or invasion of privacy lawsuits. Thanks to the Guild’s unyielding pressure, many publishers began including authors in the publishers’ insurance policies. By the end of 1982, it had become standard practice in the book industry. Read more here.
We won millions of dollars for authors whose works were distributed without their consent.
In 2000, the Authors Guild, along with two other organizations and 21 freelance writers, brought a class-action suit on behalf of thousands of writers whose work was appropriated for use in online databases without permission. After 14 years of wending its way through the courts, a settlement has finally been reached for $18 million. Checks in compensation for as much as $1,500 per infringed work are expected to land in writers’ mailboxes in the third quarter of 2015. Read more here.
And we keep fighting:
- For better contract terms
Industry “standard” contracts are a bad joke, full of unconscionable terms that no one who knows better would sign. We’ve told publishers this again and again—and our staff attorneys fight them again and again by showing members how to get better terms just by asking.
- For fairer royalties
At 25% of net, most publishers’ e-book royalties are shamefully low. The Guild continues to argue for a better deal.
- For action against piracy
We are fighting in Washington for better notice and takedown laws and policies, for laws prohibiting companies from making money selling ads on sites that sell or link to pirated versions of books, and for help fighting piracy abroad.
- For authors’ rights
Congress is conducting its first major, and much-needed, review of the Copyright Act of 1976. We are working with Congress and other organizations to ensure the best protection for authors under the copyright law. As part of that initiative, Congress is also looking to modernize the U.S. Copyright Office by updating its technology and providing it with full, independent regulatory authority; this will allow it to help interpret and refine copyright laws in a way that creators can understand and make use of. We believe this guidance is necessary as it becomes even more difficult to create simple, technologically-neutral laws in this age of increasing technological complexity. We are also lobbying for a Small Copyright Claims court which would enable individuals to bring suits for damages under a certain threshold ($30,000 is currently proposed) without having to hire a lawyer; as well as for a collective licensing scheme for mass digitization so that authors get some compensation from such uses of their works.
- To prevent online services’ misappropriation of authors’ intellectual property
In 2004, Google struck deals with five major university libraries to scan and copy millions of books in their collections—without authorization from or payment to the holders of the hundreds of thousands of books still under copyright. In 2005, the Authors Guild brought a class action suit demanding that Google be barred from infringing those copyrights and that monetary damages be granted. After both sides reached a proposed settlement that would have brought tens of millions of dollars to authors, a federal district court judge rejected that agreement, leading to years of negotiations and court appearances. In 2013, that same judge ruled that Google’s wholesale copying and dissemination of the works was “fair use.” The Guild strongly disagrees. We are currently appealing the case. As our appellate brief argues, “Copying millions of books for ingestion into a highly commercial search engine is not fair use.”Read more about Authors Guild v. Google.