Home » Books in General » Founder of Just-Launched Authors Alliance Talks to PW

Founder of Just-Launched Authors Alliance Talks to PW

14 May 2014

From Publishers Weekly:

For authors in the digital age, with an ever-broadening set of interests and goals, the Authors Guild is no longer the only game in town when it comes to advocacy. On May 21, the Authors Alliance will officially launch. Formed in the wake of the Google library litigation by University California Berkeley law professor Pamela Samuelson (among others) the Authors Alliance endeavors “to further the public interest in facilitating widespread access to works of authorship by helping authors navigate the opportunities and challenges of the digital age.” It will be also be a “voice for authors in discussions about public and institutional policies that might promote or inhibit broad dissemination.”

. . . .

How are you distinguished from the Authors Guild?

I think the Authors Guild does a great job representing the interests of the authors who subscribe to it. My experiences on the Authors Guild v. Google and the Authors Guid v. HathiTrust cases have led me to believe that as well-intentioned as they are in representing vigorously their members, they hold themselves out as though they represent the interests of all authors, and in my humble opinion, they don’t. When it comes to something like the AG v. HathiTrust, the members of our organization are likely to think that it was a good thing that Google scanned books from research library collections and made snippets available because more people know that our books exist; more people are likely to check them out of a library, look them up online if they are available, or even buy the books.

If you’re looking for one stark difference, we would not have brought that lawsuit. We think that Google has made Fair Use of these works. We think that the class action lawsuit they brought should not be certified as a class because they don’t represent the interests of the majority of the authors whose books were being scanned from the research library collections; most of those books were written by scholars, for scholars.

What are the goals of the Authors Alliance?

The Authors Alliance has both inward facing and outward facing roles. The inward facing role is to provide authors with information about copyrights, licensing agreements, alternative contract terms, the pros and cons of open access, the reversion of rights, and the termination of transfer. A lot of people who have works from 10 or 15 years ago that they want to make more widely available don’t necessarily know that much about copyright and licensing. In other words, “What are the options, how do you talk to your publisher about them, and what can you try to negotiate for?” We also seek to take advantage of the opportunities of networked digital environments that were not in place 10, 15, or 20 years ago when a lot of the works that authors want to make available were originally published.

An outward facing role is representing the interests of authors who want to make their works more widely available in public policy debates. We will launch with a statement of principles and proposals for copyright reform. To the extent that the Copyright Office or Congress takes initiative on orphan works or mass digitization, we will advocate for our interests and discuss why we think that orphan works, for example, is not just important to libraries, but also to those of us who do nonfiction research. When proposals come the table on these matters, we want to advocate for authors. Although libraries have done a great job talking about the importance for cultural heritage preservation purposes, there are some things that are not as important to them as to us.

. . . .

What kind of authors are you trying to appeal to?

We believe that there are authors of all kinds of works who share these values. We think the big uptick in the use of Creative Commons licenses is a sign that it is not just academics that want to make things widely available for the purpose of promoting knowledge and culture; however, we understand that the first audience that is likely to find our mission appealing will be academic authors. Academics have the advantage of already having an income, and we share the value of wanting to promote knowledge and culture. We have also been reaching out to people who are not academic authors, like Jonathan Lethem, Katie Hafner, Kevin Kelly, and Cory Doctorow, all of whom have joined our Advisory Board.

Have you thought about working with author agents instead of just authors?

It would be wonderful to work with agents! They have a lot of knowledge that would be beneficial to our membership. There would be great value in being able to learn from agents that represent different kinds of authors, and to synthesize and make more widely available some of the insights that they have gained through their daily engagements with these issues.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to Chris for the tip.

Books in General

7 Comments to “Founder of Just-Launched Authors Alliance Talks to PW”

  1. Sorry, I don’t buy into this “fair use” argument for Google. They scanned too much of each book without permission to make it “fair use”. Besides one must wonder how much use a partial novel is to anybody. As for scholarly works, you also need the whole book to use it properly. Random pages serve nobody. One has to wonder why it was done in the first place.

    • It was done so that people could go to their search engine, type “purple unicorn,” and get a complete listing of all books in which the phrase “purple unicorn” appears. Just like how Google makes several complete copies of the entire web (save for those who have robots.txt files to disallow it) continuously in order to find any time someone uses the phrase “purple unicorn” on a web page. Then, if they want, they can click through to Amazon or Barnes & Noble or wherever and buy the book. Many of them do, and the authors involved in the Alliance are happy about that.

      To index something, you have to scan all of it. It was never part of Google’s plan to get into the e-bookstore business with those works until the Authors Guild proposed it as part of their settlement.

      Funny thing, nobody’s ever tried to sue Google for copying the entire world wide web to its own servers, even though it’s every bit as much a copyright violation as copying all those books to its own servers is, and done for the same reason.

      • The definition of fair use is essentially “whatever the courts agree is fair use.” That horse has already left the barn.

  2. the google scans which they said were secured appear to be all over the pirate sites. google’s ‘do no evil’ given their stance with NSA and with their so called ‘secure scanning’ bs, and the libraries they scanned paid huge amounts of money by google… google is the new ‘behind every fortune are crimes.’

    the new group, run by a lawyer and academics with a few actual writers thrown in, is for themselves. I read the whole interview at pw, the woman wants more distrib and show for academic authors. On the shelf at a famous book review, the shelves of ‘academic’ work went mostly unreviewed by the readerly [if I could put it that way] reviewers. Why? Because they would rather review people who can write AND have knowledge, rather than people who may know something but its barreled up in boring writing page after page. Its not a matter of distribution or publicity re academic presses. It’s a matter of the catalog being filled to bursting with bad writing. Just like EVERY other genre. There is no magical ‘pass’ because it’s ‘academic.’ Good writing is good writing. Bad writing dooms even a halfway good idea.

    if AG is not for all authors, neither is this new thing. I read the interview; there is nothing that is not already within reach. If they bring a lot of money to the table in lobbying laws, they willl be just one more of the shrill shills on the hill.

    I think the grass roots authors MUST form their own group. I would join. I dont want academics calling the shots, nor intellectualiana. Just good representation legally and posts on ALL sides of the issues. What a concept. All sides.

    • Thanks for parsing this, USAF. I didn’t feel like clicking through, but couldn’t discern what this was all about from the excerpt. Your explanation clarifies it wonderfully.

      Bad writing dooms even a halfway good idea.

      Somehow that made me laugh. In a good way. So true.

  3. Terrence OBrien

    A group of authors furthering the public interest. Maybe there will be another group to further authors’ interests?

  4. Google ain’t the problem.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.