A new type of authors' organization: an exclusive interview with the Executive Director of Authors Alliance

IPKat is always interested in private sector initiatives regarding IP rights. One that recently attracted his furry attention is the establishment of Authors Alliance, here, located in Berkeley, California. IPKat has invited Brianna Schofield, its Executive Director, to engage in a written interview so we can learn more about the organization and its activities.

Question 1—Brianna, why don't begin with describing why Authors Alliance was established, who is its target audience, and what are its principal initiatives and activities?
Authors Alliance is a nonprofit organization founded in 2014 to represent the interests of authors who want to take advantage of the opportunities now available to make their works more widely available through digital networked environments. Other authors’ organizations have not been focused on authors’ interests in having their works found and read, or in the long-term preservation of their works. Authors Alliance fills that void. We give voice to these authors by providing educational resources and advocating for sound copyright policies that help them get—and keep—their works in the hands of readers.

Because authors would generally rather be writing than combing through statutes or unpacking contract terms, our educational efforts aim to make the process of understanding and managing copyrights as painless as possible! We provide tools and resources for authors that are both prospective (such as helping authors make sound publication decisions) and retrospective (such as helping authors regain rights to previously published works and make them newly available). You can find our suite of resources here. We are currently working on a guide to book publication contracts. It aims to demystify common clauses and provide suggestions about kinds of terms that authors may want to consider negotiating for with their publishers.

One of our longstanding projects in this space is helping authors get the rights back (often called rights reversions) in their works, often for books that are no longer commercially active. Rights reversion is a win-win for authors, for the public, and for publishers, as authors can get their books in the hands of readers again and the public gains access to historically and culturally important works. And we’ve found that publishers are often quite willing to revert rights, particularly for books that are no longer commercially viable, so they no longer have to maintain records about those books.

We also represent authors whose voices have long been absent in public policy debates. Through activities such as submitting public comments to the Copyright Office, participating in rulemakings, and weighing in as amicus curiae in litigation, we support sound policies that help authors create their works, make them accessible to the public, and ensure their preservation. As a recent example, we’re petitioning the U.S. Copyright Office for an exemption to anti-circumvention provisions in U.S. law that prevent some authors from making fair use of video clips in multimedia e-books. You can read more about our policy efforts here.

Question 2—The 2017 Annual Report states that "the mission of Authors Alliance is to further the public interest in facilitating widespread access to works of authorship by assisting and representing authors who want to disseminate knowledge and products of the imagination broadly." Can you please elaborate on this?
The part of our mission statement that you quote guides our work helping authors make sure that copyright law and their publication decisions do not get in the way of these goals. Although copyright law is intended to balance the interests of the public and creators, it can sometimes get in the way of both.

For example, its automatic protection means that many more works are protected than necessary to incentivize their creation, and its long duration means that many works are at risk of becoming orphans. Routine terms in publication contracts, such as provisions that ask authors to give their copyrights to the publisher for the life of copyright, can also work against these dual purposes when the commercial life of a work is much shorter than the grant of rights.

Our resources and policy efforts aim to address these issues, by, for example, explaining to authors how to work around default copyright protection by applying Creative Commons licenses to their works, how to negotiate for limited-term grants in their publication contracts, or how to get their rights back through rights reversion or by exercising termination of transfer rights. All of these things serve not only the authors who want their works to have long and productive lives, but also the public, whose access to these works is not more restricted than the author would like.

Question 3—This Kat likes to think of copyright law as a dynamic system that seeks to balance the interests of the creator, the commercializer and the public. How does Authors Alliance, with its eponymous focus on authors, fit within this tri-partite framework?
One of the ways that Authors Alliance serves authors is by helping them understand when their interests align with the traditional framework of author-commercializer-public, and when their interests may be better served by taking advantage of new avenues for dissemination enabled by new technologies. While publishing through traditional means is still the right choice for many authors, authors now have more venues than ever before to share their works with the public. Some may choose to take commercial interests out of the equation completely, while others may wait until a work’s commercial life is over before harnessing these opportunities. Still others work with commercial publishers to distribute their works and simultaneously release their works freely to the public. There is no one “right” way, but Authors Alliance empowers authors with the information they need to rethink traditional practices and make their works available in the ways they want.

Question 4—Two of the five members of the Board of Directors are university librarians. This suggests a narrow focus for the kinds of creative works that are of particular interest for Authors Alliance. Is this impression correct?
Although many of our members are authors of academic works, our membership also includes writers of fiction and nonfiction, poets, journalists, and publishers—some of whom are members of our advisory board. Our members are united by their desire to see their works widely read, and to understand and manage their rights so as not to inhibit that goal. Of course, how different authors are able to implement these ideals varies. Academic authors typically already have an income, and as a result may be more inclined and able to release their works on open access terms, for example. Authors who rely on their writing for an income may benefit more from our resources that help them understand and negotiate for author-friendly contract terms, or to get their rights back when their publisher is no longer exploiting their work. As we continue to build our suite of resources and tools for authors, we are mindful of the broad range of authors we serve.

Question 5—The place of "fair use" in the work of Authors Alliance particularly grabbed this Kat's attention, because from an author's perspective, it is a double-edged sword: the user welcomes a broad interpretation, while the author whose contents are being used may be less inclined. How does Authors Alliance navigate between these two poles?
There are more shared interests between authors as users of copyrighted works and authors whose works are being used than first meets the eye, so these poles may not be as far apart or difficult to navigate as one might initially assume. As content creators themselves, authors tend to be responsible fair users, and many intuitively understand the difference between using works in a way that is a substitute for the original and using works in a way that adds new meaning or understanding.

In fact, many of our members encourage fair uses of their works, in part because they understand that some fair uses will help put their works in front of new audiences. For example, our members have spoken out in favor of fair use in the Authors Guild v. Google Books case and in Cambridge University Press v. Albert (the Georgia State University case). In the Google Books case, we submitted an amicus brief on behalf of our members that argued in support of the fair use defense. In part, the brief emphasized the broad social benefits that Book Search creates for authors and the public by opening up new ways for readers to find books. In the Georgia State case, we submitted an amicus brief that includes statements from several authors with works at issue in the case who explained why they welcome fair uses of their book chapters in classroom settings and described how these uses enhance their incentives to create. These are just a couple of examples of the ways Authors Alliance highlights how fair use can benefit authors whose content is being used by others.

Question 6—The Annual Report states that it seeks to encourage the availability of one's work while not sacrificing the author's reputation and integrity. That sounds a lot like moral rights protection. How does Authors Alliance intend to accomplish this in a legal environment such as the U.S., which offers only thin moral rights protection?
Moral rights, or “non-economic rights,” are important to many authors, and particularly to those who write to contribute to knowledge and culture. Authors don’t enjoy strong moral rights protection under U.S. law, but values such as attribution and integrity are nevertheless supported through authorial norms.

Authors Alliance’s educational resources for authors reflect this expectation. Our open access resources, including our guide to Understanding Open Access, help authors navigate when and how to license works to the public, while still ensuring they get credit for their work. (When Creative Commons launched the 2.0 version of its CC licenses back in 2004, it made its “BY” condition standard because its stats at the time indicated 97-98% of licensors opted to require attribution!) Our guide to Fair Use for Nonfiction Authors describes how authorial communities consider it good manners to acknowledge sources and suggests that it is good practice, even when making a fair use – this despite that even though U.S. copyright law does not require attribution.

In addition to promoting authors’ non-economic values in our educational efforts, we also weigh in at the policy level. Last year, we responded to a notice of inquiry from the U.S. Copyright Office, which is undertaking a public study on moral rights for authors. In our comment, we described why we support creators’ rights to integrity and attribution (subject to some limitations and exceptions that protect downstream creative reuse), and why we believe that these non-economic authorial rights should be formally recognized in U.S. copyright law. In line with our mission, we also encouraged the Copyright Office to consider recognizing other non-economic author rights, namely, the right to revive one’s work if it is no longer available commercially and the right to revise one’s work over time.

Question 7—Where do you see Authors Alliance by 2025?
By 2025, I hope Authors Alliance is the one-stop shop for educational resources and tools for authors who write to be read, and that we will continue to help authors take advantage of opportunities presented by the rapidly changing publishing ecosystem. We’ve been steadily growing our membership, our resources, our staff, and our operation since our founding four years ago – I have no doubt the same will be true over the next seven years! I imagine we’ll also continue to have strong partnerships with like-minded organizations and institutions, and perhaps develop formal training materials for these partners to further amplify our reach.

Brianna, thanks for sharing your thoughts with IPKat.

It is my pleasure; thank you for your interest in Authors Alliance and membership, here.

Interview by Neil Wilkof

Picture on lower right, "The Brontë Sisters by Patrick Branwell Brontë", restored, National Portrait Gallery, NPG 1725.
A new type of authors' organization: an exclusive interview with the Executive Director of Authors Alliance A new type of authors' organization: an exclusive interview with the Executive Director of  Authors Alliance Reviewed by Neil Wilkof on Wednesday, March 07, 2018 Rating: 5

1 comment:

  1. So this is an "authors association", purportedly representing authors, in the same way that a Soviet trade union was a "workers association", purportedly representing workers.

    Every time an issue pits the rights of the workers/authors against those seeking to exploit their work - it backs the exploiters.

    Perhaps a change of name is needed, to reflect its role more accurately.


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