As a founding member of a new organization, the Authors Alliance, I feel compelled to explain why I urge authors to join AA (oh dear, that’s an unfortunate acronym, especially given the historical linkage between writers and alcohol. . .) rather than the established Authors Guild. Why? Because the Authors Alliance advocates for an author-centered copyright law. A quick example: AA authors want to be found and to be read, so we support the federal court decisions that bless the Google book project under fair use principles. We want Google to be able to make snippets of our works available so that readers can find us! The Authors Guild is the sole remaining organization fighting the Google books project. Moreover, I can see another important conflict in the future. Most authors realize that we are constantly building on works created in the past. The Authors Alliance is therefore very likely to oppose any further extensions to the term of copyright. We are constantly mining the public domain, but no works have fallen into the public domain in the United States since 1998! This precious resource is currently frozen, held hostage by Disney and friends. The Authors Guild will almost surely follow the lead of publishers and support further term extensions. Any group with the interest of both authors and the public at heart will fight a further extension of the copyright term.
Two examples of the evils of term extension will suffice. First, freezing the public domain and maintaining the copyright status for most works published after 1923 has keep thousands of books off of the shelves of Amazon.com, out of sight and unavailable tot he public. You can see graphic proof of this in recent research summarized beautiful by Rebecca Rosen of the Atlantic Monthly entitled “How Copyright Made Mid-Century Works Vanish.” Second, authors who would like build on works that should be falling into the public domain have seen their creative efforts stymied. Wouldn’t you like to hear my musical version of the Great Gatsby? (well, maybe not the best example).
You get a better idea after a brief perusal of the Authors Alliance web site which states boldly: “We have formed an Authors Alliance to represent authors who create to be read, to be seen, and to be heard. We believe that these authors have not been well served by misguided efforts to strengthen copyright. These efforts have failed to provide meaningful financial returns to most authors, while instead unacceptably compromising the preservation of our own intellectual legacies and our ability to tap our collective cultural heritage.”
More to come in future posts on these innovative efforts to put the public interest back into copyright law.