Origin 5142014 112418 AM.bmpA group of writers and copyright experts concerned over Authors Guild overreach has formed its own new author advocacy group, the Authors Alliance, to advocate in favor of fair use of works. Publishers Weekly has a fairly long interview with one of its directors, law professor Pamela Samuelson of the UC Berkeley Center for Law and Technology.

(Samuelson’s name has popped up a few times on TeleRead as one of the critics of the proposed Google Books settlement and the Authors Guild’s role in it, and an organizer of the Berkeley Digital Library Copyright Project.)

The Authors Alliance is a 501(c)3 nonprofit group with a board of four directors, a 23-member advisory board, and about 200 founding members. Samuelson describes one of its missions as to provide authors with more information about copyright, license agreements such as Creative Commons (one of the Alliance’s co-founders and directors is also a founding director of Creative Commons), contracts, rights, and the sort of copyright issues that are new to the digital age. She says it is also intended to advocate in public policy debates for authors who want to make their works more widely available, and to reach out to other organizations to work together on specific issues.

Samuelson feels that the Authors Guild “does a great job representing the interests of the authors who subscribe to it,” but that Alliance members are more likely to appreciate the extra exposure Google Books gives their works. She also notes that the Alliance would not have brought the suit against Google that the Authors Guild did.

We think that Google has made Fair Use of these works. We think that the class action lawsuit [the Authors Guild] 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.

The advisory board listing reads in part like a who’s who of copyright reform activists, including such luminaries as danah boyd, Cory Doctorow, Joi Ito, Edward Felten, Brewster Kahle, and Lawrence Lessig. Given the number of complaints we’ve heard from those quarters about the Authors Guild’s stances, I’m only surprised they didn’t get a group like this together years ago.


  1. We should indulge in a moment of sympathy for these unfortunate law school professors. Many of them undoubtedly wish more people would read what they’ve written. I can understand that.

    Their plight is a terrible one. Having had to read legal documents at various times in my life, I know exactly where the problem lies. Who in their right mind would read a legal brief or a court decision when there was an alternative?

    Of course even legal documents are heart-stoppingly exciting in comparison to the regulations and laws about which they are commenting. Requiring prisoners of war to read the latter is a violation of the Geneva Convention ban on torture: “Tell us the top speed of your new fighter, or we’ll make you read again the USDA regulations about “The proper labeling of peanut butter jars.” “Oh no, not that. I’ll do anything you say.”

    Only occasionally can legal writing bring a moment of pleasure. About 2002, I was in a copyright dispute with the Tolkien estate’s lawyers. Rightly suspecting they had a weak case against my claims of fair use, they attempted to assert plagiarism, offering a long list of trite similarities that must have cost them thousands of dollars to compile. If I recall right, the list went on for some 40 pages. Many were from books I’d never seen.

    I spent about an hour rewriting my book to remove the similarities and then, in a brief paragraph of my response, I stated that, since none of those passages remained the same, the estate’s charges were now irrelevant. It was a rare moment of pleasure in a dispute that stretched on far too long.

    Now imagine these members of the Authors Alliance working for weeks on a court filing, knowing that even the judge and opposing counsel are likely to only scan what they’ve sweated over.

    That’s the very essence of futile. But it’s not a good argument to alter our copyright laws. Those who want to expand fair use can put a notice to that effect on their copyright page. My latest book allows up to three chapters to be used in a classroom without seeking permission.

    –Michael W. Perry, Untangling Tolkien & Lily’s Ride

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