Authors Guild Cements Reputation As Luddites: Hates The Internet And Especially Amazon

from the fighting-against-the-future dept

The Authors Guild has something of a reputation for being anti-innovation, anti-technology, anti-future and anti-consumer. It’s also anti-small author. And it appears to be flexing its lobbying muscle this week to make all of this clear. It starts off with a move to ask for a dangerous idea in copyright reform, asking the House Judiciary Committee to implement a “notice and staydown” provision in any revamped copyright law. Just last year we warned people that “notice and staydown” was the way in which the legacy copyright industry extremists were looking to rebrand SOPA, and it has quickly become the preferred language of those looking to expand copyright and to attack innovation online.

The Authors Guild letter is ridiculous beyond belief. It starts off with the usual whining about poor, poor authors unable to make a living any more.

We are writing to ask you to make certain much-needed changes to the Copyright Act to help curtail Internet book piracy. Writers’ income is in steep decline. There are many reasons for this, but a decrease in copyright protection and the aggregate effect of Internet piracy play an important role: the entire publishing industry loses $80 to $100 million to piracy annually, according to a 2012 estimate by the Association of American Publishers. Meanwhile, a recent Authors Guild survey shows that approximately 67% of our authors earn less than the poverty level from their writing, with median writing-related income at $8,000, down 24% since 2009, when e-book sales started to take off.

Books provide an essential contribution to our society. Most authors don’t expect to get rich from what they do: they write to inform, educate, and entertain, and in doing so add to our common store of knowledge and culture. But to keep writing, they must be able to support themselves and their families. This has become increasingly difficult in the digital age.

Notice how, like the music and movie industry’s before them, the Authors Guild immediately attacks online file sharing as if it must be the cause, ignoring all possible alternatives. In the book space this is particularly ridiculous, because the lowered barriers to entry from the internet means that many authors can now be published when that wasn’t a possibility before. The number of ebook authors has exploded. Perhaps — just perhaps — rather than blaming “piracy” for the difficulty the elite club of the Authors Guild has, they might recognize the law of supply and demand, and recognize that the greater competition means that the monetary spend on the written word has been spread more widely. That’s allowed lots of brand new authors to make a living from their writing, despite being passed over by the traditional publishers.

And, yes, many do not make a living, but that has always been the case. I know many people who have written books, and even those who have tried to “make a career” of it. And most don’t. It’s just not that easy to make a living as a book writer, and it’s not because of piracy. As authors like Paulo Coehlo have found, file sharing can help authors build a larger audience and to make more money in the long run, if they learn how to embrace their fans, rather than actively push them away, like the Authors Guild often does.

Online book piracy, once the province of shady offshore websites, has migrated to mainstream American distribution platforms. Our “Notice and Takedown” system is completely inadequate to combat this problem. What we need instead is a “Notice and Stay-Down” regime: once a webhost knows a work is being infringed, it should not receive continued “safe harbor” immunity from claims of infringement unless it takes reasonable measures to remove all copies of the same work.

As we explained last year, this is one of those ideas that copyright holders love, because they don’t understand copyright law in the slightest, or how any such system would inevitably work. The main problem is that copyright is context specific. Identical copies could be infringing or not infringing, depending on context. For example, remember when Viacom sued YouTube over video clips that Viacom itself had uploaded? A “notice-and-staydown” provision takes away the context and with it plenty of non-infringing works as well.

The Authors Guild also argues that it’s somehow easy for companies to automate all this:

ISPs, on the other hand, do have the ability to monitor piracy. Technology that can identify and filter pirated material is now commonplace. It only makes sense, then, that ISPs should bear the burden of limiting piracy on their sites, especially when they are profiting from the piracy and have the technology to conduct automated searches and takedowns. Placing the burden of identifying pirated content on the individual author, who has no ability to have any real impact on piracy, as the current regime does, makes no sense at all. It is technology that has enabled the pirate marketplace to flourish, and it is technology alone that has the capacity to keep it in check.

This is just wrong on so many levels. First, if the Authors Guild is so worried about big companies, a policy like this makes them more entrenched. Even if we were to accept the Authors’ Guild’s faulty claim that these tools actually work (they don’t), the argument that tech companies now have easy access to these tools is also not true. Big companies have access to these tools. But the next generation of startups do not. Thus, this policy would leave Amazon and Google in charge and block out any new company. Is that really what the Authors Guild wants?

Second, these systems don’t work. We point out false takedowns on YouTube via ContentID all the time (and frankly we don’t write about most of the ones that we see). Advocating a filter that will inevitably lead to greater censorship is a ridiculous position for the Authors Guild to be taking. And, by then putting legal liability on tech companies if they don’t do this makes even worse, as it will only create more incentives for the tech companies to over censor to avoid any possible liability.

There’s a reason why the burden does not belong on the intermediaries and it’s pretty straightforward: the intermediaries don’t know if it’s infringing. That’s something that only the copyright holders can legitimately determine. That’s why the system requires notice from the copyright holders.

The purpose of copyright is to encourage the creation of new works–including and especially literary works, which contribute so greatly to our nation’s store of knowledge and culture. To continue to work effectively, US copyright law must provide meaningful protection against the widespread online piracy of books and journals, so that authors can afford to write them.

Actually, the purpose of copyright is to “promote the progress” of learning and education, and it’s supposed to do that in two parts: one by creating incentives for new works, but also to then benefit the public by increasing distribution of those works. And, we’re already living in a golden age with more books being written and published today than ever before. To argue that ebook piracy has somehow taken away the incentive to write… well, the evidence just suggests that’s wrong. And, again, most authors never make much money at all. To complain that authors don’t make enough is a different issue altogether and has little to do with copyright.

Of course, the Authors Guild didn’t stop there. Also this week it went on the offense against Amazon, asking the Justice Department to investigate Amazon for antitrust violations — even though the DOJ already looked into Amazon’s practices and found them to be fine (instead finding Apple had violated antitrust law in colluding with publishers to raise ebook prices). But, don’t mind the details, the Authors Guild is sure Amazon is to blame. According to the Authors Guild, the fact that consumers benefit from lower book prices shouldn’t let Amazon off the hook.

Without commenting on the outcome of the Apple case, or the facts that led the majority to its conclusion, we’d like to point out the long-term dangers of interpreting antitrust law solely to favor low book prices over a thriving competitive and robust literary marketplace.

Yes, how dare you focus on the actual benefits to consumers, DOJ!

A related letter from “Authors United,” again seems to attack Amazon for daring to offer good prices to consumers, as if that’s some sort of horrible antitrust violation.

Personally, I think it would be great if there were more competition in the ebook space, though we have seen it start to expand, with Apple, Google and others entering the market. But, the reason those companies (despite their own market power) have had trouble making a real dent in the market is because people really like Amazon. Amazon does a pretty good job making it easy and convenient to buy ebooks, to read reviews, to find similar works, and — of course — to read the ebooks as well. It would be great if there was more competition — and that it would lead to lower prices, better features and less DRM. I’d be all for it. But that’s not what the Authors Guild is arguing for. They don’t want an open marketplace. They don’t want competition. They want higher prices and less competition from the riff raff authors who aren’t signed to big publishers and aren’t members of the Authors Guild.

It’s not hard to see the consistent logic behind all of this. The Authors Guild doesn’t like the internet at all. It used to have a good thing in the old days, pre-internet. It could keep out the riff raff, anoint authors as the chosen ones, and make money off of those few giant authors. These days it’s much harder and there is a real marketplace. The Authors Guild can’t compete, so it runs to the government to “fix” things. It attacks internet companies like Google and Amazon not because they’re doing anything unfair, but because they’re actually bringing real market economics to the market for books. And the Authors Guild can’t allow that to to continue.

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Companies: amazon, authors guild, google

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Comments on “Authors Guild Cements Reputation As Luddites: Hates The Internet And Especially Amazon”

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Anonymous Coward says:

The author’s guild is an intentionally misleading misnomer. They don’t represent authors but distributors. It should be called the distributors guild. Their hatred for Amazon is similar to the shill’s hatred for Google and Megaupload. It’s not about consumers or content creators or the quality of the content it’s about distributors and these avenues allow authors to provide consumers with content without them and that’s what they hate.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: "The elephant in the room pays us, so we'll just be ignoring him..."

From that article:

In 2004 Random House, which had previously paid 50% of its revenues for e-book sales, anticipated the coming boom in e-book sales and cut its e-rates significantly. Other publishers followed, and gradually e-royalties began to coalesce around 25%. By 2010 it was clear that publishers had successfully tipped the scales on the longstanding partnership between author and publisher to achieve a 75-25 balance in their favor.

The publishers are taking 75% of the profit from sales of ebooks, leaving authors 25%, and the authors’ guild is blaming piracy for authors not making ‘enough’ from ebook sales?

Wouldn’t do to blame the publishers though, oh my no, so clearly any ‘lost’ profits are entirely thanks to piracy, and not due to the parasites taking the huge cuts from sales, or the vast explosion of competition leading to less for individual authors.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: "The elephant in the room pays us, so we'll just be ignoring him..."

Wouldn’t do to blame the publishers though, oh my no

The authors have to agree with the copyright owners, that is the publishers, if they wish their books to remain available to the public. They have the same problem that musicians signed to the major labels have, somebody else controls the sales of their works.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

we’d like to point out the long-term dangers of interpreting antitrust law solely to favor low book prices over a thriving competitive and robust literary marketplace.

And what exactly would you like to point out? The two are one and the same, because a thriving, competitive marketplace always drives prices down. That’s, like, Capitalism 101, guys…

Or, to borrow a local meme, Author’s Guild just hates it when the laws of economics are enforced.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Authors Guild survey shows that approximately 67% of our authors earn less than the poverty level from their writing.

I would like to ask the Author’s Guild to make certain much-needed changes to their membership. How about you only let writers join you’re guild if they can actually make a living at writing? Then you won’t have to complain that two-thirds of your members can’t make a living.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I would ask the other questions they’re not supplying answers to as well, such as:

– How has the income level changed for these authors over time? (i.e. what were they making before eBooks were popular)
– How many new works have they created (i.e. are they still writing, or are they just whining that a book they wrote in 1972 isn’t paying their new mortgage)
– Are all their books in print? (physically and in electronic form)

If their membership has seen a comfortable living evaporate beneath them quicker than they can write new books and nobody’s buying the copies that give them higher royalties, I can generate a little sympathy. I think the “solutions” offered are idiotic, but at least I can agree that something needs to be done.

If (as I suspect is more likely) they either didn’t make a lot of money to begin with, haven’t bothered writing new material or don’t have their full catalogue available to buy, I have zero sympathy.

The piracy angle is laughable either way. When I can quite legally buy second hand physical copies of most of the books I want to read for less than a dollar, but these morons are still trying to charge me $15 for the less valuable eBook copy, the problem isn’t that I can also choose to get it for free.

MrTroy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Good questions, but there’s at least one more:

– Have the qualifications for membership to the AG changed?

If AG membership was previously only held by authors who are published, then survivorship bias will greatly inflate their incomes compared to now, if you also include self-published authors. Basically you’re comparing the old income of the 1% who were accepted, vs the new income of the 100% who applied.

Of course that’s going to go down.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Very good point. According to Wikipedia, they have around 9,000 members, so I don’t think they’ve been inundated with new authors. However, clicking through to their actual website, I can see that they do accept freelance and self-published authors although they state a minimum income of $5,000 over the last 18 months.

My impression from that is that they probably have a number of members who have seen their revenues fall and have joined the guild hoping to leverage their promised legal and copyright advice to increase their income. Since they’re not demanding that new members actually make a living above poverty level when they join, these people most likely skew the results. They wasted their membership fee in my opinion, but there’s that.

That’s of course assuming that they attract new members on a regular basis. The other possibility is that their membership has stagnated, and they’re currently only representing luddites who demand that they turn back the clock to the “good old days” and the guild will either die or join the modern reality when those people die off or retire.

Anonymous Coward says:

Because competition from online sources has nothing to do with this according to the authors guild.

Maybe free, non spellchecked stories are good enough for me as long as the actual content is compelling

Maybe I’d like to buy an indie game instead of a book

Maybe I’m so occupied with reddit and PvE multiplayer that I don’t need other ways to spend my time

Or about a million other maybes

Anonymous Coward says:

Oh what a shock!

So are you telling me that you are losing money when people gain access to a global network with translators instead of incomplete dictionaries, the sharing of information between peers instead of gaining information from just schools and books, or an encyclopedia for free that would normally cost a couple of hundred thousand to own (taking the size into account) and finally alternative selling methods without the “guild”.
What evil! It must be fought at all costs.
(feel free to provide your own examples of free knowledge. There are 1000’s of them)

Anonymous Coward says:

Want to know what really sucks about this situation? It’s that since private corporations have no moral compass and won’t police themselves, everyone else is going to have something pushed down our throat by the government. There will be a works database instituted by the government, which will no doubt be abused the same way the NSA has abused theirs.

John Cressman (profile) says:


Could it be that the main reason they are losing money is that there are now PLENTY of alternative methods to publishing and not putting any money in their coffers?

When I published my two books, I looked into several alternatives and decided to end up self publishing. I made MUCH more than going through a traditional publishing house where I MAYBE would have earned a buck a book.

The secondary reasons are… WHO READS ANYMORE?! I love reading and I love books, but there’s been fewer and fewer that intrigue me. Most of it is regurgitated stuff with the same old predictable plots. And most kids nowadays don’t read, except their facebook and texts. They get their entertainment from games and TV.

It’s a different world. Keep up, or get left behind.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

May I Use The Term "Paradigm Shift?"

It’s not just that the number of e-book authors has exploded. It’s all that other competition for people’s reading time. We have instant access to news and analysis and in-depth reporting from all over the planet.

I’ve purchased a great many science fiction novels in my life, but that’s almost stopped over the last 15 years. Not because I stopped reading, and not because of piracy. It’s because I can read the live blogs and forum posts of REAL LIFE planetary scientists and spacecraft engineers. Most any other genre of novels gets trumped by real life online content too.

Anonymous Coward says:

following blindly in the footsteps of the movie and music studios by wanting their items protected, expecting anyone and everyone else to do the protecting for them, free of charge!

has it yet dawned on the USA hierarchy what absolute pricks they have made of themselves and how they have manacled progress to almost a standstill, just to please their friends in the entertainment industries? then add in the excuses for spying on everyone, protecting no one after doing it, detecting no bad guys either and we have a recipe for a complete and utter fuck up which no one will even have the balls to admit is the case, let alone how and who started it!!

andy says:

Copyright database

the EU has already talked about having a database on one website where anyone can have access to the data needed about any copyright work so they can ask for the cost to pay a licence or the contact details of those that have copyright so they can ask for or advise of fair use.

Not surprisingly the copyright businesses do not want this, the reasons are not given but i suspect that if there was a database and they were given 2 years to add all their copyright content to it with all the details of the creator they would lose money in some way, maybe from people being able to bypass the middlemen / licensing organisations that just want a cut of everything made from any content.

I hope the EU does make a law that all content must be listed in one place on one website and if it is not there it is free to use and any claims of copyright after a certain date are not allowed to be added so using content that has no copyright when you use it does not get payments if they copyright it at a later date…

It would make things a lot easier for everyone and cut out a lot of red tape and also abandoned works would be easy to check and use.

Anonymous Coward says:

Never understood why ANYONE would use the ‘authors guild’ for anything.
Every single executive there has stolen funds from authors, and embezzled money from the guild itself.

It’s a take-take-take criminal organization that uses a veneer of respectability (which it’s in the process of pissing away) to cover up for blatant and constant theft.

Also see: Authors guild/tax evasion

Wendy Cockcroft says:

Real market economics needs to be applied to all the creative arts, not just books. Nobody should be exempt from the forces of supply and demand just because they’re creative. Other business models exist. These people ought to be exploring them instead of howling indignantly that they’re not able to stop the damn tide from coming in, Canute-style.

Jeff says:


The Author’s Guild seems especially tech clueless given that they cannot distinguish between an ISP and a site that hosts the ‘illegal’ content:

“ISPs, on the other hand, do have the ability to monitor piracy. Technology that can identify and filter pirated material is now commonplace. It only makes sense, then, that ISPs should bear the burden of limiting piracy on their sites, especially when they are profiting from the piracy and have the technology to conduct automated searches and takedowns.”

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