Publishers Lose Their Shit After Authors Push Back On Their Attack On Libraries

from the smear-campaign dept

On Friday, we wrote about hundreds of authors signing a letter calling out the big publishers’ attacks on libraries (in many, many different ways). The publishers pretend to represent the best interests of the authors, but history has shown over and over again that they do not. They represent themselves, and use the names of authors they exploit to claim the moral high ground they do not hold.

It’s no surprise, then, that the publishers absolutely fucking lost their shit after the letter came out. The Association of American Publishers put out a statement falsely claiming that the letter, put out by Fight for the Future (FftF), and signed by tons of authors from the super famous to the less well known, was actually “disinformation in the Internet Archive case.” And, look, if you’re at the point you’re blaming the Internet Archive for something another group actually did, you know you’ve lost, and you’re just lashing out.

Perhaps much more telling is that the Authors Guild actually put out an even more aggressive statement against Fight for the Future. Now, as best selling author Barry Eisler (who signed onto Fight for the Future’s letter) wrote write here on Techdirt years ago, it’s been clear for a while that the Authors Guild is not actually representing the best interests of authors. It has long been a front group for the publishers themselves.

The Authors Guild’s response to the FftF letter simply confirms this.

First, it claims that authors were misled into signing the letter by an earlier, different draft of the letter. This is simply false. The Authors Guild is making shit up because they just can’t believe that maybe authors actually support this.

They do name one author, Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket), who had signed on, but removed his name before the letter was even published. But… I’m guessing the real reason that probably happened was that the publishers (who learned about the letter before it was published as proved by this email that was sent around prior to the release) FLIPPED OUT when they saw Handler’s name was on the letter. That’s because in their lawsuit against the Internet Archive’s open library project, they rely heavily on the claim that Lemony Snicket’s books are available there.

It seems reasonable to speculate that the publishers saw his name was on the letter, realized it undermined basically the crux of their case, and came down like a ton of bricks on him to pressure him into un-signing the letter. That story, at the very least, makes more sense than someone like Handler somehow being “tricked” into signing a letter that very clearly says what it says.

The Authors Guild’s other claims are equally sketchy.

The lawsuit against Open Library is completely unrelated to the traditional rights of libraries to own and preserve books. It is about Open Library’s attempt to stretch fair use to the breaking point – where any website that calls itself a library could scan books and make them publicly available – a practice engaged in by ebook pirates, not libraries.

This completely misrepresents what the Open Library does, and its direct parallel to any physical library, in that it buys a copy of a book and then can lend out that copy of the book. The courts have already established that scanning books is legal fair use — thanks to a series of cases the Authors Guild brought and lost (embarrassingly so) — and the Open Library then only allows a one-to-one lending of ebooks to actual books. It is functionally equivalent to any other library in any way.

And this is actually important, living at a time when these very same publishers are trying to use twisted interpretations of copyright law, to insist that they can limit how libraries buy and lend ebooks in ways that simply are not possible under the law with regular books.

Also, there’s this bit of nonsense:

The lawsuit is being brought only against IA’s Open Library; it will not impact in any way the Wayback Machine or any other services IA offers.

This is laughable. The lawsuit is asking for millions and millions of dollars from the Internet Archive. If it loses the case, there’s a very strong likelihood that the entire Internet Archive will need to shut down, because it will be unable to pay. Even if the Internet Archive could survive, the idea that this non-profit would be forced to fork over tens of millions of dollars wouldn’t have any impact on other parts of its offerings is laughable.

Fight for the Future has hit back at these accusations:

As expected, corporate publishing industry lobbyists have responded by attempting to undermine the demands of these authors by circulating false and condescending talking points, a frequent tactic lobbyists use to divert attention from the principled actions of activists.

The statement from the Authors Guild specifically asserts, without evidence, that “multiple authors” who signed this letter feel they were “misled”. This assertion is false and we challenge these lobbyists to either provide evidence for their claim or retract it. 

It’s repugnant for industry lobbying associations who claim to represent authors to dismiss the activism of author-signatories like Neil Gaiman, Chuck Wendig, Naomi Klein, Robert McNamee, Baratunde Thurston, Lawrence Lessig, Cory Doctorow, Annalee Newitz, and Douglas Rushkoff, or claim that these authors were somehow misled into signing a brief and clear letter issuing specific demands for the good of all libraries. Corporate publishing lobbyists are free to disagree with the views stated in our letter, but it’s unacceptable for them to make false claims about our organization or the authors who signed.

They also highlight how many authors who signed onto the letter talked about how proud they are that their books are available at the Internet Archive, which is not at all what you would expect if the Open Library was actually about “piracy.”

Author Elizabeth Kate Switaj said when signing: “My most recently published book is on the Internet Archive—and that delights me.”  Dan Gillmor said: “Big Publishing would outlaw public libraries if it could—or at least make it impossible for libraries to buy and lend books as they have traditionally done, to enormous public benefit—and its campaign against the Internet Archive is a step toward that goal.” Sasha Costanza-Cook called publisher’s actions against the Internet Archive “absolutely shameful” and Laura Gibbs said “it’s the library I use most, and I am proud to see my books there.”

They, also, rightly push back on the totally nonsense claims that FftF is “not independent” and is somehow a front for the Internet Archive. I know people at both organizations, and this assertion is laughable. The two organizations agree on many things, but are absolutely and totally independent. This is nothing but a smear from the Authors Guild which can’t even fathom that most authors don’t like the publishers or the way the Authors Guild has become an organization that doesn’t look out for the best interests of all authors, but rather just a few of the biggest names.

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Companies: aap, authors guild, fight for the future, internet archive

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Comments on “Publishers Lose Their Shit After Authors Push Back On Their Attack On Libraries”

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Anonymous Coward says:


Of course, to hear brain-dead morons like the Bayside Advisory apologist tell it, if you don’t respect the demands and complaints of copyright maximalists like publishers they’ll simply lobby for even stricter laws to benefit them. The truth is that you don’t have to make fun of copyright trolls for that to happen. They’ll do it regardless. The least that every moral citizen can do is call out copyright abuse whenever it happens, as well as those who attempt to defend such practices.

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Anonymous Coward says:

The lawsuit is being brought only against IA’s Open Library; it will not impact in any way the Wayback Machine or any other services IA offers.

About as believable as Putin’s claim tat 96% of those polled wanted to become Russians.

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bhull242 (profile) says:

You know, I can absolutely believe that the Authors’ Guild genuinely believes that it is representing the best interests of authors as it may be convinced (quite wrongly) that the best interests of the publishers are also the best interests of the authors. It is not the only explanation, but it is entirely plausible.

If so, then it is equally understandable that they’d freak out upon learning that a bunch of authors—including many highly successful and well-known authors—are directly opposed to what the Authors’ Guild is doing against the Internet Archive. This would lead to cognitive dissonance, and human brains are desperate to avoid that, so they try to come up with a way to resolve it. They are so entrenched in their beliefs that they simply cannot fathom that any author—let alone a sizable number of them—would not agree with them, so they try to figure out why authors who “agree” with them (in the minds of the Authors’ Guild, at least) would sign a letter opposing them. After all, how could they possibly not want what the publishers want?

The best explanation that could be made for that (with the caveat that it relies on such a faulty premise) is that the authors were tricked somehow into signing on. Being tricked into signing a public letter isn’t unheard of, after all. I’m sure we all remember the Signed Opposition to Darwinism (or whatever it’s called), where several scientists were tricked into signing a letter questioning evolution because it was worded in a benign light (“questioning evolution” in the sense that every scientific idea gets questioned to ensure that it withstands scrutiny, as well as the fact that Darwinian mechanisms for evolution (basically just natural selection and possibly mutation) are not a complete picture of evolution as we know it today because there are far more mechanisms than that) when it was presented to them. However, this is simply not the case in this instance; the signatories knew exactly what they were signing and have since confirmed as much publicly and unequivocally. Furthermore, no signatories have claimed to have been tricked, only one ever retracted their signature (which was prepublication and likely to have been the result of pressure from his publisher), there is no evidence that the wording has ever changed, and—quite unlike the creationist letter—the wording of this letter is incredibly direct and unambiguous in its message. As such, the best explanation for the two ideas competing in the minds of the Authors’ Guild is completely ruled out.

Their other accusation (that FftF is front for the IA) is also an understandable idea for them to come up with even if it is also obviously untrue.

This strikes me as a desperate move. Clearly, the Authors’ Guild was entirely unprepared for this event, and they are also unwilling to even entertain the possibility that they might be wrong. While I can understand why they might act this way, it is still incredibly obvious that they are wrong regardless of one’s own personal opinion about the merits of the suit.

Frankly, I think that, while the “Authors’” in their name is misleading, the “Guild” part speaks volumes: They are stuck in their ways and assume that they can speak for all people in their trade, and they are a relic of the past.

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Tom says:

Re: Hanlon's Razor vs Occam's Razor

I understand the desire to not attribute to malice what can be attributed to ignorance, but the mental gymnastics you have to go through to get to that justification calls into question a better application of Occam’s Razor: the simplest explanation is the most likely explanation.

They know the end result of their lawsuits and they believe the ends justify the means. The ends being complete control of distribution, licensing rather than selling, and the inability to lend or borrow books. Publishers will do anything to get to that state, even silence authors.

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

And if you boil this all down, the complaint is purely simple.
They are pissed they can’t force them to only buy “authorized” e-books with limits on how many time they can be loaned out before they have to pay up to get another “self destructive” copy of the book.

They purchase books & then loan those books out.
Scanning them themselves probably is a net benefit for society as I doubt they are bound by all of the insane fears the publishers have that if a blind person can check out the book and freely have it read to them by a machine that somehow this will lead to the end of print everywhere.

In a world where they charge more to meet the needs of the disabled, because well fuck the disabled, when others are able to show how technology makes everything better and allows everyone to share in the joy of reading books without having to pay premium prices that shouldn’t exist in the first place perhaps one should be asking why they are allowed to screw the disabled coming and going…
If we have it in a format you can use, we charge more…
If we don’t have it in a format you can use, well fsck you…

That One Guy (profile) says:


It’s just a wee bit difficult to buy the ‘no really, we don’t hate libraries, we’re suing for completely different reasons’ argument when their current business model would almost certainly bankrupt any library that wasn’t heavily supported by private and government subsidies in order to continue ‘buying’ the same books over and over again.

Anonymous Coward says:


Yeah, those Copyright cultists want you to adopt their fantasy world in where Intellectual Property is a gated property which each single access to it is a privilege for which one must pay for. you know, like that kind of gated property for the wealthy that exclude access to anyone not wealthy enough to meet the monoploy rents. Since Digital Libraries does not fit into that desired world, of course, they want Digital Libraries to go the way of dinosaurs. Like to them, who cares about Digital Libraries as they serve the riffraff and pirates, apparently.

Synonymous Scaredycat (profile) says:

Re: Tangentially:

I was thinking something similar to what you said here, just reading the title of the recent article on drug costs not being justified by R&D. I had been thinking, “..and neither does their effectiveness justify those costs; medicine to save people’s lives and maintain their health should essentially be free”. It doesn’t make sense; why pay so much just to be able to have what other people take for granted, like access to books.

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Rico R. (profile) says:

The MPAA, RIAA, and the Author's Guild have 1 thing in common...

The biggest trick these legacy publishing corporate coalitions did is convince the general public that getting their works released through them is proof that they made it as a filmmaker/musician/author. Every filmmaker wants a major studio to pay for them to get their dream project made. Every indie band and artist dreams of signing with a major record label. And every author dreams of having their work published by a major publisher. Somehow, partnering with a major studio, label, or publisher gives them a sense of accomplishment, like they made it in their respective industry.

However, then these same entities push for policies they want even if the creator disagrees with them. They push for draconian copyright laws, push for the destruction of the free and open Internet, and complain about the money they “lost” to piracy. All while the creators they supposedly “support” get pennies while the publishers rake in millions.

At the same time, the next generation looks up to these creators as their idols and inspirations, and they dream of making it one day just like them. And the cycle begins again. At the same time, the public gets worse off, all because the copyright law the publishers want continues to get mistaken as the copyright law the creators want. The publishers win, the creators and the public loses, and nothing ever changes.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: 'I don't HAVE to sign with you so make your case why I should'

However, then these same entities push for policies they want even if the creator disagrees with them. They push for draconian copyright laws, push for the destruction of the free and open Internet, and complain about the money they “lost” to piracy. All while the creators they supposedly “support” get pennies while the publishers rake in millions.

They attack the internet and open platforms because to a gatekeeper nothing is a greater threat than options.

With alternatives in place an author/filmmaker/musician can walk into the room with a dozen other offers, offers which may include the creator getting the lion’s share of profits and/or not having to sign over ownership over everything they create, and to an industry accustomed to being able to issue ‘take it or leave it’ terms that are heavily slanted in their favor that is a huge problem to be eliminated.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

'You shut up when we're talking/suing in your name!'

Strange, you’d think that if those two groups actually represented the authors rather than the publishers the fact that a bunch of authors signed up to a letter protesting their actions would first and foremost have them questioning whether they are doing the right thing and acting in accordance to how the authors want.

The fact that their immediate response was to scream the equivalent of ‘Fake news!’ in response to a letter signed by those authors that was basically just ‘stop attacking libraries’ says worlds about who the two groups are actually interested in representing.

Anonymous Coward says:

I went and read the Authors Guild’s reply, and it called out that “several” of a list of organizations agree The Guild is right and the letter is wrong. I wonder if anyone has tried to figure out how many of the list are “several”. I guess 2 is several. And they list themselves, so they’re just asserting that one of a list of 22 organizations support their view..

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Arijirija says:

Since I’ve written a few short short stories and a few not so short under the pseudonym on my birth certificate and under other pseudonyms, I signed as well, though they only put the 300 authors names on the front page, so to speak.

But I wouldn’t have signed if it hadn’t been for names I recognize and respect. I seriously doubt Lawrence Lessig would stand for any shenanigans such as this libellous Authors’ Guild letter suggests. Ditto Daniel Ellsberg, Naomi Klein, Cory Doctorow, …

This is just a re-run of the same-ol same-ol we saw early about “music piracy”. Essentially smoke and mirrors to hide a slavery mindset towards musicians, artists and authors. And of course, the public …

That One Guy (profile) says:


It’s telling that the best counter they can come up with to the letter signed on by the authors is to insist that they were all tricked as not only is that condescending as hell by treating the authors as gullible idiots but if they were right and authors had been tricked into supporting something they didn’t you’d think those authors would be loudly condemning the group that tricked them, which would undermine the entire point of tricking them in the first place.

jem says:

Hachette v Internet Archive

The US Copyright Act Section 109(a), which covers “first-sale” rights, says that the owner of a particular copy (i.e. book) … lawfully made under this title, or any person authorized by such owner, is entitled, without the authority of the copyright owner,
to sell or otherwise dispose of the possession of that copy …

“Section 109” Copyright Act six times, it references the words “otherwise dispose of”zero times.

Is there maybe some reason the lawyers for the Internet Archive prefer not to make a case that their
actions properly comply with the text “otherwise dispose of”?

Melissa Belvadi says:

Tricky redirect by Author's Guild - watch their wording!

‘The lawsuit against Open Library is completely unrelated to the traditional rights of libraries to own and preserve books. ‘ Note that they carefully left out the “traditional right of libraries to LEND books” which is at the core here. No one is talking about merely owning and preserving them, but rather lending them. If you think lending is automatically associated with owning, you aren’t familiar with the concept of non-lending libraries, which certainly do exist, just not the public libraries most citizens think of.

jem says:


The copyright law allows libraries to make up to three copies of a work for preservation purposes.

Copies can be made for works that are damaged, deteriorating, lost, or stolen, or if the existing format in which the work is stored has become obsolete, [17 USCA 108(c)] so long as the library has determined that a replacement cannot be obtained at a fair price. A format is considered obsolete if it is no longer manufactured or is not readily available in the commercial marketplace. Such works can be in any format.

Copies can be digital, provided they are not distributed or made available to the public digitally outside of the physical library

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