from the unfortunately-not dept
The Association of American Publishers, like most industry lobbying groups, has a reputation for jealously guarding industry profit-making, no matter the larger implications of their doing so. In the past, the AAP has advocated for secret copyright treaties designed specifically to protect the publishing industry, getting Google to make its Google Library project far less useful, and has sued the Internet Archive’s digital library program in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Again, the AAP is a lobbying group and we should expect them in some respects to behave like one, but it’s important to tease out what they’re lobbying for and against and whether its interests are shared with the interests of the general public. Spoiler alert: they absolutely are not.
So, when the AAP held its recent annual meeting and devoted a portion of this 90-minute affair to the importance of copyright, that would typically be met with something of a yawn and a hand-wave. And when it got several mediocre persons to also speak at that meeting in part to rail against the omni-present threat of “big tech”, well, most of us probably just kept yawning.
As part of their remarks, Brian Napack, AAP chair and CEO of John Wiley, and Maria Pallante, CEO of AAP, made clear that protecting copyright remains the top priority for the association.
Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar voiced her concerns over the power of Big Tech in accepting the AAP’s 2021 Award for Distinguished Public Service. Keynote speaker Don Lemon (CNN host and author of This Is the Fire), urged publishers to publish more authors of color, while closing keynoter Brad Stone focused his remarks on Amazon, the subject of two of his books, The Everything Store and the recently released Amazon Unbound.
If Senator Klobuchar wants to join the likes of Donald Trump in complaining vaguely about “big tech”, well, I guess I’ll just have to somehow manage to keep my eyes dry. The inclusion of divisive cable news commentators is certainly a choice to be made, I suppose, as is the inclusion of a biographer for Amazon and Jeff Bezos who isn’t always super kind to the company or its leader. That Stone’s books can be bought on Amazon is at least a partial rebuttal of all the “big tech” complaining, but I digress.
Instead, what is most notable from this annual meeting is the CEO of the AAP, Maria Pallante, proclaiming to the audience that the association would do everything possible to beat back the “assault” in progress on America’s copyright laws.
To make sure that publishing remains a good business to be in, AAP’s job, Pallante said, “is to ensure that you can compete fairly in the modern marketplace.” Regrettably, she continued, “there are actors who seek to weaken your legal protections in order to advance their business interests, whether that interest is in bloating the fair use doctrine to illogical boundaries or, more blatantly, appropriating and monetizing your works without permission.”
In Pallante’s view, the exclusive rights delineated in the Copyright Act are under assault, as is an effective enforcement framework, and she said the DMCA, which governs how infringing content on websites can be taken down, “is badly in need of updating.” She also lamented the lack of a competitive marketplace in which authors’ works can be discovered and publishers can compete “without unfair control or manipulation from dominant tech giants.”
Think about the claims in that statement. “There are actors that seek to weaken your legal protections in order to advance their business interests” is a hell of a take from the CEO of a lobbying group that literally does that exact thing to the public. More copyright laws that strip away the public’s rights, stricter enforcement with less legal protections for the accused among the public, diminishing the role of fair use: literally all of these things Pallante is advocating for are well-described as an actor seeking to weaken your legal protections to advance its business interests. Pallante is literally the villain she’s complaining about.
As for copyright being “under assault”, well, I can only assume it’s under assault in the same fashion that I’m constantly told that Christmas is under assault, by which I mean it only expands, becomes more arduous and annoying, is omni-present, and is tied strictly to commercial interests.
Pallante goes on to suggest that the AAP’s lawsuit against the Internet Archive’s library platform had better be victorious… or else basically all copyright protections go away.
In a final point about copyright, Pallante said that the lawsuit the association filed a year ago against the Internet Archive for copying 1.3 million scans of books is still in discovery, but said the IA’s activities “are well outside the boundaries of both the law and copyright commerce, and ultimately pose an existential threat to the copyright framework on which authors and publishers rely.”
If you can read that and not burst out laughing, you have a stronger constitution than I do.
Now, if Pallante’s name sounds at all familiar to you, it’s because she previously ran America’s Copyright Office. Now, I will say this much: I will happily take Pallante’s doomsday for copyright claims more seriously than I have in this post if she can tell me what happened to the $11 million that the Copyright Office, under her leadership, managed to spend on a computer system that never materialized, was supposed to cost a tenth of that spend, and was the subject of several lies in the Copyright Office’s reports to Congress.
Otherwise, I’ll just note that copyright law in this country is so laughably bloated that it deserves an assault, but isn’t actually on the receiving end of one.