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Why I joined the Authors Alliance

(by Peter Hirtle)

Of all the absurdities associated with the Authors Guild suit against Google over the Google Books Project, perhaps the greatest was the Guild’s efforts to make it a class action, with the 8,000 members of the Guild speaking for all authors everywhere in the world.  Most academic authors realize that providing a keyword index to all published literature can only aid scholarship.  At the same time, by making it easier to identify works that might be of interest, Google Books can only increase readership and sales of the original works.  Yet at the time of the lawsuit, there was no organization that could speak for authors motivated by concerns that were not solely commercial.

Now there is.  On 21 May, the Authors Alliance was formally launched in San Francisco.  The Alliance is the brainchild of Pamela Samuelson, one of the foremost copyright experts in the country and an active voice in the Google Books cases.  The Alliance recognizes that the primary motivation for most authors, including many academic authors, is to be read. Digital network technologies present unprecedented opportunities for the creation and distribution of creative works for the public good.  Alliance members are not opposed to authors making money from their works; most of the members of its Advisory Board publish with trade publishers and have works that can only be purchased.  But they recognize that there are some educational uses (including indexing) that do not need to be monetized.  The Alliance will be a voice for moderation.

This is an especially auspicious time for the formation of the organization.  Discussions have started in Congress about reforming copyright law.  What has been a trade regulation for print media no longer works in a digital environment that exists on copying.  A different ethos is needed if copyright is to meet its constitutional mandate “to promote the progress of science and useful arts.”  The Authors Alliance has therefore developed a set of “Principles and Proposals for Copyright Reform” that reflect the interest of authors who write to be read and that will broaden the discussion in Washington.

This is why I was happy to become a Founding Member of the Authors Alliance and make a donation to its work.  I would encourage anyone who is an author (of books or articles or any creative work) to look at the Alliance’s mission statement and goals and to consider joining as well. And if you don’t believe me, see Kevin Smith’s excellent post, “Why I joined the Authors Alliance.”


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