Book Division Report for 2017 National Executive Board Meeting

Following are some highlights of actions taken by the Book Division since the 2015 Delegate Assembly. These include work on issues specific to writers of books, including to e-books. These also include policy advocacy related to legislation, regulations, and litigation that affect writers of work in other formats as well as authors of books, but where the Book Division has taken a leading role in NWU work.

Book Division co-chairs and other member volunteers also engaged in ongoing activities, including moderating the NWU-Book listserv; alerting Book Division members and other NWU members about issues affecting their interests through NWU-Book and the national NWUsletter,; and monitoring Congress, the Copyright Office, foreign governments, and international entities for developments affecting book authors’ interests. The co-chairs made presentations to NWU chapters on book issues: Davis gave a workshop on “Protecting Your Copyright” on April 22 for the New York Chapter and Hasbrouck gave one on “Making a Living as a Writer in the Digital Age” for the Northern California Chapter on May 19.

January 28, 2016: “E-Books and E-Rights: What Authors Need to Know,” premier of first webinar created by the joint committee of the Book Division (Davis and Hasbrouck) and the Grievance and Contract Division (Amy Rose, National Grievance Officer; Paul MacArthur,  Assistant National Contract Advisor; and Barbara Mende, GCD Coordinator; Davis is also National Contract Advisor). There have been three subsequent presentations of the webinar, which members found to be very informative and useful. Presentations were given by Davis,  Mende and Rose, who wrote the webinar in conjunction with committee phone calls over 2014-15.

July 28, 2016: Representatives from NWU, the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and the Science Fiction Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) met with a six-person delegation from the U.S. Copyright Office in their offices at their invitation. Our delegation consisted of Salley Shannon, past president of ASJA; Michael Capobianco, past president of SFWA; and Davis (in person) and Hasbrouck (on the phone).

We discussed proposed changes to Section 108 of the U.S. Copyright Act, which creates “exceptions” to copyright for libraries and archives. A Copyright Office study group, created in 2005, came up with suggested changes that would expand these exceptions in ways that would significantly undercut writers’ incomes. However, there were no working writers in the study group, and these proposals are being considered without prior study by and awareness or consideration of their impact on writers’ revenues, especially in light of emerging digital and self-publication business models.

We held two conference calls to prepare for the meeting and each of us agreed to take a topic:

  • How writers and other rights-holding creators are using their old work in new digital ways in order to monetize it;
  • Publishers don’t know how we’re making money on our personal backlists because they’re focusing on their front lists of new best sellers;
  • Precise definitions are needed of who can do research and use archival resources, especially if searches will be run by outside (for-profit) contractors; and
  • Creators needing to “opt out” of having their online work freely redistributed by online “archives” will not work. It would undercut sales by the author if time-limited materials have been posted on websites that no longer exist and those materials continue to be available online. The system must be set up on an “opt-in” basis so the creator can give permission before each work is posted online.

The Copyright Office staff asked a lot of questions and took copious notes. Even though they had met with other creators’ groups, their reaction to our presentation seemed as though they had not previously heard what we had to say. We stressed that we were talking about freelance writers, and that’s why our members had to be creative in finding new ways to earn money from their work. As the meeting ended, we thanked them for being open to what we had to say, and they thanked us for giving them a new perspective to think about. However, we have no idea whether they will take our message to heart and try to incorporate freelance writers’ efforts to earn a decent living into their suggested changes to the copyright law. More legislative proposals from the Copyright Office are expected next year.

August 18, 2016: Submission to the Copyright Office from the NWU: Mandatory Deposit of Electronic Books and Sound Recordings Available Only Online. 

Conclusion:  Archivists’ desire to “acquire” the Internet – whether through “crawling” and “capture” or through mandatory deposit of all its contents – is understandable but misguided. Trying to archive the contents of the World Wide Web is as futile as trying to archive the weather. At most, one can archive snapshots of observations made by specific observers at specific places and times. But the Internet is both diverse and constantly changing. Different text, images, etc., can be served to a visitor to a particular URL depending on when they make their request, where they are located (as inferred from their IP address), the parameters sent by their browser (such as their preferred language, device type, and screen resolution), who they are, and their preferences (as determined from cookies, user logins, etc.). Do two people ever see exactly the same Facebook home page? Unlikely.

The Web and other electronic content distribution channels have enabled new media and new distribution modes that are, characteristically, personalized and dynamic, making them ill-suited to archiving and making demands for their “deposit” especially burdensome. That also enabled new business models and revenue streams associated with those new media, the potential for which could be significantly undermined by free access to deposited copies. Trying to constrain Internet media to those formats that are static and subject to archiving would straightjacket both technology and business models, harming both writers and readers.            

Archivists need to find ways to accommodate their methods and expectations to new media, not try to confine new media within old-media archival formats. The National Writers Union remains eager to work with librarians, especially the Library of Congress, to develop best practices for archiving that will nurture rather than undermine writers’ livelihoods.

October 17, 2016: Submission to the Copyright Office from the NWU: Removal of Personally Identifiable Information from Registration Records. 

Conclusion: Writers’ privacy matters. New technologies have created new opportunities for writers to distribute, exploit, and generate revenue from their works anonymously or without divulging their personal information, and without the need for a publisher or agent as an anonymizing or privacy-preserving proxy. Those privacy gains should not be undermined by Copyright Office regulations or laws, or by copyright registration procedures.

January 30, 2017: Comments and Petition from NWU for Rulemaking: Group Registration.

Abridged Conclusion: The Copyright Office doesn’t need to re-invent the World Wide Web, the DNS, or the HTTP and TCP/IP protocols, and shouldn’t try. Neither registration nor deposit of copies with the Copyright Office is likely to improve, in any material respect, the ease of requesting and obtaining copies of written works available online. The National Writers Union and look forward to participating in a rulemaking to make it feasible, for the first time in more than twenty years of Internet content distribution, Web publishing, blogging, and social media, to obtain meaningful protection against copyright infringement for works in these formats that are now well-established but still prohibitively expensive and time-consuming to register and thus effectively denied copyright protection.

January 31, 2017: Proposal from NWU on Copyright Office Reform; Register of Copyright.

Abridged Conclusion: The key question in assessing copyright law and regulations, the structure of the Copyright Office, and the selection of the Register of Copyright should be whether those policy and personnel decisions serve the interests of the public and of creators. Writers, readers, and the relationship between us should be at the center of that inquiry. With that in mind, the key criteria for selecting the Register of Copyright should be her ability and commitment to serve the interests of the reading public and the creative community, and her independence from other influences outside the Constitutional purposes of copyright. Similarly, whether the Copyright Office remains within the Library of Congress (with recognition of its obligations as, in part, a regulatory, rulemaking, and administrative agency), or whether it is made an independent agency, its structure and procedures need to ensure that its policies and practices are based on understanding of, and engagement with, readers and creators and the organizations that represent them. …

February 2017: Preliminary survey of members via NWU-Book listserv about two large-scale digital infringements, which could lead to a group grievance with the Grievance and Contract Division.

March 2017: Book Division co-chairs worked with President Larry Goldbetter on responses to a query form the Library of Congress regarding ongoing “Web archiving” and redistribution of NWU and other Web content by the Library without a license or permission. We requested the Library not archive any NWU and other Web content posted on, and the Library agreed.

March 30, 2017: Comments from the NWU on Study on the Moral Rights and Attributions and Integrity.

Conclusions and Recommendations: The moral rights of authors are, as the term itself suggests, a matter of morality and fairness. Having recognized the ethical imperative of respect for the human rights of writers,  and having committed itself by treaty to enact laws recognizing these rights and providing adequate and effective remedies for violations of these rights – without formalities, independently of writers’ economic rights, and even after any transfer or assignment of economic rights or when a work is used as “fair use” — the U.S. should fulfill its commitment to writers and to the other parties to these treaties by enacting explicit Federal statutes to recognize and protect these rights. 

May 15, 2017: Further Comments from NWU on Moral Rights

Abridged Conclusion: We reiterate our appeal to the Copyright Office and Congress to recognize the public interest and treaty-law imperative for new laws and regulations to protect the moral rights of authors and to provide adequate and effective means for us to enforce our rights as writers.

Appeal for Collaboration and Successors: Davis has been Book Division co-chair since 2005 and Hasbrouck since 2009. While we have periodically requested members join us in advocacy work — and some have volunteered  — we have not yet had any members express interest in taking over leadership and coordination of this work, including representing the NWU in Washington and in national advocacy coalitions. We once again make an appeal for collaboration and for members to help take responsibility for leading the Book Division.