Copyright law, policy, and practice is fundamental to an author’s ability to publish and trade in books, create successful author-businesses, and earn an income from their work. Thus, changes in copyright law are of deep concern to the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).
Independent authors are both writers and publishers, actively managing their own publishing rights. Indie authors need to understand the importance of copyright and how to assert their rights in the digital age. And those in the broader publishing industry, policy makers and lawmakers need to consider the unique needs, perspective, and environment of the independent author as they refresh, update, or create new copyright policies and laws.
Helping the broader community — as well as the indie author — reach a better understanding is the goal of ALLi’s Copyright Bill of Rights.
Today we present a special edition of our podcast to explain what it is on the eve of the ebook and PDF versions becoming available.
A few highlights.
Orna, On Creating the Copyright Bill of Rights
We have feedback from freedom activists like Cory Doctorow and Rebecca Giblin and from protection-minded people on the other side, including other writers’ organizations. And it’s taken us a while to work out where the independent author stands in all of this.
Joanna, on the Purpose of the Copyright Bill of Rights
The whole point with this Copyright Bill of Rights is that we want to be involved in the future of copyright in a digital age. We don’t just want to sit back and have people passively make laws and we would just be taking it on the chin later on.
If you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that here.
Now, go write and publish!
Note: In the podcast you’ll hear details of each of the eight “rights” and the e-book and print versions of the Copyright Bill of Rights will be available very soon.
Listen to the Full Copyright Bill of Rights Podcast
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About the Hosts
Joanna Penn is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author, as well as writing non-fiction for authors. She is also a professional speaker and entrepreneur, voted as one of The Guardian UK Top 100 creative professionals 2013. She spent 13 years as a business IT consultant in large corporations across the globe before becoming a full-time author-entrepreneur in September 2011. For more information about Joanna, visit her website: http://thecreativepenn.com
Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and is greatly excited by the democratizing, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website: http://www.ornaross.com
Read the Transcript
Joanna: Hello everyone and welcome to the Alliance of Independent Authors, Advanced Self Publishing Salon bonus edition with me, Joanna Penn, and Orna Ross.
Orna: Hi Joanna. Hi everyone. A bonus edition.
Joanna: It is a bonus. I am so excited because we are about to share the launch of the bill of rights, the Copyright Bill of Rights. And this is super exciting and I get really excited about this type of thing. But essentially these are the things that help us make a living as authors. It protects our work, potentially if you have an estate, you get to hand things down. We get to be involved in some of the issues that affect authors. And I think the whole point with this bill of rights is that we want to be involved in the future of copyright in a digital age. We don’t just want to sit back and have people passively make laws and we would just be taking it on the chin later on.
Joanna: So this is why this bill of rights is so important. It is a fantastic document, soon to be a book, I guess, and very important for all authors to read. So in this special edition, I’m going to prime Orna with some of the chapters and she’s going to tell you about some of the most important rights. So I guess, Orna, before we get into it, anything you want to say on why this is so exciting?
Orna: Yeah, I mean it’s, it’s been a lot of work and I want to thank all the team that were involved in putting it together and in all the people who gave us feedback, including yourself. We have feedback from sort of freedom activists like Cory Doctorow and Rebecca Giblin and from protection-minded people on the other side, including other writers organizations. And it’s taken us a while to work out where the independent author stands in all of this.
Orna: And I think this is unique in that sense and that makes it important in and of itself. But also I think because independent authors work in such a unique way and to take responsibility for their own publishing, they are actually uncovering issues in the legislation that people haven’t thought enough about in the framing of legislation. And so it’s really important that we kind of get, as you said, get our say and that people understand what they’re doing when they are making laws that are maybe targeted at Big Tech or Big Content and that they’re forgetting the smaller people who are also making a living and doing this. And so the bill of rights is an attempt to sort of say, first of all, that the copyright laws are really vital to authors and especially to self-publishing authors. And there are three reasons why copyright is so important.
Orna: It’s an incentive that encourages authors to write and to publish and other people like trade publishers, patrons, investors or agents to actually invest in our work. Without copyright, there will be no incentive to do that. Copyright is also a reward. It ensures that we are kind of fairly paid for the contribution that we make, our labor and the fact that it is our own personal expression, our enterprise and so on. And copyright also then offers us protection that discourages theft like plagiarism and piracy and hopefully because it is law, there are enforceable consequences for these things. So there are three really important reasons why this stuff matters and why we should care.
Joanna: Yes. So, why are we concerned about some of these things? Why have you done this bill of rights?
Orna: Well, one of the main concerns I think is that taking an author interest perspective as we all do as authors when it comes to copyright, if you take a very narrow author interest perspective, and if you assume that authors interests automatically aligned with the interests of Big Content like publishers, media organizations and Hollywood and so on, in actual fact, you’re making a mistake because in the digital age, things are much looser and more fluid than that.
Orna: And those who are doing that, which includes actually most of the traditional author organizations at the moment and many other commentators, it’s actually having unintended consequences for us as indies. It’s having the opposite effect that the original copyright legislators wanted to have, which was to encourage diversity. The original legislators took copyright and gave it to authors rather than publishers or printers because it was to encourage diversity of expression and they figured that was the best way to do that. And that was done for the benefit of readers, not particularly for the benefit of authors. And so now when we take a very narrow author interest perspective, as some of these big companies have done, it stifles criticism. It stifles diversity. It actually reinforces power dynamics whereby big, big corporate companies get to have a say and smaller organizations don’t.
Orna: So we’re concerned when author representative bodies overlook self-publishing authors. And that is happening in these copyright debates. We’re concerned when big content use author rights justifications for their own vested interests. And we’re also concerned about our readers. I mean, indie authors have a very close relationship with their readers, they understand that without our readers we are nothing. And if author’s rights justifications are used to chill self-expression or diversity of discourse, individual moral agency, then readers suffer and we all suffer. And we as authors suffer too because we are primarily readers and scholars also. And so we want to ensure that the way in which we are talking about copyright and the things that we’re fighting for value the concepts and the ideals and the values that the original legislators want copyright to embody.
Why a Copyright Bill of Rights?
Orna: So now I’m here with Boni Wagner-Stafford and Boni and I had been working on this Copyright Bill of Rights and all things copyright for the past number of months. And I remember when we started this, Boni, you said to me that copyright was your idea of fun.
Boni: Yeah. Yeah. I’m a little crazy.
Orna: Well, I have to say that I, you know, I didn’t think so. I knew it was super important, but I also have to say that the more you go into this the more you actually realize how important it is and think about it, actually the more fun it becomes. So I’m, I’m a little bit of a convert.
Boni: Excellent. Well, that’s good. I’m glad. I started thinking about copyright way back before I started chatting with you and working with ALLi and in my other life, the more I worked with nonfiction manuscripts, either my own or other authors, the more it became clear that there really is a need for a foundation of understanding of what copyright is. And you know, everything from the basic innocuous, do I have the right to use this quote from this other author, which we do quite often in nonfiction to what do I do if somebody asks me, if they want, you know, if they’d like to use a quote from me or how about this image that I’d like to put either in my book or in the website. So I became curious. I like to understand things and feel confident about, you know, the world in which I work.
Boni: And so I actually sought out some copyright education and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I don’t regret it for a second. I went and got a certificate in international copyright from copyrightlaws.com. Now, that’s a US-Canada kind of centric organization, but, specifically the international copyright landscape. And it was fascinating. It’s complicated, obviously. But really has helped me and I just feel so much more empowered and confident and it’s really much more clear what I don’t know. And the field of what I do know is bigger than it was when I started out. But as indie authors, I think, you know, anything we can do to make ourselves more aware and empowered, especially around copyright because this is the place we play in. It’s with our language and our words and our intellectual property. I just think we’re better off.
Orna: Absolutely. And you know, what became clear, I think to me and I think to you as we were going through this exercise and putting this bill of rights together is just how foundational copyright is as protection, as incentive, as reward. You know, those laws, if we don’t, we don’t need to understand legalese at all, but we do need to understand how and where the protection comes in, how far we can go as authors because of course, readers are protected by copyright law as well. And how we cope with things like plagiarism, piracy, engaging with copyright makes us think about these things so that when we meet them in our work, we have a policy, we know where we stand and we don’t have to kind of hum and haw over every contract we might be offered or every decision we have to make.
Boni: That’s absolutely right. And I think one of the things that you touched on is the notion of, as indie authors, we have the privilege and the power to make decisions about how we publish with whom we publish. And, you know, when we have a basic foundation of or maybe beyond a basic foundational understanding of what copyright is, what our moral rights are, or what, you know, what, what the parameters are that we can be in control of with respect to our own work. Then when it comes time for somebody to say, “Hey, you know,” whether it’s a traditional publisher, “I’d like to, you know, talk to you about working with you with your book. Or I’d like to republish a blog that you’ve put on your website.” You just have a much better sense of what your rights are.
Boni: And more, I guess more what I like to think of it as is more, fluency with the value in our work. We don’t have to give things away for free just because somebody asks, we don’t have to give it. Just because a traditional publisher comes and says, “Hey, I’ll give you 5% royalties and you sign away all your rights.” We don’t have to do that. But if we don’t understand the basics of copyright, we aren’t in a position to make the decisions that put us on the best footing.
Orna: Absolutely. It’s completely about value and it’s about that true independence and empowerment that goes hand in hand with being an indie. If we don’t understand it, then we can’t assert it and it’s essentially, that’s why we understand copyright, not just for the sake of having the knowledge in the back of our brain, but so that we can actually assert it. Because there’s no point in having a right if you don’t assert it.
Boni: Yeah, exactly. And you know, it’s not the sexiest topic. There’s no question. It’s not really, you know, I find it fun and interesting and you’ve now come around to finding it fun and interesting, but it’s typically not the kind of thing that it’s, you know, it’s not like, oh, a new fangled tool that’s going to help us promote our books by social media. And it’s not a, you know, a great and simple way to format our books and it’s not beautiful cover design. It’s actually, it’s all of that. Not that it isn’t that, but, it’s not sexy. It’s not fun. But I think as indies, we have a responsibility to ourselves to take a look at the issue, learn what we can, read, what, you know, read what we’re saying, you know, through the bill of rights and the other topics of discussion that we’re putting forward. Because I think, you know, it’s a responsibility as well as a right.
Orna: Fantastic. Thank you for coming up with the concept of a copyright bill of rights.
Boni: Thank you for taking it where it’s gone. It’s been so fun to see the journey from this. You know, the concept that I had was, was not as full as it’s become. So, it’s been a fun journey.
Orna: Yeah. And we’ve, we’ve been really lucky with the people who have kind of helped us along the way. Joanna, of course, I was ever, Cory Doctorow, Rebecca Giblin and many others and we’re really grateful to them. So, yeah. It’s launch day. So off it goes. And just before we wrap up on that, we had too much, of course, to fit into the bill of rights. We’ve cut this right down to just the bare bones so that people can just take that, that’s all they need, but you and I with finding it so much fun that for those who might want to take it a little bit further we’re going to produce a longer campaign book, do you want to tell people a little bit about that?
Boni: Yeah, we’ve got a working title for it. It may end up what it is but Copyright Matters and it’s looking a little bit at the background, the history where copyright came from. It hasn’t been in existence in perpetuity. And it’s kind of interesting in that nerdy way that we have of going back to the roots and you know, who were some of the pioneer authors and movers and shakers in the industry that actually brought us copyright in the first place. So it looks at the history, it looks at the current state, it looks at some of the debates that are happening on the international stage and in different jurisdictions. And then takes a look at the future and where copyright goes so that it’s going to be much more of a grounding document and obviously through the perspective and lens of the Indie author. Because most of the things you can find out there on copyright are not necessarily applicable. Applicable is the wrong word. But, they aren’t presented through the lens of an indie author. And so I think that’s been what’s been interesting about all of this work is that it’s a unique perspective that we bring and the Copyright Matters book that is longer and forthcoming is I’m going to put a nice big tidy red, shiny bow on all of that.
Orna: Absolutely. And give you the practical information you need to actually apply this law in your day to day work. So how to handle things, our recommendations around handling things like piracy, plagiarism, it’s selling your and licensing, your publishing rights to rights buyers and that kind of thing. So yeah. Um, it’s going into the list. We don’t have a due date yet, but we will soon and we will keep you posted. So do have a read of the bill of rights. It’s very short. It won’t take a lot of your time. Do spread it around and pass it onto other indie authors who might be interested. What we really want people to do is to take our copyright survey and the reason we want you to do that is we want to hear about you and copyright, how important it is to you.
Orna: How much do you know, how much do you want to know what’s useful to you and what are your practices already? And that might sound like, “Oh, that’s a huge daunting survey,” but actually it isn’t. It literally takes a minute or two, no more than two minutes. It’s very, very quick but we’ve already had about 700 responses and it’s really helping us to understand the copyright landscape and in different countries as well because we’re getting answers from different places. That will really help us going forward to sort some of the issues that we’ve been talking about here this evening. So we’ve had lots and lots of response, and it’s really useful for us in knowing how to shape up this book and how to shape up ALLi policy over the next number of years around this really important issue. So thanks, Boni, for dropping by.
Boni: No problem at all. Thank you.
Orna: Okay, bye.