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What Copyright Law Means For The Independent Author; AskALLi Advanced Self-Publishing Salon With Joanna Penn And Orna Ross

What Copyright Law Means for the Independent Author; AskALLi Advanced Self-Publishing Salon with Joanna Penn and Orna Ross

Joanna Penn, of TheCreativePenn.com, and Orna Ross, director of the Alliance of Independent Authors, explain why changes in copyright law is important for independent authors in this edition of the AskALLi Advanced Self-Publishing Salon.

Think copyright is boring? Think again. Copyright controversies have seen people take to the streets in recent months, sign petitions, boycott certain companies, and even black out Wikipedia.

As Big Content, Big Tech, and Big Legal fight court battles, Joanna and Orna talk about what it all means for the independent author, and ALLi’s new Copyright Bill of Rights.

Plus: should authors try to stop piracy? Is there a tradeoff between freedom and protection?

Here are some highlights:

Orna on the ALLi Copyright Survey

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. So if you can go to our copyright survey and just give us two minutes of your time. That will really help us going forward.

Joanna on the Importance of the Alliance

The Alliance is important because together we are stronger, but together we are even stronger when we are educated about these things. The more people know, the more we can put our voices out there. And also we’re a massive global network now.

If you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at http://allianceindependentauthors.org.

Now, go write and publish!

Listen to the Podcast: Why Copyright Law Is Important for Independent Authors

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What do changes in #copyright laws mean for independent authors? A great deal. You'll want to listen to this #AskALLi podcast from @OrnaRoss and @thecreativepenn. Click To Tweet

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 democratising, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website: http://www.ornaross.com

Read the Transcript: Why Copyright Law Is Important for Independent Authors

Joanna: Hello everyone. Good evening or hello, wherever you are in the world. This is the June 2019 Alliance of Independent Authors Advanced Self Publishing Salon with me, Joanna Penn and Orna Ross. Hi Orna!

Orna: Hi, Jo and hello everybody. Great to see you all here.

Joanna: Yes, as ever, our amusing intro. Now this evening we have a really interesting and important topic that we, I think is, well it, it is one of the most important topics we could possibly talk about, which is copyright. So we’re talking about the importance of copyright for author income and protection and tonight will be slightly different in that I’m going to really interview Orna because she’s been working super hard on the Copyright Bill of Rights. So that’s what we’re going to do in our main segment. But before then, Orna, we just want to give a sort of update cause we always say we were writers, we don’t just talk about writing. So what are the updates for the Alliance and also for you personally?

ALLi is Growing

Orna: Yeah, well the Alliance, I think what’s happening there, there’s so much going on. But the main thing that’s happening is kind of like a process thing underneath, which is that our team is growing and as a result of the team growing, we’ve really outgrown sorts of organic behaviors. So we’re getting to a point, Bonnie Wagner-Stafford who is head of Ingenium Books, one of ALLi’s, partner members has come in as communications manager and she and her husband John, who’s also part of Ingenium, they have a combined incredible experience across a whole range of things from sponsorship to organizational processes to really, there’s almost nothing these guys haven’t done.

And so as well as doing our communications, heading up the blog and press releases and all that kind of thing, they are organizing us into the project management software, which for me is ahhh, scary stuff because I’m very kind of organic, make it up as you go along kind of stuff.

But it’s fantastic and it’s also really needed. And I think it’s, you know, there’s an interesting point there for us all of us. When you get to a certain point in your business and when you’ve got a certain number of people who are assisting you in the various things that you d, you just need to get more organized. You need to behave in a more business-like way. It doesn’t mean you have to give up being a creative, but you need that sort of safe container for creativity to happen.

So lots of organization and process stuff going on, which will be reflected in the website, which has kind of slowed up the unveiling of the new website, which is all ready to rock. But just getting the processes all in place for that. That’s ALLi. And of course this copyright stuff which has been taking up a huge amount of time, lots of communications around that. We’re going to be talking about that in a while and you, what have you been up to?

Joanna: This is one of my very first chats in my new house. So I’ve been moving house, which I was saying to you before the call has turned out to be a lot more work than I expected or planned for. And the lesson learned there, as we all know, is everything always takes longer than you expect. And I found with my creative process that I really need routine and I really need every, you know, I shouldn’t, routine means you don’t have to think about the stuff except the stuff you’re creating. You have your space, you have everything working right and everything’s good. But I’m still feeling very discombobulated in terms of I have not got my new routine, my new structure, even just, you know, where the, we’re in a new area so where the shops are and you know, all the things that you take for granted once you are into a process.

Joanna: And what this reminds me of is when you just start out, I mean this is the Advanced Salon, so we assume everyone knows how to self publish, for example. But when you start publishing or when you start something new, like, maybe you do audiobooks after 10 years of doing ebooks and you all of it feels discombobulated until you get your creative routine sorted.

So for you, it’s project management software, whereas I’ve been doing project management software since the 90s, you know, so it’s really interesting. We all come up against this feeling of frustration and I know this will pass. This is probably all sorted by next time we do this next month. But for now it does feel a little bit crazy and very happily I managed to finish the first draft of Map of Plagues before this happened. So just yesterday morning I’ve started my edits. So fantastic. Just, yeah, I’m so glad I had that draft finished. And I mean, it’s easy to say, but you know, try and finish a draft before life happens.

Orna: Well, moving a house, you can kind of do that. We can’t always do that but great, actually to have a break, it’s good to have a break between finishing the draft and so that’s very good timing really.

Recording Audiobooks

Joanna: Yes, so I did it all deliberately, you know, but it’s funny because you know, this is our June episode and it does, it feels like the year has got away from us as ever as we head towards midyear. And so I’m very keen to get back to things. You can’t see me here, but I have some, a carpenter coming in building an audio booth so I can, I had all these plans for audio in January and then we bought the house and it’s taken a while. So I haven’t, I didn’t want to start somewhere and finish somewhere else. So I’m really keen to get into some of the things I planned for this year as we hit midyear. So yeah, that’s been my month. It’s been a little bit crazy. Anything else? Oh, for you. So what about Orna Ross?

Orna: Orna Ross? Yeah, she’s been recording audiobooks.

Joanna: Oooh.

Orna: Yes. Well, poetry and that is definitely, you know, that experience is teaching me that thought is the only thing I am going to narrate myself. I will continue to do it but, you know, I have told by my producer, the wonderful Howard, “You sound too somber, liven it up please.” You know, so I think I need a bit of training, to be honest, to do this.

Joanna: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.

Orna: And you gave me, I know, the guy that you worked with earlier this year, so I think I’ll be in touch with him. I was to do a day course as well with Live Canon, which is a great poetry group here in London but that didn’t work out for various reasons. So, yeah, it’s very interesting doing it. It’s always another edit when you do the audio book.

Orna: I think that’s one of the most useful things about it. I really thought those poems were set in stone and to a great degree they were but, you know, you find something else, a different emphasis or whatever. Always good learning experience from that point of view, I’m only able to do them because they’re short. I just, I have no interest in doing fiction and, and that’s an absolute decision. Now, I know we both discussed maybe and you’re going to do yours, but I am certain that is not for me. So, maybe nonfiction longer books sometime, but definitely not fiction.

And also working with an illustrator actually, that’s the two things, so what I’ve been doing sort of creatively this month is working audio and working images and less with words and both really interesting and you learn so much from, from other creators, just so trying to capture some complex information in infographics and images and how that makes you think again about what you’re doing. So I’ve actually had a great month. I’m really enjoying it all. It’s kind of different and, yes, sparkling fun.

Creative Projects

Joanna: So what are you doing with the illustrator? Is that for your poetry as well?

Orna: No, it’s not. It’s the Go Creative planner. So it’s in terms of capturing in these shorter workbooks, some of the more complex concepts from the actual books so that people don’t have to have the book to hand to do the workbook, if you know what I mean. So the imagery is proving really useful for that.

Joanna: Well, it’s always good as you say, it’s great to work with different creatives and to meet different people and certainly and the coaching aspect that you mentioned and the feedback, you know, again, we’re still learning the stuff we will always be learning. That’s why we enjoy doing what we do because it never stops and I think that’s the other lesson. It does never stop. Like, the to do list never stops. You just have to, and I’m trying to relax and take a breath and say, “Look, it’s fine. I will get everything done. It’s just I didn’t allow enough space for other things happen.”

Orna: I think one of the things we can do with life when it happens like that is to realize every single project hits this place where it goes out of control. Otherwise, it’s not a creative project. It’s just same old, same old. And if we can try to kind of reframe it for ourselves as part of the process and enjoy, it definitely makes it easier. Sometimes that’s possible. Sometimes that’s just not.

Copyright Bill of Rights

Joanna: Indeed. Okay, cool. Right. Well let’s get into the topic because it’s quite a big topic and I’m going to ask you questions and hopefully I will ask the questions that everybody has about this. So we’re talking about the Copyright Bill of Rights. So I guess, let’s just start with just reviewing the very basic question of why is copyright important, why should anyone listen any further to this? And you know, what do we create when we create a book in terms of copyright?

Joanna: Yeah. Copyright allows us to make a living. The fact that copyright legislation exists is how we actually can monetize our work. And it’s worth saying that for centuries, authors didn’t have opportunities to monetize their work and that copyright was owned by publishers and printers. And it was the work of author activists that actually changed that and copyright became an author right. And so once you create a something, an expression in words, it is copyright to you and that allows you to then license the rights to a publisher, self publish the book on various self publishing platforms, license the translation rights, license the TV and video rights, the merchandising rights, there are a whole bundle of rights bundled up in those words that you can monetize and make a business from.

And you can also then take that book and turn it into other things, other kinds of formats, like courses and various other things. So copyright is really fundamental to your ability to be an indie author.

Orna: And without it, it wouldn’t be possible. So yeah, and I think, if you switch off when you hear the word copyright and some people have literally switched off and gone, I see. Because it’s just a topic that does that to people. They go, “Oh God, boring. I don’t need to know this. I don’t want to know this.” Copyright legislation stuff you don’t actually need to know the ins and outs of it. There are only some key kind of principles, though, that you really do need to be aware of because you’ve got to make a decision about some of this stuff. You’ve got to decide which way you’re going to go and without the information, the proper information, you can’t make those. And that’s why I felt it was important that we would have a sort of where we stand on copyright because there are major battles waging around copyright legislation at the moment.

Orna: Yeah, we’ll come back to these. I just wanted to say from my perspective, and you know, I think this is an advanced salon. If you are an advanced writer, as in you want to make a living, maybe you want to go full time, maybe you want to make six figures, seven figures, you want a whole career doing this. You have to understand this stuff. And in fact, the more you understand copyright, the more exciting it becomes. I think when you actually realize how, what this means and what licensing can mean for things, the world opens up and at the beginning of your writing journey, you often just think, “Oh, I’m creating a book.”

But actually there’s so much more that can happen and so many exciting things that can happen. So I want to frame this as exciting and the stuff that will help us become, you know, make our careers and make them long term. Because some people who don’t understand copyright sign a contract for life of copyright without understanding that’s 50 to 70 years after the death of the author. I mean, it’s incredible that people are signing contracts like that every day with traditional publishing houses, right?

Orna: Absolutely. And then a strange thing happens when you get into copyright. I wasn’t somebody who was ignited or excited. It was very much a practical thing. The kind of things you’re talking about, a need to know basis in order to do the right thing and help others to maximize their rights but as you get more and more into it, you begin to realize there is a power struggle that’s kind of going on here that is very, very salient for indie authors in particular and it’s all tied up with notions of independence and freedom and control, which are things that we as indies need to think more about than the average author. So, hence the need for us to have perhaps a different perspective than the traditional authors associations.

Why a Copyright Law Bill of Rights Now?

Joanna: Well, which brings us to why a Bill of Rights now and for example, I’ve been, people have emailed me and asked me questions about what do I think about the EU copyright directive and I have gone, “Oh, I think I’ll wait until Orna decides what we all think.” And that’s why it was great to read this Bill of Rights. And I will say when it’s called a Bill of Rights, which I think is interesting, it’s actually a small book, you know, a short nonfiction book that is educational. It’s not in legalese. It’s not, like, a publishing legal handbook in any way. It is really interesting stuff about the history of copyright, which you slightly mentioned and also some of the things that are happening right now that are impacting why you’ve done this. So talk about why you decided to do this and what are some of the key, I guess you said power plays. What are the key powerful players right now?

Orna: Yeah, so the Bill of Rights was Bonnie, the great Bonnie’s idea and it was inspired because we were talking about the topic and talking very much the whole team at ALLi did not want this to be legalese. We didn’t want it to be presented in lawyers terms or in anybody else’s terms. We wanted to present it in terms of we can all kind of understand and get on board so that we may agree or disagree about some of this stuff and we will, there are no, it’s, I wish it could be, you know, somebody could tell us what to think. But in actual fact, all we can do is explain what’s at stake and then indies being indies, they’re going to take very different perspectives on this stuff. And that’s great. We love the broad church of Indie and everybody is welcome.

Orna: And in fact the more diversity we get around these topics, the better because yeah, we have really got three big players here. And we’re the small guys, we’re the nimble guys. We’ve got, on the one hand, we’ve got Big Tech and we are all already working with the likes of Amazon, Google, Facebook and so on in various ways.

And we have Big Content, which includes big players like Hollywood as well as obviously the Big Five corporate publishers and the likes of Rupert Murdoch’s organizations, the media organizations as well, very powerful player. And then you’ve got this third player that’s kind of come in supposedly on the author’s side, which is the European Union. The European Union, you know, in the eurozone, there isn’t really the same level of innovation and stuff that’s going on in tech in the US and other places. And in a way it’s finding a role for itself as big legal and coming in as the only people who can, in a way, stand up to Big Tech, which is extremely powerful and Big Content and purporting to speak on behalf of the author to do that.

Orna: However, it’s taking a very traditional view of author rights. And this is where the history comes in. So some of the people, a Bill of Rights are still out there and we have people like yourself that we’ve asked to comment on it from their various different perspectives. And it’s interesting that everybody outside the author community said it’s too long. Take out all that stuff about the history and the context and everything.

Yeah. But everybody in the indie author community is saying, “Oh, I’m so glad that history and context was there because it really helps me to understand where I fit into the big picture.” And I think that’s important because when people talk about authors, they’re probably not talking about you. They’re probably talking about somebody who has licensed to their rights to a trade publisher. And they’re very often conflating the two and assuming that Big Content and what they’re fighting for is what you want as an indie author.

Orna: And it may or may not be. And so that’s why we felt the context was important. And then just to state the, you know, the Bill of Rights, kind of the rights that were embodied in the original legislation, copyright legislation, which is a fantastic piece of work originally. It really very carefully balanced the rights of the author and the rights of the reader. And it’s really important some of this legal stuff completely polarizes those two as if authors and readers are on opposite sides of the fence. But of course an author is a reader, one minute and, you know, you have to be a reader in order to be a writer. And reader’s rights are absolutely core to what we do.

And indies in particular who have such a close relationship with our readers who understand that, you know, our readers take the place that the publisher takes for the traditional author. We’re more cognizant, I think, of reader’s rights in all of this than the average. So yeah, it’s, Big Legal is talking about it, Big Content is talking about it, Big Tech is talking about it. They’re all fighting and we are people who are kind of connected to all of those as we try and make our living day by day.

Joanna: Yeah. And I think it’s also important, you know, the Alliance is important because together we are stronger, but together we are even stronger when we are educated about these things. So I see this as a very, I learned a lot from the document and I didn’t have anything that I wanted to add or change about it. I thought it was pretty darn perfect actually. It was really good. I mean, because I don’t know enough about this area, but I just thought this is great. And I learned a lot from it.

And I think this, again, it’s about this power play. We’re not, well, we are individual, we’re independent but together in the Alliance, the more people know about stuff, the more we can put our voices out there. And also we’re a massive global network now and people have relationships. So this is, I guess, a question. What do you want to happen with that Bill of Rights? Do you want every author to read it and you know, should we send it to our MP or you know, what is, what is, what do you see for that document or book once, I guess, it’s published?

Orna: Yeah. So it’s going to be key to lots of our initiatives for the next number of years going forward. It’s sort of like our foundational document and yes, we would like every author to read it. We’re beginning with them a survey as well. We have a copyright survey trying to find out what authors want to know about copyright and how interested they are even, and you know, that will also help us to frame a strategy which will be built on the Bill of Rights. But definitely we would like everyone to read it and to begin to ask themselves some questions about this. And pretty much everybody who contributed to it, you know, believes that there should be more thinking about copyright and not just more thinking, more critical thinking. And authors are a very bright bunch, you know, but we haven’t always been bright about our own situation.

Copyright Law: Freedom or Protection?

Orna: We have, you know, and still do lots of authors are you know, overvalue their work emotionally. But when it comes to actually exploiting the rights that they own or getting into negotiation with another third party, be that a self publishing organization or a trade publishing organization, they can just, you know, throw these rights away and we just want them to start thinking really feeding back to us what they think, what they’d like us to be saying, what they’d like us to be doing. That will be part of it.

And so it will form the basis we will be taking them that Bill of Rights. We already have. And it’s interesting, we’ve asked some of the traditional author organizations to help us just spread our survey and they are refusing because they don’t like the line that we have taken, which would be more, more towards the freedom side than towards the protection side.

Orna: So a balancing of freedoms and protections, which we think is possible, which the freedom people think isn’t possible and the protection people think isn’t possible. But the way we think about it is, look, copyright is legislation. It is actually a passive right. Very few authors will ever stand up in court and defend their copyright against a pirate or a plagiarist or whatever.

But that doesn’t matter. The fact that it exists actually allows us to make a living. And so you’re living within that kind of paradox. And it’s the same with the protection and the freedom. You can actually ride that place in between where you are aware enough to decide where you fall on that spectrum. And I think that’s the first question for an author to ask themselves. So within, to take an example, a very practical example, we are all being ripped off in the sense that our books are being pirated and they are being sold.

Orna: Sometimes these are dummy sites and they’re not, there is no books there. But equally there are sites where readers are very happy to go and download your book for nothing and you don’t get anything from it. Plagiarism exists at that level. And sorry, piracy exists at that level. And plagiarism is also happening. What we get to do about that as an organization and you know, what people want us to do about that would be guided by responses to this bill. So on the one hand, we know we have some members who say, “Yay, great pirate me. I need exposure. I don’t care. You know, my real challenge is getting work to readers. I’m confident if they read a pirated book that they may spend money on a book or else that people who are pirating books are never going to spend money anyway, and I’m happy to let them read. I don’t care.” On the other hand, we have members who spend a lot of time sending out take down notices and you know, everything in between. So that’s just one example of what we, you know, we need feedback so that we know what our members and by extension indie authors kind of want to run some of that stuff.

Joanna: Mm. But it’s interesting though, that example is interesting because I, you know, I’m one of the people who, I’m not going to encourage piracy, but I’m certainly not going to spend my time chasing down pirates because as far as I’m concerned, they’re like a different ecosystem. I don’t shop that. I’m a reader. I read a lot. I don’t shop on pirate sites and I know a lot of it’s kind of phishing, so it’s interesting with that. But what I do do is take down notices for people who pirate my website, because I feel that that is more easily piratable in a way. But it’s still published material. So, you know, when something’s on my blog or on any of our blogs, it’s still our writing on tat. But, and people, like youtube videos, but it’s always going to happen.

Orna: But the, the right, so let’s say the right not to be pirated, it’s still the question of how far your you go in trying to stop that. Are you coming down on a particular thing? So for example, DRM, digital rights management, most indies don’t check the box that means you’re locking your book down to a particular format and a particular reader, most of us are, you know, DRM free. But, and that’s something that’s an opinion. It’s not legal in any way. So where are you casting the line here? Is it a recommendation, I guess?

Orna: Yes. So what we’re doing is with certain things, we’re happy to make a recommendation on DRM is an example. So the ally recommendation clearly is “Be DRM free.” It makes more sense, in our opinion, DRM just doesn’t work. And really inconveniences the reader in a way that, you know, I think most authors when they understand the implications, it sounds good and this is the thing about educating yourself, it sounds good. Of course it will protect my work and it won’t be able to blah blah blah. But when you actually get into it and the implications of it and what it means for the reader and what that will do to the reader-author relationship and what that might do to your next book and so on, it don’t sound so good anymore. So, DRM is something we’re happy to make a recommendation on.

Investigating Copyright Law for our Members

Orna: Then when it comes to other things like takedown notices, what we’re doing is investigating, there was a service called Blasty, which is now gone and for all intents and purposes was publishers association here in the UK has an interesting wing whereby they quite efficiently do take down notices.. So we’re exploring if our members would like, you know, an easy way to do this. We’re exploring, is there a way in which ALLi can help people to actually, so we will never do away with piracy completely, obviously, and that’s not the intention, but if you can make life difficult for somebody else with ease, you know, so we would not recommend our members to be spending a lot of time sending out individual take down notices. But if there’s an easy way, if we can help provide an easy way to do that and our members want it, then we would want to facilitate that.

Orna: So in some there are, I think we ended up with nine different rights and what we do is just kind of talk a little bit around them at an educational level, first of all. And then we will be, some of them are pretty clear and straightforward what we feel we should do. And then others will require us to get some feedback from members and things as to how they feel. And as I said, we’re still gathering some stuff. So in some cases it will be a clear recommendation. In other cases, it will be, perhaps, a new service that we will investigate or even explore what might be possible with some of our partner members or whatever. It will vary, in other words, depending on the actual rights that we’re discussing.

Joanna: And it’s interesting because this freedom/protection binary, it’s not binary at all, but a lot of people are taking it as binary. But Blasty is a good example. So because I interview, you know, over 400 interviews now on the Creative Penn and a lot of guest posts, Blasty was sending me take down notices for authors who had come on my show to do book marketing. So I never, I never thought they were, you know, I always thought they were overkill. And this is the problem with the protection and why the EU copyright directive is, you know, still, even though it’s gone through, one of the, I think Poland is just, put up some issue with it. But essentially, for example, we can say, “Yes, I want to give away the first in my series for free. Or I don’t, and I want Google to use snippets from my website on their search terms so that people can find my books,” for example.

Joanna: But then the protectionist people are saying, “Well, no, Google can’t use a snippet and we can’t have free books and we can’t have creative Commons images.” And people, you know, people on both sides kind of saying, “Well, we need to get paid for our work.” And then the other one is, “Well, how do I get discovered?” Or even, and this is one thing that I think is an issue, “How do we quote other authors under the terms of a fair use?” For example, if that is decided that you can’t do that either. So, you know, are there any other sort of controversy? We can’t answer all these now, obviously. But are there any sort of controversies that you see as particularly pertinent to the ALLi audience?

Orna: I think there’s a few things I’m interested that you brought up. The Google one. That’s a very good example. When I first heard about Google’s project, I thought, “Oh gosh, that’s a bit dicey” because, like ,I listened to what I was reading in, you know, literary magazines and blogs and so on and just kind of took it at face value when it came to actually looking into that, though, I realized that Google, at its own expense, was actually going to set up a, you know, and still is the largest library in the world, which is hugely, hugely for anybody who is kind of my age and you remember what it was like having to actually go to the library and wait for a book to take four weeks to arrive for something really important that you wanted and needed to know that is actually a very worthwhile project and copyright is, and was being fully respected there and the author was given the option to opt in or opt out.

Copyright Law Traditions

Orna: So everything was covered off very well but the objections to it have completely changed the nature of that project in a way, which I think doesn’t benefit either indie authors or the readers. So that will be a very good example. But again, you know, somebody else might read the same stuff and, and see it slightly differently. The other stuff is around the fair use thing is a, is a real issue because you essentially have two traditions here when it comes to copyright. You’ve got the American tradition, which is very much about copyright is what allows you to make a living. And copyright is good for that reason. It incentivizes the creator and, but it also is about this is good for readers. And that was the reason for it. It was seen to be good for readers that authors would own the copyright rather than printers and controllers, if you like, gatekeepers.

Orna: More people who owned copyright, the more diversity we would get in publishing more expression, and all of that being good for society and the social good, the educational good, reader good. So that’s one sort of tradition. The other tradition kind of comes originally from France and is the European tradition, which is the author, as you know, auteur, createur, and with author right, moral rights to this material. And that right has been, there isn’t really a concept of fair use in Europe in the same way that there is in the States and other places. So you’ve got kind of got this Anglo American way and you’ve got the European way which has been used very much to stop, I mean, I’m from Ireland. Two notorious Estates, the James Joyce estate and the Samuel Beckett estate are so controlling, have been so controlling Joyce is just out of copyright.

Orna: But until he was Steven Joyce, his grand son was notorious for not allowing anything at all to be done to any of that work. The copyright lobbyists added an extra 20 years on top of, it used to be 50 years after the author’s death, 20 more years were added on. Does that really? Is that really what I want? Or what you want, you know, is that necessary that our grandchildren would have that kind of creative control at that point? This was Hollywood kind of made that happen. And so, the other great thing I think and the thing that we need to take onboard as indies is this whole notion of creative commons and that we as a copyright holder can actually set our own terms and conditions around how we want work to be used. We can make it copyright for, you know, we can say free use, off you go or we can state particular terms around what we want to happen.

Orna: Copyright doesn’t mean that we have to be all rights reserved. We can actually come up with something and in coming up with something different, we can actually maybe, circumvent some of the rights grabbing that’s going on by the likes of Big Tech. So Facebook and some of the other services who are actually trying to take our data, take our copyright and you know, use it for their own financial gain without us getting any financial gain.

Creative Commons can be used to kind of circumvent that a little bit. I think it’s also worth saying just on that whole issue that the Big Tech people in our sector in publishing are, have not been given enough credit by the copyright lobbyists, I think. There is a huge difference between what’s happening in the publishing world and what’s happening in the music world, for example. You know, Amazon is to be credited hugely for coming up with a means of publishing that allowed indies to make a living from their copyright while getting the stuff out there. You know, it’s completely different to the mass kind of downloading of music that has happened on, say, somewhere like Youtube. So all Big Tech is not all the same and we can have an influence in there once we are cognizant of the rights that we hold.

Joanna: Yeah. And I think this is such a big topic that we wanted to bring this up as more of, I think an awareness. And once you read the Bill of Rights, it’s a lot, obviously a lot more detailed than we can go into in this discussion. And you listeners watchers as responsible authors with rights, you do get to make some of your own choices about how you feel about these different things. So, for example, Creative Commons, I have, I have a Flickr accounts, where I upload photos and those are Creative Commons licensed photos but only for noncommercial use. So you can put one of my photos on your blog, but you can’t use it as a book cover, for example. And you have to credit me and I see it as, discoverability. I see it as if you want a picture of Rome, maybe you’re interested in my book, which has Rome in, you know, that type of thing.

Position Authors for the Future

Joanna: So, but what, we don’t have huge amounts of time to go into this. But what I do want to ask you about is, because the reason I feel you’re doing this as well, is starting to position us for what is a huge shift in what has been reasonably static law that people are suddenly realizing does not suit the digital age. And this ties into some of the stuff you’ve been doing on blockchain for authors. We’re starting to see that coming through. Facebook have announced they’re launching their own cryptocurrency next year in 2020 which will become in an, I think an aim to make Facebook more like WeChat in China where the whole thing is done within the portal, which will have massive implications for what you publish or what you sell. Like, what if you want to sell your book within Facebook with their currency.

Joanna: What does that mean? So, and then of course we have AI creativity we’ve seen in the last week or so, the release of, well, a tiny part of the open AI, which I’ve tried and it’s blooming interestingly good, scarily good. And something that I’m very interested to keep using. But if I train the AI on your books and it spits out a version of a book that is not plagiarizing you but is trained on your work, how is that going to go? So what are your thoughts on the future of why we’re doing this now? Why we’re having these conversations at anything that you’re particularly interested in?

Orna: Yeah, I am interested in machine based learning and you know, who gets credited for what because we call it AI and it is, but it is also something that some human person, it exists because humans are there and it will, you know, it needs something to feed it and it needs and all of that. So I think if I was to say one thing that’s the most important here, it’s that education thing again. If we don’t understand what’s going on, if we don’t understand what our rights mean and all these things happen without our knowledge and consent. And we saw that with the Internet, that is kind of what happened last time out. We now are much, much more savvy and much, much more educated and I think we need to think more as a group. So we’re all small individuals doing what we do, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t kind of all work together on some of this stuff. So you know, just to take an example, everybody sees Amazon KDP as being hugely powerful and it is but what would Amazon KU be if all indie authors decided, okay, we’re going to do a blackout on until this is actually, this issue is sorted for, as an example. So-

Joanna: I just can’t ever see that happening.

Orna: I know. I do understand-

Joanna: Sadly.

Orna: Getting authors to understand what’s good for them and to come together in that sort of way is one of the things that I would love to see. I know we’re not going to get every author doing it and people again, are very, very much in terms of their independence and, you know, how independent they want to be and how much they think about their own wellbeing and so on. But if we can grow the number of people who actually see that together we are genuinely stronger. If we can get a cohort, it’ll never be everybody for sure, but if we can actually get people to stop and think. And so often with authors we’re so busy on the day to day and I completely understand that it’s challenging work that we do. We’re so busy on the day to day of writing the stuff, publishing the stuff but when we get to the point of, you know, a lot of the listeners who are listening in to us right now are at where they have mastered the production thing.

Orna: They’ve mastered the sales thing to some degree. They know what they’re doing. It is really worthwhile stopping for a bit and just regrouping and just getting to understand your rights and getting to understand what it means or what it might mean in the future and how you want to handle things. So for example, a lot of authors are giving away free books. But they’ve given away free books with all rights reserved written on it, which doesn’t actually make a lot of sense, just as a simple thing that’s just an educational point. They don’t quite understand that with Creative Commons they could say, you know, “This is freely distributed on these terms and conditions” and ask you to do, ask people to do something in return that they might like that isn’t money. There’s so many other ways of exchanging value that isn’t financial.

Orna: We could get so creative about that and as blockchain and some of these other technologies come in, what’s possible for us grows. But it doesn’t differ all like herd mentality just doing the easy obvious thing because somebody says that’s, you know, Amazon’s a, what is it, a hundred ton gorilla or whatever and therefore there is no point. There is a point. There are definitely most certainly is a point. What we’re seeing here is fragmentation and abundance and there are lots of ways in which we can change things. We could become a very powerful group if we let ourselves.

What Should Authors Do Next?

Joanna: So, Orna, it’s been really good to talk about copyright but what can people do now? Where should they go? What do you want them to do next?

Orna: Yeah, 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. 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. So if you can go to our copyright survey and just give us two minutes of your time. That will really help us going forward to sort some of the issues that we’ve been talking about here this evening.

Joanna: Fantastic. Right. So anything you’re planning for the next month?

Orna: Redoing my poetry with oomph and panache instead of being sold.

Joanna: I’ve heard some of your poems, some of them are sombre.

Orna: Yeah. Well I tried to be, not all of them, so I try-

Joanna: Not all of them-

Orna: Try not to be so somber.

Joanna: I will be editing Map of Plagues and getting that to my editor. I did have a deadline and I will hit the deadline.

Orna: Of course you will.

Joanna: With bags under my eyes, but I’m going to get it done and then I hopefully will start recording audio as well. So it’s all go. We will be back as ever next month, with the Alliance. Anything else Orna before we say goodnight?

Orna: No. I think that’s it, yeah, watch out for the Bill of Rights and we look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Joanna: Yeah. Well, happy writing, happy publishing.

Orna: Happy everything. Happy selling books.

Joanna: Bye!

Also Read …

How to Scale your Author Income Without Burnout; AskALLi Advanced Self-Publishing Salon with Joanna Penn and Orna Ross May 2019

Indie Authors and Copyright Debates

Global Reach for Authors: Is it More Than Book Distribution?

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. Almost the first 40% was chit-chat. I know some folks view that as “keeping the channels open” or greasing the skids or whatever, but getting down to brass tacks is what I’m here for. Could it be that those ship-jumpers saw it that way, too?

    OK, enough curmudgeoning…

    Creative Commons as a topic — I’ve used it, and I also once believed in the tooth fairy. I’ve come to believe that the latter has more teeth than Creative Commons. I would have welcomed a bit more insight into CC in your discussion. Like the header line in a website that says “Webbots, stay away please”, the CC
    “gentlepersons’ agreement” appears to be a naive concept that assumed everyone would play fair. Sigh. Any follow-up would be valuable, methinks.

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Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is an editor and writer with more than 30 years of experience in journalism, from newspapers to magazines specializing in business, science, and technology. He has spent the past few years guiding coverage of independent publishing, amplifying voices of the marginalized. Howard is also a book doctor who enjoys working with authors to get their work ready for publication.

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