Self-publishing News: A New US Group Seeks to Protect Copyright from State Legislation

In this week’s Self-Publishing News Special, ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway takes a look at the launch of the Coalition to Protect the Creative Economy.

Dan Holloway head and shoulders

ALLi’s News Editor Dan Holloway

In this month’s podcast, Howard and I discuss the implementation, at last, of Amazon’s revised ebook returns policy. Keep an eye out for the next discussion, which will be out later this week.

Protect the Creative Economy Coalition Launches with Campaign Against a Series of Library Ebook Bills

The main story this week has its roots in what I still think of as “the last big story before the pandemic.” Back in those more innocent times, there were a series of disputes between publishers and libraries. Publishers started to change the terms they offered to libraries in the US for lending out ebooks. Typically, this would mean one of two things. One was moving entirely to a “metred usage” model. This is where libraries would pay for the license to an ebook on a per loan basis. Alternatively, license periods started to squeeze. Publishers would sell licenses that allowed a certain number of lends over a certain time, after which a new license was needed.

Libraries objected that this made ebooks harder to stock than print books from an affordability perspective. Licenses were often significant multiples of the cost of a printed book. Publishers argued that the pricing was essential to ensure the viability of producing ebooks. One of the more contentious parts of the dispute was trying to figure out what, if any, the impact of library loans on sales actually was.

Return of Legislation to Allow Libraries to Obtain Ebooks from Publishers on More Favourable Terms

Things calmed in the early stages of the pandemic. Publishers loosened terms to enable people to read during lockdown. But then a series of laws started going to state legislatures. The most high profile of these was in Maryland. These laws would have required publishers to make ebook licenses available “on reasonable terms” to all libraries. The legislation was appealed and judges ruled that it constituted a violation of copyright protection. That was a year ago. Now, more bills are starting the process of becoming law. Laws in Massachusetts and Hawaii include wording that would forbid any license that “precludes, limits, or restricts” the ability of libraries to carry out their core business.

Publishers are still very worried. So much so that a new coalition has just launched in the US that seeks to prevent the erosion of copyright protections. The Protect the Creative Economy Coalition combines groups such as the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers. It seeks to protect the provisions of the Copyright Act. The website claims bills such as those mentioned, “aim to devalue literary works, and to undercut the royalties available to authors. The bills would directly harm their ability to earn a living from their craft. In addition, they would threaten the enormous contributions that American authors make to global culture, education, innovation, and a free and open democracy.”

US Copyright Office Issues Guidance on AI and Copyright

Copyright really is the big story this week. And again the setting is the US. The US Copyright Office has issued guidance on when an author can claim copyright for work that contains AI-generated text.

There are some interesting guidelines. It draws a very clear line between individual elements of content and the overall work into which that content is arranged. You can’t claim copyright for single images generated by Midjourney. Nor can you copyright text produced from a single prompt. But if you assemble those individual items into a larger work, or modify them significantly, then you may be able to claim copyright. That feels to me very much in line with my general understanding of copyright and the kind of definition of creative work that it is intended to cover. Where the guidance is clear is that in order to claim copyright on any work, you must declare any AI-generated content it includes.

Our Campaigns Manager Melissa Addey made the following observation on both of these stories. I fear legislators may lack her foresight!

We live in such a fast-moving world that often new technology arrives and many years later we are still working out what the rules (from simple etiquette to actual legal issues) surrounding it could or should be, as we see what impact it has in different situations. This is still happening with ebooks and mobile phones, let alone AI. It’s important to both welcome new ideas and technologies, but also take our time, in each instance, to work out the new ‘rules’. We should not feel rushed when we do this, and if something changes, we should be able to reconsider choices made so far. As with all things self-publishing, let’s always think marathon, not sprint. This makes it more likely to be both less stressful and to end up with a more considered solution.

AI’s Latest Advances: personalised children’s stories and fears among romance writers

And that brings us full circle to the perennial (is double digit weeks perennial? It feels like it!) topic of AI. Specifically whether it is or isn’t coming for our careers. Spain’s Tinystorie is using AI to generate short books for children that are personalised. Which sounds, I have to say, nice but little more than what the gift card industry and others have been doing for a long time.

But fears expressed elsewhere imply it has gone far beyond the gimmick phase. This week’s ChatGPT scare, which coincides with Open AI’s launch of the new version of the software, GPT-4, has come to no less than the BBC. It asks whether AI-generated text might steal the livings of romance authors. The story contains the concerns of Julia Quinn, author of the books associated with the Netflix hit Bridgerton. One of the good things about the piece is that it provides a platform to set some things straight. It points out that while one of the reasons people might fear AI is coming for romance – it is hugely popular – is true, the other is not. People who don’t know much about it can assume the genre has a tendency to be formulaic. But it’s home to not only a wealth of innovation. It’s also the genre that focuses possibly more than any other on the magical ingredients that make us truly human.

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