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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The (Un)American Author's Guild


I had been planning to make this post about copyright and related issues that Writers need to be aware of before self-publishing. However, there are things going on in the world of writing and online publishing that I feel need to be addressed.

I'm talking about the lawsuit filed against Google by the Author's Guild of America. (link) Google is trying to put several library collections online. In so doing, the Guild feels they are in violation of various aspects of the Copyright Act, and violating Author's rights in the process.

This, despite the fact that authors who do not want to be included in the collection are free to contact Google and opt out. This is, according to the Author's Guild, too much burden to put on the backs of the Author. Apparently one may be brilliant enough to write a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, but still be too obtuse to click on an opt-out box on a web-site.

What Google is proposing is to only post small portions of the books in question, unless the content owner gives permission to show more. They're not reprinting entire works for free. At least, not without the Author's permission.

Having once been involved in a copyright dispute myself and having also seen certain concepts and story sequences I'd developped "expropriated" by others, I'm a very strong supporter of a Writer's rights to his or her work. However, the Authors' Guild is not the advocacy group it claims to be.

Yes, many established, best-selling and famous authors are members of the Guild. However in my opinion this organization is essentially a league of 500-lb gorillas looking out for their own enlightened self-interest.

The Author's Guild is not an advocacy group for the rights of anyone that doesn't meet their stringent standards. Elegibility for membership in the Author's Guild (link), you see, is incumbent on being :


"…published by an established American publisher. Freelance writers must have published three works, fiction or non-fiction, by a periodical of general circulation within the last eighteen months."

In their own words, Authors with a small publisher, self-published and E-published authors need not apply:


"…A contract with a vanity press does not qualify for membership in the Guild."

Doesn't it seem odd that a Guild whose mission is supposedly to represent the interests of authors would make it that much harder for new and untested authors to gain recognition, acceptance and most importantly, legitimacy? Because despite the legitimacy that book distributors and online book sellers are giving by recognizing the self published, it is somehow beneath the Author's Guild to do the same.

We already know that unpublished writers have a piddling-to-nil chance of getting published by what the Author's Guild so pompously refers to as "an established American publisher". As they are not part of the solution for the Unpublished Voices, they must, therefore be part of the problem, helping to perpetuate a cycle that locks the New and the Unknown writer out of the field. Google's plan could potentially increase recognition for Self-Published Authors and E-Published Authors by including us in their online catalogue. So why does the Author's Guild oppose this?

The Authors' Guild Mission Statement says, in part

“The Authors Guild is the professional organization for every published writer Today's Guild is industrious, dynamic and works exclusively for our benefit...From 1919 on, the Guild has worked on behalf of its members to lobby for free speech, copyrights and other issues of concern to authors and bring authors the latest news in the publishing industry..."

And yet, the Authors' Guild feels that these rights and interests should only belong to those published with an "established American publisher". They do nothing to work for the rights of Unpublished Voices. Why should they?

Well, when you consider the entreprenneurial spirit upon which the United States of America was founded, doesn't it seem somehow un-American to refuse to recognize ambitious Self-Publishers who are following their dreams and ambitions by the only means available to them? Doesn't it seem to run contrary to the goal of working for Authors' rights do deny these literary pioneers the legitimacy they are working for?

The problem is, the fallacy that "If you haven't been published by a REAL publisher you're not good enough" is far too prevalent. But though a thousand men may repeat a lie, it will not make that lie into the truth.

What is needed is an advocacy group to look after Self-Published Authors, and the Unpublished Voices that are still struggling to be recognized. If we will not be given recognition, if we will not be given legitimacy, perhaps we should take it for ourselves.

UPDATE!

Please check my Weblogs section and read the Google! blog, for their official response to the legal action sought against them by the Author's Guild of America

The direct link to their response can be found here

1 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey man, it's TOJ. I'm glad to see you've got a nice stick it to the man vibe going on here. One point I wanted to comment on was the vanity publishing point. I can understand why they wouldn't want to offer membership to the guild to everybody who printed 50 copies of the family history or whatever. They should offer it to serious writers who take advantage of POD publishing, or whatever though. Asides from that, your opinions seem balanced and fair. Keep writing Faithless!