The Authors Guild is America's oldest and largest professional organization for writers, and provides advocacy on issues of free expression and copyright protection. Since its founding in 1912 as the Authors League of America, it has counted among its board members notable authors of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, including numerous winners of the Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes and National Book Awards. It now has about 9,000 members, who receive free legal advice and guidance on contracts with publishers as well as insurance services and assistance with subsidiary licensing and royalties.
The group lobbies at the national and state levels on censorship and tax concerns, and it has initiated or supported several major lawsuits in defense of authors’ copyrights. One of those, a class-action suit claiming that Google acted illegally when it scanned millions of copyrighted books without permission, is currently on appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Recently the Authors Guild has fought the consolidation of the publishing industry through the mergers of large publishers, and it has pressed the publishers to increase royalty rates for ebooks.
The original Authors League of America was organized with headquarters in New York City in order “to protect the rights of all authors, whether engaged in literary, dramatic, artistic, or musical competition, and to advise and assist all such authors.” In 1921, the Dramatists Guild of America split off as a separate group to represent writers of stage and radio drama. Past presidents of the Authors Guild have included the novelists Pearl S. Buck, Rex Stout and Madeleine L’Engle, the biographers Anne Edwards and Robert Caro, the journalists Herbert Mitgang and J. Anthony Lukas, and the historians William Shirer and Robert Massie. In 2014, the guild’s members elected Roxana Robinson as president and Judy Blume, Richard Russo and James Shapiro as vice presidents.
In June 2014, the guild announced final approval of an $18 million settlement of a class-action suit it brought in 2000, along with the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the National Writers Union and 21 freelance writers. The suit claimed that major electronics databases such as Lexis-Nexis had violated the rights of thousands of freelancers. Their work had originally appeared in newspapers and magazines including the New York Times and Time magazine and had then been resold to the databases without the writers’ permission.
The publishers had argued that the databases constituted a fair “revision” of the original print articles, but the United States Supreme Court ruled in June 2001 that the writers must be compensated for their digital rights. Further litigation and negotiation led to a settlement that will provide payments to the freelancers of up to $1,500 per article.
Conflict with Google
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On September 20, 2005, the Authors Guild, together with Herbert Mitgang, Betty Miles and Daniel Hoffman, filed a class action lawsuit against Google for its Book Search project. According to the Authors Guild, Google was committing copyright infringement by making digital copies of books that were still in copyright. (Google countered that their use was fair according to US copyright law.)
On October 28, 2008 the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers, and Google announced that they had settled Authors Guild v. Google. Google agreed to a $125 million payout, $45 million of that to be paid to rightsholders whose books were scanned without permission. The Google Book Search Settlement Agreement allowed for legal protection for Google's scanning project, even though neither side changed its position about whether scanning books was fair use or copyright infringement. The Settlement also would have established a new regulatory organization, the Book Rights Registry, which would be responsible for allocating fees from Google to rightsholders.
- "Authors Guild". Retrieved 2012-01-12.
- Doreen Carvajal (1998-04-27). "Authors Guild Tries to Block Proposed Merger of 2 Publishers". The New York Times.
- "The Ebook Royalty Mess". The Authors Guild. 2011-02-11. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
- "Authors' League Launched". The New York Times. 1912-12-17.
- Felicity Barringer and Ralph Blumenthal (2001-03-19). "Big Media v. Freelancers: The Justices at the Digital Divide". The New York Times.
- Linda Greenhouse (2001-06-25). "Court Sides with Freelancers in Electronic Rights Case". The New York Times.
- "Copyright Class Action Settlement Website". Copyright Class Action Settlement Website. Retrieved 2014-08-17.
- "FAQs". Google Book Settlement. Retrieved 2012-01-12.