Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers, industry news, and commentary. Writer Beware® is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

June 11, 2020

Agencies in Turmoil: Red Sofa Literary Threatens Legal Action, Mass Firings At Corvisiero Literary Agency

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®
On May 30, following blowback she received for her tweeted responses to the protests in her hometown of St. Paul, MN, Dawn Frederick of Red Sofa Literary posted a note of apology on the agency's website.

Between then and now, Frederick seems to have changed her mind--at least, about her critics.

Today, three of the people who responded critically on social media to Frederick's tweets--agents Beth Phelan and Kelly Van Sant and author Isabel Sterling--received a letter from Frederick's lawyers threatening legal action unless they remove and retract their responses, which the lawyers allege are "false, harm [Frederick's] reputation and are defamatory".
Phelan, Van Sant, and Sterling are refusing to comply. In an open letter to Frederick, they detail why they believe Frederick's threatened defamation action is without merit, and also why they are taking the matter public.
We are making this public because the book industry still lacks the necessary transparency to fully see and address the many faults in our whole institution. We want to push back against these intimidation tactics so that we can help foster an environment where we can speak our truth about racist practices and other insidiously problematic behaviors without fear of retribution. We need to continue to call these things out. And we need to see people accept responsibility and engage in actual growth, not pandering.

We ask for the community’s support in breaking this cycle of silence. This is not just about one agent, one threat, one voice, but about delegitimizing threats of lawsuits as tools of silencing overall.
Apparently Phelan, Van Sant, and Sterling aren't the only ones who have heard from Frederick's lawyers. Author Foz Meadows, who last week wrote a long blog post about her experience with Red Sofa, reports getting a letter too, though possibly in error: Phelan, Van Sant, and Sterling have launched a defense fund to help pay for potential legal expenses. 

Tweets about the protest from Marisa Corvisiero of Corvisiero Literary Agency also generated controversy last week, prompting two of her agents to resign.
That same day, Corvisiero made the abrupt decision to fire her entire remaining staff--claiming, basically, that it was for their own protection: 

Some of the former employees have issued a joint statement, apologizing to clients and alleging longstanding problems within the agency. 
If you're a Corvisiero client with unsold work who has been orphaned by the firings, you can add your name and manuscript(s) to this directory, which "is meant for literary agents and editors to help ease the blow and economic hardship this has placed on these writers by finding them home for new work."

June 1, 2020

Four Major Publishers Sue the Internet Archive Over Unauthorized Book Scanning

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

This past March, I wrote about the Internet Archive's National Emergency Library--a spinoff from the IA's massive Open Library project, which makes scanned print books available to the public for free in various digital formats.

While many of these books are in the public domain, many are not: they are in-copyright and commercially available, and have been scanned and uploaded without authors' or publishers' permission, violating copyright law and potentially interfering with authors' income. To create the National Emergency Library, the IA has used the figleaf of the coronavirus pandemic as justification to remove even the minimal restrictions on borrowing that governed the Open Library--abandoning one of the key provisions of the legal theory that it and others created to justify what amounts to massive copyright violation.

Though controversy erupted over the Open Library a few years ago, with the IA's actions condemned by authors, publishers, and authors' groups, and many authors contacting the IA to have their books removed, no legal action followed. Given the outcome of the Authors' Guild's long legal fight against Google's book scanning project, I'm guessing it might never have done, had the IA not thrown down the gauntlet of the National Emergency Library. Now, four publishers have called the IA's bluff.

This morning, Hachette, HarperCollins, John Wiley & Sons, and Penguin Random House filed suit against the Internet Archive in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleging "systematic mass scanning and distribution of literary works." The suit asks the court to declare that the Open Library constitutes "willful copyright infringement", to enjoin the IA from further infringing activities relating to the plaintiffs, and impose payment of statutory damages.

From the Association of American Publishers' press release on the lawsuit:

From Publishers Lunch (which also points out that the IA sells its book scanning and digitization capabilities commerically, generating millions in revenue):

The full complaint can be seen here. The list of titles cited in the complaint gives a taste of the breadth of  the IA's copyright violation.

UPDATE 6/11/20: The Internet Archive has announced that it will be shuttering the National Emergency Library two weeks early, on June 16, and "returning to traditional controlled digital lending." 

It claims to be doing so because "the vast majority of people use digitized books on the Internet Archive for a very short time", and also because "four commercial publishers chose to sue Internet Archive during a global pandemic". Many people suspect that a lawsuit was exactly what the IA wanted, in hopes of getting legal rulings that will validate its disputed Controlled Digital Lending theory.

UPDATE 11/8/21: The latest on the ongoing lawsuit: The IA is attempting to gum up the works with extremely broad discovery demands, and plaintiffs are objecting.

Additionally, there's new concern over the New Zealand National Library's donation of hundreds of print books to the IA for "storage and preservation" (read: digitization). The books--many of them still in copyright--have been culled from the National Library's Overseas Published Collections (in other words, they are books the Library no longer wishes to house). 

As usual where the "controlled digital lending" theory is involved, authors are automatically opted in, and if they don't wish their books to go to the IA, must opt out. That procedure is here. The entire list of books to be donated can be downloaded here

Personal note: two of my father's books are on the list, one of which is still in copyright (though no longer in print). I'm not his literary executor, unfortunately.
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