The following statement can be attributed to Lia Holland (they/she), Campaigns and Communications Director at digital rights nonprofit Fight for the Future:
This morning a broad and diverse coalition of over 300 novelists, poets, prominent academics, celebrity authors, and published activists issued a letter with three demands for the publishing industry in regards to libraries’ digital rights. Since that time, 125 more authors have joined them for a total of 425 authors and rising.
As expected, corporate publishing industry lobbyists have responded by attempting to undermine the demands of these authors by circulating false and condescending talking points, a frequent tactic lobbyists use to divert attention from the principled actions of activists.
The statement from the Authors Guild specifically asserts, without evidence, that “multiple authors” who signed this letter feel they were “misled”. This assertion is false and we challenge these lobbyists to either provide evidence for their claim or retract it.
It’s repugnant for industry lobbying associations who claim to represent authors to dismiss the activism of author-signatories like Neil Gaiman, Chuck Wendig, Naomi Klein, Robert McNamee, Baratunde Thurston, Lawrence Lessig, Cory Doctorow, Annalee Newitz, and Douglas Rushkoff, or claim that these authors were somehow misled into signing a brief and clear letter issuing specific demands for the good of all libraries. Corporate publishing lobbyists are free to disagree with the views stated in our letter, but it’s unacceptable for them to make false claims about our organization or the authors who signed.
One author, named in the Authors Guild statement, did ask to be removed from the letter last night just before it was published. We respected and complied with his request. But it is utterly false to claim that he never agreed to sign the letter or that we “misled” him about its contents. We have the paper trail to show as much. Any lobbyist claims to the contrary are easily, provably false and we will provide screenshots of our communications to journalists on background if requested.
Any assertion that authors are unable to read and understand this letter is condescending—the truth is that the publishing lobby must accept is that not all authors and creative workers share the common view in corporate publishing that the censorship and surveillance inherent in the maximalist copyright system they support are necessary to ensure fair compensation for creative labor.
Author Elizabeth Kate Switaj said when signing: “My most recently published book is on the Internet Archive—and that delights me.” Dan Gillmor said: “Big Publishing would outlaw public libraries if it could—or at least make it impossible for libraries to buy and lend books as they have traditionally done, to enormous public benefit—and its campaign against the Internet Archive is a step toward that goal.” Sasha Costanza-Cook called publisher’s actions against the Internet Archive “absolutely shameful” and Laura Gibbs said “it’s the library I use most, and I am proud to see my books there.”
Further, the Authors Guild appears to assert in an email to their membership that there have been various “versions” of the letter in circulation, implying that Fight for the Future fooled authors into signing one version and then disingenuously made a bunch of alterations. That assertion is wholly false. There has only ever been one version of this letter.
Next, we are grateful for efforts of some of these organizations to combat book bans, but must question what ending the right of libraries to own, preserve, and loan digital books will do to the future of access to such works. Libraries across the country are recognizing that, increasingly, digital books may be the path forward for providing access to youth and traditionally marginalized communities regardless of location. But to only allow libraries to license the works that publishers grant them permission for is not a future-proof plan. It’s not even a today-proof plan. Especially not for works by the many traditionally marginalized authors who are among our signatories.
Make no mistake: despite lobbyist statements, major publishers offer no option in which they allow libraries to purchase, own, and preserve digital books. The lawsuit against the Internet Archive, if successful, will end the right of all libraries to create digital scans of their collections themselves, their only option for digital book ownership. This is a practice currently used by not just the Internet Archive, but also institutions like the Boston Public Library. It does not give millions of books “away for free” as lobbyists assert, but rather loans them in a 1-to-1 ratio, based on how many copies of the print book they have in their collection—with the same controls on access and return period any digital book has.
The publishing lobby rightly recognizes that the optics of suing a public library or calling such treasured public institutions “ebook pirates” are bad, so they’re going after a less well known institution, the Internet Archive, instead. The results of the suit, however, will affect all libraries.
As our lives become more digital, we predict that the trend of digital books increasingly becoming the default reading experience will continue. This sets us up for a future in which shareholders at publishing titans will exclusively hold the preservation of and access to many books in their profit-motivated hands. Many simply trust libraries and librarians more, and that should come as no surprise.
Regardless of anyone’s feelings about the Internet Archive itself (which we at Fight for the Future think is a fantastic and essential institution), this rollback of libraries’ rights is incredibly concerning for the future of authors and access to diverse voices. We resoundingly reject such a future and will continue to vigorously pursue the preservation of libraries’ traditional roles in the digital age.
Finally, Fight for the Future objects to the wholly false, laughable assertion that Fight for the Future is not an independent digital rights organization. We are a small but mighty queer women led collective of artists and activists with a ten year history of engaging with the greatest battles for the rights of users, creators, and, particularly, traditionally marginalized communities in the US. Let our work and our principled stands speak for themselves.
The Authors for Libraries letter is but a tiny slice of our collective’s struggle for digital justice. That said, we are extremely proud of the work we contribute in the publishing space and encourage all authors to sign on at https://www.fightforthefuture.org/authors-for-libraries
There are many issues in which we agree with organizations like the Authors Guild, and we hope to work together in coalition someday on important issues surrounding artists’ rights such as antitrust legislation, book bans, Amazon’s exploitation of authors, or the truly abhorrent under-compensation of authors and publishing professionals amid record profits in big publishing. Until that day, we will work with other authors’ organizations which recognize the threats major publishers are bringing to the digital future of the literary world.
While the corporate publishing lobby would love to live in a world of monochromatic author groupthink, unfortunately today they must face once and for all that many authors disavow the idea that libraries should take a lesser role in the ownership and preservation of books in the digital age.