Four UC Berkeley professors united in a desire to support writers and other creators in spreading the reach of their work in the digital age – while better understanding their publishing rights – launched a new nonprofit Wednesday (May 21) at the Internet Archive in San Francisco.
Founders of the organization, called the Authors Alliance, aim to realize the promise of digital technology, such as online journals and e-books, for the wide dissemination of knowledge and culture for the public good. Members also want to help authors and creators of work from photos to music overcome new challenges that they said “threaten to condemn works to obscurity, orphanhood and oblivion.” The Authors Alliance will provide educational tools, events and public interest advocacy to help authors understand their rights and “to better be read, seen and heard,” organizers said.
“The vast majority of authors either do not write for profit or do not make a profit on their work,” said co-founder Carla Hesse, a professor of history and dean of the Division of Social Sciences in the College of Letters & Science. “This organization was founded to promote writers’ ability to disseminate their work and to advance the public interest by sharing knowledge and spreading it as widely and freely as possible.”
Plagued by issues from copyright rules that are not author-friendly to rising costs that make it harder for publishers, including university presses, to distribute scholars’ works broadly, writers increasingly have trouble getting their work in front of their audiences. Some authors who are eager to share what they have produced may discover that their works are out of print, undigitized and subject to copyrights signed away long before the digital age.
Still others interested in sharing new works may feel torn between publication outlets that maximize public access and those that restrict access but claim to provide value in terms of peer review and prestige or even fame and fortune, Hesse explained.
Hesse and Alliance cofounders, University Librarian Thomas Leonard, Molly Shaffer Van Houweling of Berkeley Law School and Pamela Samuelson of Berkeley Law and the School of Information, joined forces about two years ago to create the group. They’ve adopted the slogan: “Promoting authorship for the public good by supporting authors who write to be read.”
The Alliance has drawn support across disciplines on the Berkeley campus, including from scientists such as Nobel Laureate Professor Randy Schekman and Professor Michael Eisen, both of whom serve on the group’s 24-member advisory board. Additional board members include a former U.S. poet laureate, legal experts, publishing professionals, journalists and the Harvard University librarian among other academic and corporate luminaries. Another 170 founding members joined the organization in advance of its formal launch.
In its first act of public advocacy, the Alliance released its Principles and Proposals For Copyright Reform at its launch event. The Principles and Proposals identify key ways in which copyright law can better serve its constitutional mission of furthering knowledge or the “Progress of Science.”
“Promoting the Progress of Science is what our members do on a daily basis,” cofounder Samuelson said. “So we should help shape copyright law to ensure it serves this constitutional goal.”
Join the effort or learn more online at AuthorsAlliance.org.