Advocacy Accomplishments

Learn about some of our successes from more than a century of fighting for authors’ rights.

We helped restore authors’ legitimate tax deductions.

When the U.S. Treasury Department insisted a BENIGN-looking footnote in the Tax Reform Act of 1986 would force creative artists to capitalize their expenses against particular projects rather than deducting expenses in the year when they were incurred, the Guild mobilized artists, songwriters, and even Julia Child (who asked, “How do I allocate the oregano?”) in protest. By late 1988, the tax code was permanently changed in creators’ favor. Every time you take a deduction on your Schedule C, you have the Authors Guild to thank. Read more here.

We helped bring U.S. copyright law into line with the rest of the world.

For more than 100 years, the United States’ copyright laws were out of sync with much of the world and with the Berne Convention, an international treaty. Under Berne, works of authorship receive copyright protection for the life of the author plus many decades from the moment the work is fixed in tangible form. The American way was to require “formalities” like notice or registration before copyright was conferred and renewal to keep it in effect; an inadvertent error by an author or publisher could cause one’s work to become part of the public domain forever in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.

Because America’s unique rules left many foreign authors unprotected by American copyright, foreign countries often returned the favor and refused to cover American authors unless their work was published in a Berne signatory country like Canada.

The Authors Guild was at the forefront of urging a change in this country’s laws—and succeeded first with the passage of the Copyright Act of 1976, which removed many formalities, and then the Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988, which led directly to American membership in Berne the following year.

We defended true “fair use” and helped expand what it means.

The Copyright Act of 1976 codified the concept of “fair use” in American law, but was silent on the issue of using unpublished material. In cases involving the letters of J. D. Salinger and the boyhood diaries of L. Ron Hubbard, decisions by U.S. Courts of Appeals stated that unpublished source materials were essentially protected from quotation—a terrible blow to reporters, historians, and biographers. In March 1990, the Guild announced its support for legislation to reverse the courts’ rulings. Thanks largely to the Guild’s efforts in cooperation with publishers, a law amending the Copyright Act was signed in October 1992. It added a single sentence: “The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.”

We won limits on authors’ legal liability.

As late as the early 1980s, it was standard practice for publishers to demand that authors indemnify them from any legal actions related to their books, such as libel or invasion of privacy lawsuits. Thanks to the Guild’s unyielding pressure, many publishers began including authors in the publishers’ insurance policies. By the end of 1982, it had become standard practice in the book industry. Read more here.

We won millions of dollars for authors whose works were distributed without their consent.

In 2000, the Authors Guild, along with two other organizations and 21 freelance writers, brought a class-action suit on behalf of thousands of writers whose work was appropriated for use in online databases without permission. After 14 years of wending its way through the courts, a settlement has finally been reached for $18 million. Checks in compensation for as much as $1,500 per infringed work are expected to land in writers’ mailboxes in the third quarter of 2015. Read more