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What the Trump Presidency Could Mean for Authors

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Over the last few days, we have received a number of inquiries about what the Trump administration will mean for authors and the Authors Guild’s advocacy efforts. We are still absorbing the news and the repercussions it could have on the interests of writers, journalists, and the freedom of expression. Here’s what we know so far about where the President-elect might stand on some of the issues affecting working authors.

Freedom of Speech

On the campaign trail, Trump showed little respect for freedom of speech, freedom of the press, media access, and even—on an individual level—journalists themselves. We, along with journalists and other free speech advocates, are alarmed by Trump’s often-expressed desire to suppress critics and even sue them. Particularly, there is a risk that Trump’s veto power as president could endanger a pending federal free speech bill—the SPEAK FREE Act—from becoming law. This pending legislation, based on similar laws in more than half of our states, would allow federal courts to dismiss unfounded lawsuits filed solely to punish people for speaking out. It just so happens these types of lawsuits (know as “strategic lawsuits against public participation,” or SLAPP suits)—and the threat of them—have been a favorite Trump tactic.

Expect to see an uptick in our advocacy in this area. Some of our sister organizations, such as PEN America and the National Coalition Against Censorship, focus primarily on freedom of expression, and, while supporting their efforts, we have let them do much of the heavy lifting on these issues. But if any of Trump’s threats against journalists’ freedom of expression materialize, directly challenging such threats will become a core part of our work in fulfillment of our 100-year old mission.

Trump’s Relationship with the Tech Sector

Google’s especially cozy relationship with the government and its related ability to adversely influence copyright policy might be coming to an end. Speculating on how Trump might treat the tech sector, Alex Byers of Politico wrote that “Donald Trump is heading to the White House openly hostile to many of the tech industries’ top priorities in Washington, after a campaign in which he urged a boycott of Apple . . . and traded barbs with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. And that means the tech sector faces a grim change from the privileged status it enjoyed in Washington during the Obama years.” On the other hand, venture capitalist and Facebook board member Peter Thiel was a major Trump supporter and even spoke at the GOP convention.

Net Neutrality

It appears that net neutrality—the principle that all traffic on the Internet should be treated equally—which is now enshrined in FCC regulations recently upheld by a federal appellate court, could be in danger. In a 2014 tweet, Trump called the regulation of Internet traffic “an attack on the Internet” and a “top down power grab” by the Obama administration. Additionally, Trump transition team adviser Jeffrey Eisenbach underscored Trump’s anti-regulatory stance when he recently told C-SPAN that, “taking his broader views on regulation into account, you would expect him to appoint to the FCC [a chairman] who would be inclined to take less of a regulatory position.”

Supreme Court Vacancy

A Trump appointee to the Court would reshape its composition, of course, but any partisan aspects of his appointment won’t necessarily affect the outcome of the copyright cases that may reach the high court, as copyright is basically a non-partisan issue. A look at a list of potential Supreme Court nominees published on Trump’s website on September 23 reveals that a few potential Justices have IP experience:

  • Senator Mike Lee has had some involvement with copyright policy in the music industry as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights. Additionally, in 2012 he opposed the Protect IP Act (read his statement here).
  • Utah Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Thomas Lee, Senator Lee’s brother, previously specialized in intellectual property law in private practice and taught intellectual property law at Brigham Young University. However, he primarily specializes in trademark law.

Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

This multinational trade deal would offer rightsholders better cross-border protections for their intellectual property across the 12 Pacific Rim nations involved. But Trump has vowed that, if elected president, he would cancel the pending deal. For that reason, experts agree, the deal has zero chance of passing in the lame-duck session.

The Future of the Affordable Care Act

Some Authors Guild members have already been in touch with the office asking whether the repeal or dismantling of the Affordable Care Act could result in the Guild’s ability to offer health insurance to its members once again, through a third-party provider.

It looks likely that the Affordable Care Act will be repealed in some way, shape, or form, but a number of states that accepted the law’s expansion of the Medicaid health program for the poor are represented by Republicans. It will take painstaking and potentially lengthy negotiations to come up with a solution. It won’t happen overnight.

Trump and congressional Republicans have set sky-high expectations for repealing the Affordable Care Act; Trump has promised to scrap it “very very quickly.” They have a road map to repeal significant parts of the law, even with a narrow Senate majority. Various factions of the GOP are still far apart on specifically what kind of alternative to enact.

It’s also unclear how the public would respond to taking health care away from millions of people—the first time in American history that such a broad societal benefit enacted by Congress would be repealed.

Bottom line—we should expect some significant changes to the Affordable Care Act, but it will take some time.

The Authors Guild provided health insurance to members until 2010, when our insurance provider discontinued the program due to the high costs. By chance, we began looking into alternative, affordable health insurance possibilities several months ago, since so many authors told us that they had issues getting or paying for insurance. We are hopeful that we will be able to find and provide our members with affordable insurance in the next year whether or not the Affordable Care Act is dismantled, but we will have to see how the market shakes out.

Trump’s Position on Intellectual Property, Generally

During the campaign, Trump said little about where he stands on intellectual property generally, but given that much of his wealth has been accumulated through intellectual property (his brand, identity, and TV show), we’d expect him to be sympathetic with rightsholders. Perhaps the closest thing Trump has offered as an insight to how he will treat intellectual property as president came during an August 8, 2016 speech outlining his economic plan.

Just enforcing intellectual property rules alone could save millions of American jobs. According to the U.S. International Trade Commission, improved protection of America’s intellectual property in China would produce more than 2 million more jobs right here in the United States. Add to that the saved jobs from cracking down on currency cheating and product dumping, and we will bring trillions of dollars in new wealth and wages back to the United States.

Non-Citizen Authors

As a candidate, Trump threatened to accelerate deportations of non-citizens, and seemed to foster a climate in which the harassment of immigrants was encouraged. This is as good a time as any to remind the literary community that non-citizen writers, as always, are welcome in the Authors Guild community.

More to Come

Because these issues were not discussed much by either the candidates or the media during the election cycle, we’re left to speculate based on the few facts we have. We’ve seen Trump the businessman, and Trump the candidate; but, regarding most of these issues, the positions and priorities of President Trump have yet to come to light. We’ll keep you posted when they do, and in the meanwhile we’ll remain vigilant to ensure that authors and journalists can continue to play their essential role in the national dialogue.