The protection of copyright and the First Amendment took center stage on May 9 at the Association of American Publishers’ annual meeting, which attracted some 1,200 participants to the virtual event. Hachette Book Group CEO and AAP chairman Michael Pietsch began the meeting by picking up on themes he addressed in a keynote speech at last month’s BISG annual meeting, looking at both the opportunities publishers have in this moment and the many challenges that confront the industry.

Pietsch said that the value of the AAP is that it provides a place where publishers can meet to “celebrate and encourage all that is right and good in our industry.” It also provides a vehicle to confront serious issues, and Pietsch said that, in the current moment, publishing is dealing with “the biggest set of simultaneous challenges our industry has faced in a generation.”

In addition to the ongoing pandemic, the book business, Pietsch said, is confronted with “sensational and outrageous book bans, an unprovoked war in Ukraine, unprecedented supply chain disruptions, a persistent shortfall in diversity in our offices and publishing programs, climate challenges; and unrelenting efforts to weaken the copyright framework that has protected and promoted publishing since the earliest days of the nation.”

In working together, the AAP is, Pietsch said, “advocating for more than our collective businesses—it is advocating for the role of an independent publishing industry, and therefor for democracy, for education, for scientific progress, and for human potential.”

AAP CEO Maria Pallante addressed many of the issues enumerated by Pietsch and touched on what the organization is doing to confront them. She began by decrying the surge in book bans, which is bringing new scrutiny to novels and math books. Pallante noted that while parents and communities do have a say in public education, that role has constitutional limits, noting: “it does not extend to capricious actions that cross the line and amount to censorship.”

To help define that line, the AAP joined with the American Booksellers Association, the Authors Guild, and Comic Book Legal Defense Fund to file a brief in support of the NAACP in a case involving the removal of books from school libraries. In the filing, the AAP “highlighted the constitutional rights of minors to receive intellectual information as well as the deep flaws in the school district’s assertion that the banned books were obscene and therefore removable,” Pallante said.

If speech is going to flourish, then copyright needs to be protected, Pallante said. She sees the biggest threat to copyright coming from Big Tech, charging that those corporate giants have “long been involved in anti-copyright campaigns, sometimes directly but often through affiliation with mouthpiece organizations.” To achieve their goal of monetizing creative works for their own businesses, the tech companies “may argue that such appropriation is innovation, that authors and publishers are greedy, or that the public interest is at stake.” Pallante warned the publishers that “we must recognize both the duplicity and seriousness of these attacks and work together to refute them. Once lost, copyright protections and the authorship and dissemination of knowledge that they support will be virtually impossible to recover.”

Big Tech is trying to undermine copyright in numerous ways, Pallante said, pointing to their well-funded lobbying efforts weakening copyright protections. To try to lessen the ability of tech companies to pick winners and losers in various markets, including books, Pallante said that the AAP is assisting lawmakers with the “American Innovation and Choice Online Act,” legislation that, If enacted, would begin to rein in actions such as self-preferencing, tying, and using non-public data to manipulate online sales, including for books, Pallante explained. The legislation could soon make it to a floor vote, she added.

To protect further copyright, Pallante pointed to two legal battles that the AAP is currently fighting. She said that the AAP will continue to press ahead with its case challenging the radical, systematic infringements of the Silicon Valley–based Internet Archive.” And Pallante said the AAP will continue to challenge "misguided but aggressive actions of states to manipulate the value and terms of literary works in digital formats.”

The latter was reference to the association’s efforts to fight laws intended to force publishers to sell e-books to libraries under what library advocates call reasonable terms. The AAP was successful in turning back the first challenge that came in that area, suing, and winning, to stop a Maryland e-book law from being implemented. Pallante closed her remarks by pointing to the words of Judge Boardman, who ruled in favor of AAP in the Maryland case, when she wrote that “it is only through the protection of copyright that books and other creative works may be generated and distributed at all.”

Awards and Authors

To show its appreciation for those who help to protect copyright, the AAP presented its 2022 Award for Distinguished Public Service to Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina. Explaining the choice, Pallante credited Tillis for being “a steadfast supporter of the copyright framework that is foundational to an informed and inspired society.”

In accepting the award, Tillis said that he will continue to work in partnership with the AAP and fight to protect intellectual property “wherever it is under assault.” He said that protecting copyright is the best way to encourage authors to write more books for which they will get paid.

The award to Tillis came despite the senator being one of the sponsors of the Saving American History Act legislation, which would prohibit the use of federal funds to teach the 1619 Project by K-12 schools or school districts—a position opposed by many in publishing. Asked if the AAP had received pushback on its choice of this year's award winner, the AAP pointed to the fact that the prize is specifically awarded to those who back copyright, noting that the award has, in the past, gone to both Democrats and Republicans. (After being awarded the prize last year, Democratic senator Amy Klobuchar made remarks about the need to strengthen antitrust laws, which some saw as indirect criticism of Penguin Random House's attempt to buy Simon & Schuster.)

The International Freedom to Publish Award was presented to Raul Figueroa Sarti founder of the Guatemalan publisher F&G Editores. Sarti said the award came at an important time, as his country works to try to counter the regression of democracy in Guatemala, and that he hopes the award will encourage others to continue the fight for free expression.

After offering her view on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Anne Applebaum, a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian and Soviet expert whose books include Gulag, was asked what publishers can do to stop Putin’s war effort. She advised publishers to offer alternatives to the narrative that Putin is promoting to Russia and the world by publishing authors who have a different vision for Russia. She said while it is correct that some artists who support Putin have been sanctioned, she urged publishers to take a nuanced approach to Russian authors (and Chinese authors as well) by not cutting off the voices of those speaking out to make changes in their countries’ policies.