SOPA and PIPA are “dead in the water,” oral arguments are coming in Google’s appeal of the ruling in the class action standing in the Authors Guild’s lawsuit against Google, and a take on the Capitol Records lawsuit against ReDigi were some of the issues touched on by speakers at Cowan Liebowitz & Latman’s 24th publishing seminar held in New York March 12.
Featured guest speaker Jan Constantine, general counsel for the Authors Guild, said that after a recent trip to Washington, D.C. she sees little likelihood for much action on digital piracy this year with virtually no chance for a version of SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) or PIPA (the Protect IP Act) to be introduced in 2013. Both bills, backed by most parts of the publishing community, were withdrawn in 2102 after withering criticism spearheaded by the Internet and tech industries. In the Google lawsuit, the company filed its reply brief last week, Constantine said, and both sides are waiting for a date for oral arguments to be set on whether the Authors Guild has standing to file a class action lawsuit.
As for attempts by ReDigi, as well as Apple and Amazon, to sell used copies of digital materials, Constantine told attendees her position is that those companies would need to get the permission of publishers to proceed or that there would need to be a changed in the law. CL&L attorney Richard Mandel, who represented Capitol, said that since consumers need to make a copy of a file to upload to ReDigi’s cloud, that action itself is a violation of the first sale doctrine. A ruling on summary judgment motions in the case could come “any time,” Mandel said.
Another legal tussle that is expected to be decided by the spring is Amazon’s lawsuit against New York State challenging the constitutionality of its requirement that it collect online sales tax on purchases in the state. CL&L’s Robert Giordanella said a decision is expected by June and noted that since New York started making online retailers collect online sales tax in 2008, the state has collected more than $360 million from all online retailers.
The seminar wasn’t all about legal issues, however. Giordanella touched on the climate for mergers & acquisitions and gave something of a mixed report. The firm, Giordanella, said still gets calls form investors interested in the industry, but he noted prices seems to be headed down. Last year’s sales by John Wiley of some of its consumer assets yielded prices that were for only .5 percent of revenue, down from historical multiples of one-time revenue. Apollo’s pending purchase of McGraw-Hill Education is for one-time sales, but education companies had yielded multiples closer to two-time revenue, Giordanella noted.
In her remarks, Constantine touched on the growing importance of self-publishing. The guild will now accept self-published authors as members provided that they generated $5,000 in revenue from their writing in the previous year. She also said the guild is thinking about setting up a “red flag” system to warn authors about unfair contracts.