Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author T.J. Stiles Makes the Case for Copyright

On October 12th and 13th, the Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property (CPIP) hosted its Fifth Annual Fall Conference at Antonin Scalia Law School in Arlington, Virginia. The event brought together scholars, industry professionals, and practicing attorneys to discuss recent developments in intellectual property law and to present meaningful policy reform proposals. In addition to panels and presentations of recent scholarship in IP, the conference featured a keynote address by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and copyright advocate T.J. Stiles in which he discussed his career in writing and made an inspiring case for the rights of creators.

Watch the keynote here:

Stiles, whose works include the award-winning biographies Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America and The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt, began his speech by detailing his various book projects over the course of his career and explaining how he writes about topics that personally interest and compel him—stories which others authors sometimes overlook. He also made clear from the start that though he writes for creative fulfillment, writing books is his job, and he relies on the money they make to live.

Speaking on the distinctions between academic and commercial publishing, Stiles explained that he relies on book sales to expand his audience.  He noted that, as a biographer, his books are a unique combination of fact-filled scholarship and non-fiction, artistic prose. It’s a genre of writing that has a broad market, but one with a dwindling number of authors due to diminishing incentives.

Providing a stark overview of the state of the writing profession, Stiles pointed out that the number of full-time authors is down 30% from 2009, and that annual income for full-time authors has dropped from $25,000 to $17,500. Freelance journalist income has fallen from between $1 and $4 a word to between 25 cents and $1.25. Moreover, Stiles explained that, as an author, he is his own employee, and that he is responsible for costs that others may take for granted:

Meanwhile, while we’re struggling with these constraints on income, I’m paying my own health insurance, I am saving for retirement on my own. There is no matching contribution to a retirement fund, and I’m paying self-employment tax.

He also pointed out that, depending on the stage of a book project, his income can vary wildly. While some years his expenses and taxes can be covered by book proceeds and publishing partnerships, other years bring burdensome costs. And though the small royalty streams from his older books may seem to some insignificant, Stiles explained that they are used to cover his mortgage, car payments, and health insurance for a family of four.

Stiles spoke to the importance of controlling the rights in one’s work, noting that sometimes overlooked rights such as the right to perform (as it relates to the recording of audio books) can generate important licensing income. In addition to the costs of living he detailed earlier in his speech, this income is reinvested directly into his current or future projects by paying for research trips and other expenses.

Read more of this Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property blog post by Kevin Madigan by clicking here.

Photo: CPIP