Jeff Seymour - Author of Fantasy, Literary Fiction, & c.: The Grand Experiment: Registering on Authonomy

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Grand Experiment: Registering on Authonomy

I am now a registered user of Authonomy and Wattpad (Book Country didn't make the cut. I'll go into why later this week).

The registration process for each left me with quite different impressions, so rather than combine them into one uber blog post, I'm giving each site its due, starting with Authonomy.

(You should be aware that despite the fact that I discuss Authonomy's terms and conditions, I am not a lawyer, have never been a lawyer, and should never ever be relied upon as a reliable source of information when making a decision of any legal consequence. If you're worried about your rights, talk to a lawyer.)

And we're off!

Right off the bat, it's hard to find information on Authonomy from its homepage, but what is available can be found through tiny "About us" and "FAQ" links at the bottom of the page.

Authonomy is run by the U.K. operation of HarperCollins, one of the "Big Six" publishers. In order to post anything, users must submit a book of at least 10,000 words to the site. Once they do, it can be read and voted upon by Authonomy's users, with books that have been recommended by a lot of people for a long time floating to the top of a list to be read by HarperCollins editors.

To register, you're only required to put in a few very nonspecific pieces of information (e-mail address, display name, password, security questions). The site then asks you to read its terms and conditions, which it displays in a tiny, extremely-difficult-to-read box.

The terms are pretty benign overall. There's standard website language about users needing to have the right to post the content they put up. Authonomy is very clear about not claiming any rights to posted content, and the license you grant them is fairly standard for posting content anywhere online. I have a hunch it's probably less onerous than the terms for Blogger, which I haven't checked in ages and really ought to. I'll quote the license paragraph in full at the bottom of the post.

There were a few things that jumped out at me when I read the terms, however.

1.) Authonomy makes no guarantee of even attempting to give you notice when they change their terms. They agree to post them, and the onus is on you to check them regularly.

2.) Authonomy reserves the right to begin charging fees at any time, though they do promise to give you notice about that. This leads me to believe that an HC staffer at some point said, "We may eventually want to charge for this. Make sure there's some language in there about that." It also reminds me very clearly that the company is in this to make money first and foremost.

3.) The terms ban "commercial activity," including affiliate links and probably links to purchase self-published books, in three separate places.

4.) They're clearly concerned about piracy and plagiarism. There are multiple references to both as breaches of site policy, and the user agrees to foot any costs faced by Authonomy if he or she is in breach of policy (i.e. if you post a plagiarized book, and Authonomy gets sued, you're legally responsible for their bills).

5.) Authonomy reserves the right to delete content at any time for a very long list of reasons, including racism/hate speech; harassment; sexual exploitation; images of nudity or violence; links to adult websites; soliciting or providing personal information; promoting false, abusive, or illegal activity; promoting piracy; being spam; containing restricted content (I assume this means content from behind a paywall on another site); promoting criminal activity; involving commercial activities; and including photographs posted without permission or sexually explicit, lewd, nude, etc., photographs.

6.) The site also bans criminal activity, advertising, obscuring advertising on the website (via browser add-ons, I assume), automated use, interfering with the service, impersonating someone else, using someone else's account or allowing someone else to use yours, selling your profile, using information from the site to harass someone, any kind of commercial activity (or even "friending" someone engaged in commercial activity), and other illegal activity.

From there, the language is pretty standard for website terms and conditions again, EXCEPT that the governing law is English. I have no idea what that means practically.

After you register for the site, you receive an e-mail with a link to authenticate your account. You can then sign into a profile that includes spaces for a photo, a bio, links to two websites, and a list of your favorite books. Comments, projects, and friends on Authonomy can be managed from the bottom of the profile, and your "bookshelf," which features prominently in the site's ranking system, is easy to find as well. The "retire my profile" button, which does not remove your work from Authonomy completely but does make it all private, is easy to find at the bottom of the "edit profile" page as well.

And finally, just in case you forget they're in it to make money, the welcome e-mail you receive after authenticating contains a link to Createspace, "our partner and a member of the Amazon group of companies" (for those who don't know, Createspace is Amazon's self-publishing arm for print books).

So that wraps it for registering with Authonomy. If you have questions, post them in the comments and I'll do my best to respond. More on Book Country and Wattpad in later posts this week.

* as promised, here's the license you grant Authonomy for your content: "By posting Content on the Website you hereby grant to us a license to use, modify, publicly display, reproduce and distribute such Content on the Website. The license you grant us is (i) non-exclusive which means you are free to license your Content to any one else, (ii) fully paid up and royalty free which means you will not be paid by HarperCollins or anyone else for the use of your Content on the Website, (iii) sub-licensable for the purposes of enabling us to host and maintain the Website via third parties and worldwide (which means the Content will be viewed on a global basis)."

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