Say no to SFWA

Here’s why I will never join SFWA:

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has used the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to fraudulently remove numerous non-infringing works from Scribd, a site that allows the general public to share text files with one another in much the same way that Flickr allows its users to share pictures.

Included in the takedown were: a junior high teacher’s bibliography of works that will excite children about reading sf, the back-catalog of a magazine called Ray Gun Revival, books by other authors who have never authorized SFWA to act on their behalf, such as Bruce Sterling, and my own [Cory Doctorow’s] Creative Commons-licensed novel, “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.”

SFWA’s attitude to copyright has stepped over the line from luddite into barking mad. As a writer I love my fans. Adore them! I wish I had way more of them. Why on Earth would I join an organisation that is hellbent on prosecuting them? I completely agree with Cory Doctorow.


  1. hillary! on #

    Wait, they don’t want what? I’m confused. Sorry.

  2. Justine on #

    basically SFWA has taken upon itself to remove work from the internet that was written by the people who put it online because they want their work to be readily available. SFWA is acting illegally in the name of protecting copyright. And they’re doing it for people who think their copyright is just fine thank you very much.

  3. marrije on #

    Oh brother. Why can’t Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi just run that place?

  4. Justine on #

    Marrije: Frankly I think everyone’s better off joining the authors’ guild. There should be mass resignations from SFWA so it can finally die its long overdue death. Though the emergency fund and writers beware are truly excellent . . .

  5. hillary! on #

    Why is sfwa doing this? That’s mean and hurtful. Not right at all.

  6. Patrick Shepherd on #

    This whole incident just points up the idiocy of the DMCA. It basically allows anyone to merrily mail off a notice of infringement, without having to prove that the item in question actually infringes, and the recipient has to immediately respond and remove said item. The recipient can challenge the notice, but they must wait at least 10 days, and of course they have to consider the potential legal costs of fighting it.

    My understanding of this particular notice from the SFWA is that it didn’t even actually qualify as a legal DMCA notice, but just the threat of invoking it was enough to cause the site to remove all the referenced material. As the notice itself was obviously poorly researched in terms of what material actually infringed on copyright, and infringed on the rights of some authors who had specifically requested that the SFWA not represent them in any copyright issues, clearly the SFWA has pulled a major boner here, and is a clear indication that certain parties in that organization don’t know what the hell they’re doing.

    I think it’s past time that the DMCA was scrapped and the whole copyright issue looked at again, with a strong eye placed on achieving a proper balance between the needs of the creators and consumers of intellectual property. And the SFWA needs new leadership.

  7. hillary! on #

    Hopefully Scalzi.

  8. Patrick on #

    ??? WHY ???

  9. Patrick on #

    DOH! Two lost posts, then that one works??

  10. hillary! on #

    Were you asking ‘Why Scalzi?’, or ‘WHY?! YOU STUPID COMPUTER!’

  11. Patrick on #

    why?! you stupid computer!

  12. hillary! on #

    What had you written that did not make it before your computer ate it?

  13. Patrick on #

    Just a question about Author’s Guild. Nothing funny. I’m afraid to write it again. it might be a copyright violation and SFWA is eating in.

  14. carol cooper on #

    It’s a generational thing…as we’ve discussed before Justine!…older folk, who may in fact be on fixed incomes by now, are generally less sanguine about giving away the fruits of their life’s labor for free online. as a generational tweener who is not quite a pheezer yet, my view is more complex. the site in question simply failed to put an automated process in place that would distinguish between items volunteered for free by certain authors, and items –with valid, protective copyright marks still on them–that were being uploaded by folks who don’t believe in paying for *anything*, including the books of their “favorite” authors. sfwa’s lamentably clueless mistake was to similarly fail to distinguish between these categories, and as an advocacy organization, forgetting to ask the right questions first before making wholesale “takedown” demands.

  15. Justine on #

    Carol: My problem with that argument is that there are young people who are as paranoid as SFWA’s old guard; there are also some oldies who get it. And there are dirt poor writers at all points of the spectrum.

    I absolutely agree that the individual writer should have control over their copyright. If they want it freely available online, cool. And if they don’t, also cool. Posting someone’s work without getting permission is very not cool.

    I just think SFWA’s clueless mistake comes out of a bizarre institutional mindset. It’s not like this latest bruhaha was a one-off. They’ve been retarded about copyright for years and years.

    E-piracy is having a minimal effect on writers’ incomes. Falling out of print and into obscurity, markets shrinking, those are the real dangers. That’s what frightens me.

  16. carol cooper on #

    …The key here again is to make sure that nobody’s work is taken without their express permission. encouraging a cavalier attitude towards *irresponsible* file-sharing doesn’t accomplish that. As an essayist I have already had the unpleasant experience of seeing someone steal my work and put their own byline on it. I’ve also experienced someone stealing my work and putting it into an anthology without my permission. I was able to sue the infringer in the latter case and won damages plus legal fees. But the way copyright protection works, is that if you *don’t* protect your copyright…or if an infringer points to your “precedent setting” habit of dispensing with copyright protection to offer your work for random free downloads on the internet as the reason they thought it was okay to take your work and do what they like with it…you may not be able to rely on statutory copyright protections if you *decide to* take them to court for infringement. Its a slippery slope, and while sfwa is no solution, we who create intellectual property need to come up with new and better ways of being fair to our readers and to ourselves.

  17. Justine on #

    I totally agree with you. We should and must be able to protect our work from being used in ways we don’t authorise. No one should be able to get away with claiming that someone else’s work is their own.

    I just don’t think the situation is much different than it ever was. Long before the internet there was plagiarism and reproduction of books without authorisation. A famous example: Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was first pub’d in the US of A without the author’s permission.

    While the internet has made it easier to pliagarise and steal intellectual property it’s also made it way easier to catch people at it.

    My (main) problem with SFWA and the like is their hysteria over what are essentially not new problems. Electronic piracy is no different from the regular kind.

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