Monday, September 03, 2007

SWFA: Working for the Clampdown?

It's hard to believe, but the union of Science Fiction writers, the SFWA, has managed to make the news again with anti-internet activities. The last time was the incident which led to International Pixel Stained Peasant Day, when vice-president Howard Hendrix called writers "scabs" for making their work available for free online, as if SF were some sort of zero-sum resource, whereby if you can get your fill of fiction for free at one venue, you will not be inclined to pay for 'it' at another.

This time, the SFWA issued a DMCA Takedown Order - or at least wording intended to simulate one - against a file-sharing site called scribd. It was rather broad, to say the least, allegedly including a notice to take down all files with the text string "Asimov" in them. (Because, of course, we all know it is impossible to use those letters in that order unless we are somehow infringing on the rights of Asimov's estate.) One of the people caught in the takedown was Cory Doctorow, who is not a big fan of the DMCA. Rather the opposite - he intentionally makes his works available for free for non-commercial purposes, and also has not requested the SFWA to make demands on his behalf. He posted his thoughts about this to Boing Boing. He was, shall we say, not in favor of the move.

The Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) got in on the act, and the SFWA apologized and in fact, has now suspended the activities of the anti-piracy committee, according to an article here at James Nicoll's LJ.

I'm all in favor of stopping piracy; there's some parts of copyright law I actually like and regard as being there to protect my interests as a content provider. There are major problems with it, in my opinion. One is the vast length of time that copyright lasts. Another is the superpowered DMCA takedown routine which can be used maliciously or carelessly to cripple websites by forcing them to remove large slabs of content on flimsy evidence until such time as the details are worked out. Scribd were wrong to post pirated content; the SFWA were unprofessional to send a shotgun takedown out to them in such an hasty and heavy-handed way. One hopes that this incident will teach them that it is better to work with websites than against them. We all have the common goal of getting SF (and other original content) out to people who want to see it.

For more discussion see, for instance, the comments on the subject at Making Light.

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