At Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow notes that the Science fiction Writers of America, whose leaders have long taken an anti-piracy stance on behalf of its members, is misusing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to have content removed from Scribd (the text version of Flickr). The list of “offending” works appears to have resulted from a blanket search of “Asimov” and “Silverberg”.
This implies that Robert Silverberg and the Asimov estate have asked SFWA to police their copyrights for them, but it’s important to note that many of the other authors whose work was listed in the August 17 email did not nominate SFWA to represent them. Indeed, I have told Vice President Burt on multiple occasions that he may not represent me as a rightsholder in negotiations with Amazon, and other electronic publishing venues.
More importantly, many of the works that were listed in the takedown were written by the people who’d posted them to Scribd — these people have been maligned and harmed by SFWA, who have accused them of being copyright violators and have caused their material to be taken offline. These people made the mistake of talking about and promoting science fiction — by compiling a bibliography of good works to turn kids onto science fiction, by writing critical or personal essays that quoted science fiction novels, or by discussing science fiction. SFWA — whose business is to promote science fiction reading — has turned readers into collateral damage in a campaign to make Scribd change its upload procedures.
Ironically, by sending a DMCA notice to Scribd, SFWA has perjured itself by swearing that every work on that list infringed a copyright that it represented.
Since this is not the case, SFWA has exposed itself to tremendous legal liability. The DMCA grants copyright holders the power to demand the removal of works without showing any evidence that these works infringe copyright, a right that can amount to de facto censorship when exercised without due care or with malice. The courts have begun to recognize this, and there’s a burgeoning body of precedent for large judgements against careless, malicious or fraudulent DMCA notices — for example, Diebold was ordered to pay 125,000 for abusing the DMCA takedown process.
Reaction from the sf blogosphere is sure to run rampant. Authors (some members of the SFWA themselves) are already condemning the action.
Here’s one choice morsel: Wil Wheaton’s comment in the BB post: “So SFWA has ripped a page from the book of the RIAA and MPAA, and tried to follow in their footsteps. Brilliant. And by “brilliant,” I mean idiots. This never would have happened if John Scalzi were president.” [via Tobias Buckell]
Related: Cory Doctorow and Tor editor Patrick Nielson Hayden discuss whether the question of copyright is a moral one or an irrelevant one in today’s Tor Podcast from Worldcon.