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Burt Steps Down from SFWA Committee, Replaced by Davis

Amidst another controversy, Andrew Burt has stepped down as head of SFWA’s Copyright Committee, to be replaced by Russell Davis. (See also Davis’s statement on the matter.)

Many have been vocal about Burt’s removal, so I found interesting this perspective from Peter Glaskowsky at CNet, who likens Burt to the persecuted Spiderman:

So there we have it. Burt doesn’t look anything like Spider-Man, but he’s had about the same effect–the streets get cleaned up at the cost of a few sticky bits left hanging around. And what’s his reward? A few loudmouths are demanding his arrest and summary execution.

If you aren’t impressed by this analogy yet, you have to compare this drawing of J. Jonah Jameson with this photo of Cory Doctorow.

Doctorow ought to know better. Even if he prefers to distribute his writings free of charge and make his living another way, he should show more respect for the right of other writers to sell their work. He should be supporting SFWA, not book pirates and those who protect them. And that goes for all the other SFWA members who’ve been giving SFWA grief over Burt’s actions, too.

[Initial links via John Scalzi and Andrew Wheeler]

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

8 Comments on Burt Steps Down from SFWA Committee, Replaced by Davis

  1. Instead of vilifying Cory, you should focus on Burt, who inserted himself into a new committee that didn’t want him over the objections and advice of those who were consulted. He’s a loose cannon and a loudmouth. His stepping down gives the first pretense of credibility to the new committee.

    Cory makes his living another way? What is that? Do you mean Boing Boing or something else? By his own admission, he’s a full time writer. He doesn’t work for the EFF or anyone else anymore.

    Smells like sour grapes. I don’t subscribe to sfsignal for this sort of bullshit.

  2. this is one of those situations that no one comes out of well. The SFWA appear to have made (in the first place) the one choice guaranteed to make them look like backwards idiots who are deliberately giving the finger to their critics. And Doctorow has long come across as both arrogant and ignorant, which is never a pleasant combination.

  3. Although Doctorow can come across as abrasive at times, I believe the quote in this post completely mischaracterizes his position. I suggest you take a closer look at what he has to say.

  4. Glaskowsky vastly misunderstands Doctorow’s position: Doctorow complained when SFWA chose (out of incompetence rather than malice, let’s be clear) to speak for him and demand the removal of something he had specifically authorized.

    Doctorow then spoke up — after SFWA claimed the right to speak for him, and to go against policies he’s advocated strongly for years — to say that SFWA did not actually have the right to do that.

    And they didn’t.

    The issue isn’t really about “piracy;” it was about SFWA’s arrogance and sloppiness. The specific case involved a website that shares texts (many of them being shared by people who don’t have the right to do so), but that was only the setting for SFWA’s error.

    Many, many times it has been claimed that some cause is so important that the “minor” trampling of other people’s rights is inevitable, but that we all have to lie back and think of the empire. It’s very rarely true, and it’s not true in this case.

    SFWA can have a strong, active role in promoting copyright — and even policing infringements. But not the way they did in this case.

  5. I’m not an SFWA member myself, but everything I’ve read leads me to believe that Burt stepping down is a step in the right direction.

  6. Al: That was me talking about Doctorow making his living “another way’. He doesn’t make a living by selling what he writes; he uses his books to build a reputation, which he then uses to make money on Boing Boing and in various other ways. I don’t actually know much about the details, except that it’s clear Doctorow isn’t making a living by selling his writing through the traditional channels so there MUST be “other ways” involved. And just to be clear, I think this is great. I’m really happy society has progressed to the point that writers have more than one way to make a living, and I respect Doctorow for developing this new alternative.

    Andrew: SFWA (in particular Dr. Burt) never “chose to speak for” Doctorow. The Doctorow piece was included on a list of documents on Scribd that were allegedly pirated works of Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg. The list had been reviewed for legitimate content, but not carefully enough. The list’s original purpose was just to show Scribd that they were hosting thousands of pirated documents, which they certainly were, but they were stubbornly refusing to do anything about it, standing on their mistaken understanding of the DMCA. The problem arose when Dr. Burt told Scribd to treat the list as a DMCA takedown request. He should not have done that, and they should not have complied.

    But as I said in my blog post on the net effect of all these errors in judgement was still positive– thousands of pirated works were taken down by Scribd, nothing else was removed that wasn’t more readily available elsewhere, and even those legitimate documents were quickly restored.

    Going forward I want to see SFWA continue to apply legally appropriate pressure to Scribd and all the other websites that continue to host pirated documents written by SFWA members. If Russell Davis can do a better job of this than Dr. Burt, I have to support the change… but if this is true only because so many people have so grossly distorted Dr. Burt’s actions that he simply can’t continue to act, that’s awful.

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  7. Matte Lozenge // December 9, 2007 at 6:42 pm //

    “I don’t actually know much about the details”

    That is abundantly obvious. Truly, you do not.

    Giving It Away

    By Cory Doctorow

    Forbes Magazine, Dec 1, 2006

    I’ve been giving away my books ever since my first novel came out, and boy has it ever made me a bunch of money.

    … There’s no empirical way to prove that giving away books sells more books–but I’ve done this with three novels and a short story collection (and I’ll be doing it with two more novels and another collection in the next year), and my books have consistently outperformed my publisher’s expectations. Comparing their sales to the numbers provided by colleagues suggests that they perform somewhat better than other books from similar writers at similar stages in their careers.

  8. Well, there are no “details” there. You can’t very well say anything is “obvious” from that. Good job on the snarkiness, though.

    But that prompted me to check Doctorow’s sales ranks on Amazon. It looks like his most popular book is about the #41,000th most popular book on the site, and the least popular is somewhere around the #2,000,000th most popular book there.

    Those seem like large numbers, but I’ll have to concede it’s possible that Doctorow is making a living wage by selling books.

    I still don’t think it’s possible that Doctorow makes most of his money that way. I can make a highly educated guess about how much money Boing Boing pulls in for him, and it ought to be a lot more.

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