I've found myself in on the ground floor of a major copyfight event:
http://www.boingboing.net/2007/08/30/sc ... rit-1.html
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 Creative Commons-licensed novel, "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom."
The list of works to be removed was sent by "firstname.lastname@example.org" on August 17, described as works by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg that had been uploaded without permission and were infringing on copyright. In a followup email on August 23, SFWA Vice President Andrew Burt noted that the August 17 list wasn't "idle musing, but a DMCA notice."
The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act allows copyright holders to use "notices" to force ISPs to remove material from the Internet on a mere say-so. In the real world, you couldn't get a book taken out of a bookstore or an article removed from the newspaper without going to court and presenting evidence of infringement to a judge, but the DMCA only requires that you promise that the work you're complaining about infringes, and ISPs have to remove the material or face liability for hosting it.
As a result of SFWA's takedown notice, hundreds of works were taken offline -- including several that had not been written by Asimov or Silverberg. It appears that the list was compiled by searching out every single file that contained the word "Asimov" or "Silverberg" and assuming that these files necessarily infringed on Silverberg and Asimov's copyrights.
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.
Specifically, in the Aug 23 email, SFWA Vice President Andrew Burt demands that Scribd require its uploaders to swear on pain of perjury that the works they are uploading do not infringe copyright. SFWA has taken it upon itself to require legal oaths of people who want to publish any kind of thought, document, letter, jeremiad, story or rant on Scribd. Not just "pirates." Not just people writing about science fiction, or posting material by SFWA members -- SFWA is asking that anyone writing anything for publication on Scribd take this oath of SFWA's devising.
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.
When this story started breaking on Tuesday, Jason from Scribd and I both e-mailed Cory about the story. I contacted Cory because of his pedigree as a sci-fi author and copyfighter, however, in a twist that you can't make up, Jason e-mailed him because one of Cory's own works was among those also taken down erroneously.
I received back an automated e-mail saying that Cory was traveling this month and would get back to people when he arrived at his destination. However, it was followed minutes later by a personal reply saying he was tracking this situation and asked about the contents of the DMCA takedown from SFWA. That's when it got really interesting. Over the next three days, I was in on an e-mail thread with people who are far above my pay grade, and Cory's post at Boing Boing is the result. I knew he was writing it, and didn't want to steal his thunder.
When Michael Capobianco wrote his apparently nice comments, I already knew the larger truth, and his comment struck me as spin control. He wrote:
I am checking into how this happened, but I can assure you that SFWA would not intentionally issue a DMCA notice for an online magazine that was distributed through scribd, for which electronic rights were licensed, and which apparently did not in any way violate copyright.
That was a nice bit of phraseology. It is true, SFWA didn't intentionally come after small press operators like ourselves. However, I already knew 'how this happened'. The algorithm used by SFWA picked up the words 'Asimov' and 'Heinlein' in a featured artist's interview. The mere mention of just the last names of those celebrity authors was enough to land our issues in the huge SFWA dragnet, and Scribd was bullied into pulling large numbers of documents en masse.
That's not a Fair Use issue, that's a case of massive overkill on SFWA's part. I feel bad for Scribd for being caught in the middle of all this, and I feel bad for small outfits like ourselves who might not pursue the issue as we did. It is my hope that all those who inadvertently ran afoul of the same overzealous search algorithm will contact Scribd and file their own DMCA counter-notifications to restore their works. Finally, I hope SFWA gets their act straight. The hubris involved here goes far beyond appropriate policing of copyright they have a legitimate right to enforce.
I don't know what happens next, but the word is now well and truly out.
More posts are coming in all the time from all over the sci-fi world. I'm trying to keep on top of them here: