31 Aug

BoingBoing points out SFWA DMCA misuse


Not everything is a nail when you have a hammer, and the writers organization for SF writers I belong to, SFWA, has a vice president obsessed with doing his best to make SFWA look identical to the RIAA.

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.”

It’s okay that the organization works to get things taken down by authors who want that, I even respect the RIAA’s desire to do this, but this is sloppy:

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.


Anyway, I just went ahead and copied my creative commons licensed short fiction to Scribd just to demonstrate it’s a perfectly okay thing to do.

I’m not going to get huffy or anything, it’s a minor thing in a big world, I just get tired of seeing the sheer clumsiness that emanates, it does so annoy me.

updates to the story as I spot them:

*Heh, via the comments section of the Boing Boing article Wil Wheaton sez: “This never would have happened if John Scalzi were president.”

*Making Light also comments on it.

*Discussion is also now taking place at the SFWA livejournal

*Here is Raygun Revival posting about their side of what happened, the magazine that was one of many copyright holders other than Cory that got caught up in Andrew Burt’s DMCA take down notice net.

We uploaded our first season of magazine issues in .pdf format, and it’s been a smashing success. We’ve been getting hits for our little space opera magazines at Scribd from all over the planet! Ray Gun Revival was featured as scifi.com’s Site of the Week in June, 2007. I don’t know how they found us, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it didn’t come about because of the sort of exposure we enjoy at Scribd.

But then something weird happened. We received a notification that one of our issues had been taken down because “˜because the copyright owner contacted us and asked us to.’ That statement was of great interest to us, because we hold the copyrights for these issues at the magazine. Puzzled, we queried Jason Bentley, Director of Community Development at Scribd. What unfolded next was a flat-out surprise.

The entity that filed the DMCA takedown request was SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. They, of course, have nothing to do with RGR. Jared Friedman, President of Scribd, responded personally. He agreed it looked like there was some confusion, and attached a DCMA counter-notification form. He wrote that Scribd would forward the counter-notification to the organization which complained about the document “˜and most likely reinstate the material.’ He even followed up a couple of hours later as I was checking and double-checking our contract language and discussing the situation with our leadership circle.

I understand that the next step is to wait for ten days while the DMCA wheels churn. If we are successful, our issue in question will be reinstated at Scribd. However, in the interim, I notice now that another issue has been taken down as a result of a SFWA request. This behavior is irritating at least and draconian at best, and we wonder if the SFWA doesn’t have better things to do.

I’ll be interested to see some light shed on how these DMCA takedown notices were issued.

*Author Stephen Leigh comments:

I used to have the SFWA anti-piracy logo on the front page of my website. I’ve now taken it off, as it appears SFWA has become overzealous in its pursuit of piracy. When you order the takedown of Creative Commons fiction for an author who you are not representing, when you evidently do a simple search for an author’s name and order a site to remove all the files the search returns, you have overstepped all reasonable bounds.

*Bruce Baugh sez:

There’s shooting yourself in the foot.

There’s reloading after emptying the clip, to shoot your foot some more.

There’s taking the now-discharged gun to repeatedly beat on what remains of your foot so that you can try to cut it off by repeatedly banging a door on it.

*John Scalzi writes in the comments section of the Boing Boing article a response to Wil Wheaton:

Had I been President of SFWA:

1. Someone (hopefully not me) would have gone through Scribd, comparing the authors on the site with the authors in SFWA’s membership rolls.

2. Those authors would have received notification via e-mail (or snail mail if e-mail were not available) that their work was available on Scribd, along with instructions on how to send a DMCA notice if they or their representatives wished to do so.

3. The general SFWA membership would have been made aware of Scribd, via e-mail and the FORUM publication, and given information on how to draft a DMCA notice if they found their work there.

4. From time to time, and hopefully with the cooperation of Scribd, step 1 would be repeated, with repeats of steps 2-3 handled privately within SFWA.

However, I am not President of SFWA.

Sounds like the right way to approach both the needs of those who need the DMCA take down and those who using Scribd to distribute their own works.

*LJ User Nagaina writes:

Science Fiction Writers of America: “We are deeply traumatized by the future of the publishing industry as embodied in the internet, Creative Commons web licensing, and websites that allow you to post bibliographies of influential science fiction works. Let us fraudulently invoke the DMCA against Scribd! See we can make even LiveJournal policies look sane and rational in comparison!”

*More from Ray Gun Revival, in their forum section, about the background to their magazine getting DMCA notices.

*Warren Ellis is not impressed.

*Justine Larbalestier says:

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.

*Jeremy Tolbert:

Seriously, this move to abuse the DMCA is about the worst publicity move he could have possibly come up with. SFWA is now in the public spotlight online. It’s made del.icio.us/popular this morning already, and I expect it’ll hit as an item on Digg before the day is over. SFWA needed publicity, but not of the “SFWA– We’re just like the MPAA and RIAA!” variety. I honestly can’t think of a way he could piss off the internet better than to act like it’s top two villains.

This is causing immeasurable harm to the reputation of all SF/F authors.

*Nick Mamatas at the SFWA livejournal:

Just to clarify. This letter, sent by Andrew Burt, seems not to be a DMCA notice as a DMCA notice requires some specific statements as to the agent’s representation of a copyright holder, which this letter lacks. Indeed, this letter is obviously written as part of a longer back and forth correspondence between Burt and someone at Scribd.

However, in this subsequent letter, Burt falsely claims that the first letter linked was in fact not an “idle musing, but a DMCA notice.”

Since the criticism of these letters emerged, we have been told that, in fact, SFWA never sent Scribd a DMCA takedown notice. This is correct.

In other news, I just got a tin deputy badge from a box of Crackerjacks and will be placing some parking tickets I just printed out on my home computer on the windshields of cars on my block…

*Jeff VanderMeer writes:

I have a lot of respect for, and am friends with many of, the individual writers who comprise SFWA. But the actions of SFWA as an organization sometimes stun me.

The news is spreading, Ars Technica just ran a detailed description of the whole thing (Slashdot next?):

Perhaps it’s time for the SFWA’s legal team to guide the ship to a starbase for some needed repairs.

*Valleywag picks up on all this.

*Jerry Pournelle misspells Cory Doctorow’s name and says the following:

Corey Doctorow lets go from a great height at people who make a living writing.


It doesn’t surprise me much. Doctorow doesn’t much care for intellectual property; that may or may not be affected by the value of his intellectual properties. Mine are worth enough that I can eke out a baseline living from residuals of works I wrote some year ago. Perhaps Doctorow is a lot more successful than I am in getting people to subscribe to his new works; or perhaps he doesn’t need so much to live on as I do at my age.

Either way, he doesn’t have a lot of sympathy for writers, but then one does not expect him to.

*Author Jim Hines looks for a moderate position:

So naturally, everyone is leaping in and taking sides. I haven’t been reading many blogs today, but the ones I saw seemed almost gleeful with the SFWA-bashing.

Personally, I figured I’d try something radical. I asked in one of the SFWA newsgroups whether they were aware of the situation, and if there would be some sort of response. I’m told there will be. Heck, it might have already been posted.

*And there’s the Slashdot post. SFWA could not have gotten more internet negative attention if they had hired an ad agency!

*SFWA’s President does a very classy, short memo:

I want to respond to the flurry of activity that has resulted from Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) mistakenly identifying several works as infringing copyright. First, some background. There have been discussions within SFWA for several months regarding websites that allow users to upload documents of all sorts for other users to download and share. Many hundreds of copyrighted texts have been put online at these sites, and the number is growing quickly. Some SFWA members complained about the pirating of their works to SFWA’s e-Piracy Committee and authorized the committee to do something about it. SFWA contacted scribd.com, one of these sites, about removing these authors’ works and generated a list of infringing works to be removed.

Unfortunately, this list was flawed and the results were not checked. At least three works tagged as copyright infringements were nothing of the sort. I have personally apologized to the writers and editors of those works. If you are a creator who has had material removed and has not yet been contacted, please email me at president@sfwa.org.

SFWA’s intention was to remove from scribd.com only works copyrighted by SFWA members who had authorized SFWA to act on their behalf. This kind of error will not happen again.

Michael Capobianco President, SFWA

*EFF lawyer puts out statement with Scribd smacking SFWA down here.

*Scribd replies to detractors talking about complicated hoops to take down copyrighted content thusly:

Scribd, to date, has bent over backward to make it easy for copyright holders to request removal of infringed content. We do not, nor have we ever, required a full-text DMCA removal for every single item. We have always accepted one DMCA notification with an unlimited number of linked infringement claims as a valid request. We have always given the benefit of the doubt to the copyright claimant, which is precisely what led us to accept and implement the SFWA’s scorched-earth takedown request in the first place.

Both yours and Jerry Pournelle’s accounts of your experiences with Scribd are not based in reality. In fact, Pournelle displayed his great facility for Science Fiction on his blog by describing Scribd’s copyright process as onerous and unresponsive a full day before he bothered to file his DMCA notice. His request was immediately fulfilled.

Scribd’s copyright process is otherwise universally described as courteous and expedient from the site’s supporters and detractors alike. Those who would discredit Scribd are best armed with facts, but the facts in this case are clearly on Scribd’s side.

Jason Bentley
Director of Community Development @ Scribd
jason at scribd dot com

*This whole episode will now be taught to a group of students about copyrights and how they work by the teacher who had his stuff taken down and was one of the recipients of the take down notice.

*In order to figure out what do next and how best to do, the ePiracy committee is on pause while SFWA explores what best practices are and how to best handle this stuff in the future.

*John Scalzi rounds up the whole thing intelligently in his blog, and I agree with his entire take. Go there, read it, and enjoy John’s new bloggy look. It’s slick. Very slick.