SFWA: My Thoughts


Alright, so it’s probably somewhat old news, but so be it. I feel like putting my thoughts out there. I’m sure some of you have already heard about SFWA’s little blunder in regards to www.scribd.com. For those that haven’t, here is a very brief run down of what happened:

Some members of SFWA reported finding their material posted on Scribd and other similar sites to the SFWA e-Piracy Commitee and complained about the infringement. SFWA responded and sent a notice to the sites responsible and requested they take the material off else legal action be taken. The sites responded by doing exactly that (at least in the instance of Scribd, since this is where it all explodes from). Cory Doctorow had a fit, here, because his work was taken off even though he never gave SFWA authorization to remove it (because he had not authorized SFWA to act as his copyright agent, to put it simply), and apparently this has happened to several other authors. SFWA publicly apologized, here, for the incident. Of course the good Mr. Scalzi has already discussed the topic here. But, we’re not here about what Scalzi thinks, we’re here about…

My thoughts:
No offense to Scalzi. It’s a genius, but yeah.
So what do I think about it?
Well, to be honest, SFWA should be thankful that really bad legal action hasn’t been taken against them. Maybe there has and it’s behind the scenes, but they clearly made a mistake that no organization with that much respect should have.
I do think the apology says a lot about the state of things, though. The organization was quick to acknowledge their mistakes, something that certain politicians might never have done, and issued apologies not only to the public but to the individual authors. SFWA has ever right to protect authors they are authorized to represent, obviously, and they did do exactly what they should have done when they received the notice by removing many works that never should have been on Scribd and other sites to begin with. This is not Scribd’s fault. If you look all over the net you can find pretty much anything anyway, so it’s no surprise that a site like Scribd unintentionally let some stuff slip under the radar.
So SFWA really handled the issue poorly. They went ballistic when they should have looked at it rationally. Would it have been hard for the SFWA people to sit down and look at the list of alleged infringements to figure out which authors they were authorized protect? Nope. Probably would have taken 5 minutes with today’s database technology. And in that instant they could have looked at all the other names and perhaps made a judgment call and sent emails instead of running out and demanding things be pulled down.
SFWA didn’t do that, unfortunately. So, poor judgment call on their part, but thankfully they acknowledged their stupid mistake and made efforts to fix things. That takes some balls, in my opinion.

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

5 thoughts on “SFWA: My Thoughts

  1. There is a part of the problem I’ve yet to see addressed. I’ve seen from multiple accounts that outside of getting DMCA requests Scribd was basically non-responsive.

    I think because the ability to make these DMCA requests exists site pretty much ignore all other types of communication. And why not? That email saying “Hey, I wrote that. Take it down.” might be from some random crank.

    But there needs to be a middle ground. A way to say, “Hey, that’s mine. Could you take it off the site? I’m happy to prove it to you if you don’t believe me.” without making more work for everyone involved, and without resorting to strong arm tactics right off the bat.

  2. I’ve been with Scribd since mid-July, and I’ve been doing the copyright takedowns since I started. I try to take items submitted in a valid notice down within 48 hours. It’s usually takes less than 6.

    As it stands right now, it’s unlawful to remove documents without a valid DMCA takedown request, which we get about 50% of the time. I have to request a valid notice from the other 50% (and I usually send them a template). Sadly, this is often seen as an egregious, insurmountable obstacle that’s proof of Scribd’s intransigence.

    Even if one of our users is unlawful, it doesn’t give us the right to be.

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