SFWA Strikes Back…Like A Poorly Made Prequel


Who would have thought that after SFWA’s earlier debacle, which I discussed here, would only lead to further debacles of complete idiocy? I certainly wouldn’t have. Apparently SFWA has renamed its e-piracy committee and, against just about everyone else’s wishes, has reinstated as its chairman the very man who caused the whole Scribd issue in the first place–Andrew Burt. To put Burt’s reputation as an authority figure into perspective, Cory Doctorow has put it wonderfully in his post:

Last August, Andrew Burt, the vice president of SFWA, sent a list of thousands of works that he alleged violated the copyrights of Robert Silverberg and the Isaac Asimov estate. This list was compiled by searching the Scribd site for the words “asimov” and “silverberg” and it included my own novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, a teacher’s guide to great science fiction for young readers, and the entire back-catalog of a science fiction magazine whose editors had placed their work on Scribd. Burt sent an email to Scribd’s management in which he said that this list wasn’t “idle musing, but a DMCA notice.”

This is the man that SFWA has put back into the position he was in before, only under a new title. How wonderfully idiotic. So, to prove that it intends to change its policies, SFWA has done nothing at all to change its policies. You see the unmoving logic in that statement right? Obviously some changes have been made on paper, but with Burt returned to the throne how can SFWA expect those textual changes to be acknowledge when clearly Burt has a serious lacck of good judgment in the first place?
Charlie Stross has also blogged on this issue, saying something that I agree should happen if SFWA is going to make decisions such as this:

Under Dr Burt, the new copyright committee will almost inevitably devolve into a reincarnation of the old piracy committee. If I thought it’d do any good I’d be resigning in protest right now; only the expense of a life membership purchased a couple of years ago is restraining me right now. Clearly the current executive of SFWA is making damaging decisions and ignoring input from committees it appointed, and and in view of this I call on SFWA president Mike Capobianco and the rest of the SFWA executive — including Andrew Burt — to resign immediately. Meanwhile, I’d like to call on all other SFWA members who don’t want to see their organization commit public relations suicide to make their voices heard.

At this point I don’t think any of the people running SFWA are going to be resigning, although by all accounts they should if this is the way they are going to think. What exactly is the point of this? Burt has clearly hurt SFWA’s reputation, which it has gone through great pains to earn back, but now they’ve decided to put Burt back where he was? And of course the wonderful Scalzi has weighed in on this issue while providing interest insight to how Burt got to his position in the first place:

That said, I think the board choose puzzlingly, to use as polite a word as possible, in its choice of chairman for the new committee, for some of the reasons which Charlie outlines in incendiary but not unreasonable fashion. It would not have been my choice, for those reasons and a few others (the suggestion in the board’s statement that our committee recommended installing the chairman of the new committee is quite obviously in error). I believe the situation was additionally complicated by the fact that the once-and-future chairman is on the SFWA board, and voted on the recommendations, and voted for himself as chairman of the new committee; had I been him, I would have chosen to recuse myself from the deliberations.

I think what Scalzi is hoping for is that people like Burt will have considerable amounts of personal integrity. Clearly that isn’t the case, and if such people sit on the thrones of SFWA, what can we expect in the future? Probably more problems not only for writers, but for fans too. Read the posts I linked because they can give you a lot more information than I feel entirely adequate or authorized to discuss, seeing how I am not a published author or a member of SFWA. Still, my opinion is worth something.

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.

2 thoughts on “SFWA Strikes Back…Like A Poorly Made Prequel

  1. So’s my opinion. Aburt made a mistake, and hmm … he tried to make up for it.

    Sound like a familiar situation, Shaun?

    Just because he’s been put back in a position of power doesn’t mean he’ll be the same. He has experience and mistakes to learn from now.

    He’s also an incredibly nice guy who takes the time to deal with the petty grievances of unpublished, often uncaring, authors, in a professional and pleasant manner. Don’t knock the man for past mistakes.

  2. There’s the difference between overreacting and making a bunch of mistakes and doing the same thing but lying about it and trying to blame others instead. Read Doctorow’s post. He goes into this very fact. Not to mention, anyone with personal integrity would not have voted for himself to be chairman again.
    I understand the nature of making mistakes and learning from them. The difference is that Burt has little intention of changing himself…read the links :P.

Leave a Reply