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September 4, 2007
SFWA Shoots DMCA Shotgun, Hits Self and Innocents Too
Cory Doctorow (himself an SF author), reports in his boingboing blog that the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) has begun to send takedown notices to sites that post unauthorized copies of SFnal works.
Problem 1: SFWA isn't the copyright holder in any of these works. It's a trade union of writers and sometimes acts on their behalf. It's not clear to me that SFWA has DMCA takedown rights here.
Problem 2: SFWA's list was hastily constructed and either not checked or poorly checked. As a result the target site, scribd.com, was told to take down a much wider variety of works than intended. This included Cory's own Creative Commons-licensed book, a teacher's bibliography, and other innocent bystanders.
Michael Capobianco, the President of SFWA, wrote an apology both to Doctorow and to scribd, attempting to correct the error. That may or may not be enough to mollify the injured, who technically have a legal recourse in suing SFWA for spurious takedown notices. Doctorow points out that such notices also make it harder for the entities (usually estates, publishers or agents) that have the legal authority to enforce copyrights to get their takedown notices respected. If sites think that SFWA is an enforcement authority they may not be willing to accept the word of people they've never heard of, who happen to have actual authority. Doctorow notes that his own agent also represents the estate of noted author Philip K. Dick and his agent has to be responsible for sending out DMCA notes on behalf of that estate. It's certainly conceivable that a legitimate copyright holder could sue SFWA for making life more difficult.
I'm with Cory in thinking that SFWA should have known better and should have been way more careful when it acted, rather than taking a shotgun approach. The union has been remarkably hostile to the public domain, a trend I find disappointing and distressing.
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