THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 482 September 3 - 9, 2007
Highlights this week:
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September 3, 2007
Much of the weekend was absorbed with the SFWA/EFF scribd.com flap initiated by Cory Doctorow with flames fanned by ars technica, boing boing, and EFF. You can read much of it in the weekend's View. It begins Friday and there are developments through Sunday. There's even some glimmer of a sign that scribd has discovered they haven't won quite as thoroughly as they thought. I am preparing a more orderly presentation as this week's column since I think the matter is one of some importance for the future.
I am somewhat rattled by the number of people who automatically leaped to the conclusion that SFWA and the writers are the bad guys, and those who have posted hundreds -- year thousands -- of copyrighted works without even the pretense of authorization by their creators are the good guys. I note also that attempts by readers to put up somewhat different views in the places where this flap originated have been turned down. For many apparently it is enough to hear one version of the story.
In any event I'll have a column on the subject because it is important for the future. I'll try to be a bit more orderly in the presentation than I was in the day book.
Translation: Authors, you are on your own; SFWA will no longer act for you in defense of your electronic rights.
Congratulations are due to those who have won this battle. That includes EFF whose legal warning in defense of their client scribd doubtless played some part in the Board's decision. I have no consolation for those who lost.
I can take care of myself. I know how to generate DMCA takedown letters if I care to go to the trouble; Scribd has said they don't think this an onerous process. I disagree, but I know how to do it. I can't act on anyone else's behalf nor will SFWA.
I have, with the expenditure of under an hour of investigation, found on scribd.com many of the works of Heinlein, Chalker, Chandler, Anderson, Saberhagen, and other dead authors as well as two story collections by Harlan Ellison who is very much alive and very much unlikely to be pleased by this. Scribd was notified of much of this by two separate emails. I have not heard any reply from them, but I did not expect to.
If there are any venture capitalists thinking of investing in scribd who are members of any branch of the Masonic order, they may want to take note that the estates of many of those writers belong to their widows or widows' sons. If any are Catholic or Jewish they may want to take note of the specific Biblical prohibitions in these matters.
I repeat the following from what I said over the weekend:
I understand that I must not call scribd.com a pirate site: it's just a place where anyone can put up a copyrighted document without any legal authority and scribd won't do anything until a legal notice by the owner is sent to them. Better be sure the notice is in the proper form. So although there's a lot of other people's work available at scribd without any permission from the copyright owners, it's not a pirate site. Keep that firmly in mind.
A version of this was posted in a closed SFWA forum, partly in answer to Michael's comment on my dismay about SFWA's action. I want one thing made clear: I don't blame Michael Capobianco for what happened.
Apparently the fallout continues. While a faction friendly to Doctorow and the information wants to be free group, coupled with intimidation from Electronic Freedom Foundation lawyers representing scribd (see http://blog.scribd.com/ ) were successful in getting SFWA to withdraw from the business of protecting authors electronic copyrights, scribd seems to be feeling some pressure, and I am told scribd is taking down a large number of posts, possibly including all of Chalker's work. Included in that takedown are the works of some of those who screamed loudest when SFWA erroneously included some works that should not have been on the takedown list; but apparently they are not screaming this time.
Apparently scribd which thought it was winning hands down in its stonewall campaign (Send us DMCA takedown notices in proper form or we will do nothing) is learning that this isn't as popular a stand as they originally thought. We'll see. I hear all this indirectly, but I do note that when I search for Chalker's works, which I found this morning, I now get an error notice.
It may be that they have won less than they thought they did. That doesn't change the fact that SFWA has been defeated by Doctorow, ars technica, scribd, and EFF in that we will no longer be representing members in protecting electronic copyright; members are still on their own.
I do point out that if scribd had been anything like cooperative in the past weeks when Dr. Burt was trying to negotiate with them, instead of simply stonewalling and insisting that they would pay attention only to properly worded DMCA takedown notices, SFWA would never have sent the list of documents to be taken down, Doctorow's work (posted by a third party, not by Doctorow, and widely available on many other sites) would not have vanished from scribd, and none of this flap would have happened; and SFWA would continue to look after the electronic copyright interests of its members.
Congratulations are due to EFF and Doctorow. They have won their battle to defend the rights of scribd to post whatever it wanted and leave it there until properly served with the right notices: but apparently even scribd is having a few second thoughts. Pity they didn't have them a week ago. None of us would have had to go through this. Now they are apparently sufficiently frightened by public reaction to try some remedies. I repeat: SFWA tried to get them to do what they are now doing without any success whatever; it took our sending DMCA takedown notices, the Doctorow - ars technica - EFF reaction, and our responses including my explanations here, and the resulting public reaction when many readers began to understand just what EFF and scribd were defending, namely the right to have thousands of copyright documents available for download without any permission from copyright owners, and to leave them there until precisely drafted DMCA notices were sent for each and every such document) to generate any kind of change of policy. My thanks to all the readers who have taken the trouble to find out what was really going on, and to respond.
For those who wonder what ELECTRONIC FRONTIER FOUNDATION does, please go to http://blog.scribd.com/ and read the letter EFF sent on behalf of its client scribd.com to the Science Fiction Writers of America. If you support EFF, you should see them in action, and take pride in what they do. See how they cover themselves with glory, and how helpful they are in protecting author's rights.
Having read this, go to yesterday's view to see scribd's statement on their view of the matter.
I will leave it to you whether, given the EFF letter, the process of getting scribd to pay attention to the rights of authors and their widows is onerous.
Scribd is trying to make some semblance of amends; I trust that I won't seen unduly cynical if I doubt their good will, since they had weeks to be cooperative and stonewalled, then started their war and sent their EFF lawyers to their aid, and are only now acting as if they have any concern for the rights of authors and creators.
I note that Macdonalds is advertising on scribd. That certainly tells me something about where to buy hamburgers.
|This week:||Tuesday, September
I am preparing a summary of the copyright case and the peculiar act of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (a 501c3 organization) supporting the commercial firm scribd against an authors' association trying to act for its members. This will be this week's column, because there are a number of important issued buried in this controversy. It's taking me some time to do this properly, and things haven't been made easier by (1) a Summer cold, and (2) temperatures in excess of 100 F.
The column has to (1) summarize the facts, which means a great deal of repetition of material already posted here, and (2) look at the implications. There are many, and some are important. Apologies for the delay. Those who wonder what this is all about should go back to yesterday's View.
I am also determined to finish Inferno II and get it out the door. There remain only two scenes I know I have to write, but close reading as I look for the proper place to insert those scenes has shown me ways to improve the book. The draft we turned in on June 1 was about 80,000 words. The current draft is 89,000 words, and I expect the final work to be about 91,000 total. Publishers prefer works to be about 90,000 to 110,000 words; this is a change from when I began writing. Red Heroin, my first published novel, was about 50,000 words, and that was typical of the action/intrigue genre of that time. A Spaceship for the King was under 50,000 words, but that was dictated by the maximum length Analog Science Fiction would accept for serialization; first serial rights were very important in those days. Alas, magazine rates haven't changed much in forty years, and serialization is no longer a major source of income.
And now to work.
The column is up. It's about the scribd flap, and that is probably all I will have to say on the subject. I may already have told you more than you want to know, but I hope I have interjected enough amusing asides to keep it readable.
I found I have been saying Electronic Freedom Foundation when the true name is Electronic Frontier Foundation. I got it right in the column (thanks to Bob Thompson).
I do thank all those who have sent letters of support, and I particularly thank all those who have subscribed recently. Now it's time to go back to Hell.
Astounding. If you import poor people, or allow poor people to enter illegally, then you will have more poor people, and thus more poverty!
I am sure some social scientists will have an explanation.
Stardust will be my movie of the month, but don't wait until then to go see it. It's wonderful.
When we went to Italy many years ago, Roberta had me drive us to Modena. She went to a local bar to determine where his house was, and I photographed her standing outside his gate.
Off to the beach. I expect to finish Inferno II on this trip.
I have interesting correspondence from a scribd official. Has anyone read The Good Soldier Schweik? I am somehow reminded. Although scribd has taken down many copyrighted documents to which they had no glimmer of a right to publish, they continue to act as naifs.
When I informed them that my column (complete with copyright notice) was on their web site, their response was to act pleased that I had posted it, although they knew, and they knew that I knew they knew, that I had done no such thing. It will be interesting to see how long they leave it up there. They also have much of Asimov's work, so their exploitation of widows continues. Apparently they took a considerable PR hit, and some investors are having second thoughts, so they want to polish their image a bit if possible. They are claiming to have cooperated with SFWA, which astonishes those who were involved for SFWA.
In fairness, they have a dilemma. They want to provide a sort of documentary You-Tube, a place where anyone can put up nearly anything with little difficulty. This would include reviews, commentaries, Creative Commons documents, and nearly anything else people might want to present. Depending on the quality of their contributors this could become an interesting place; but of course it is a magnet for pirates, and if they had minimal prudence they'd have known it would be. Even if they had not figured that out, they know it now.
It is now pretty hard for them to claim the DMCA "safe harbor" protection: they know that their site has thousands of copyrighted documents. They know. I recently sent them a list that included works by Asimov and Sir Arthur Clarke: their answer (progress -- they answer; previously they simply ignored me) was
In other words, "even though we know that there is pirated material on our site, we can't do anything about it until we hear from the owner. We can rip you off, and rip off widows and orphans, and continue to do it until the victims find out about it and complain. Oh, and have a nice day."
Actually, I don't think that will do it. I don't think the law actually says that you can rip people off so long as they or their legal representatives aren't aware of it and don't complain. I think the law requires a certain degree of common sense. In any event they know they are harboring pirates, they are claiming they can't do anything about it without complaints from the owners, and they'll continue to harbor pirated works, so have a nice day.
It's an interesting position to take. We'll see just how well it works.
Again I want to thank those who have recently subscribed or renewed subscriptions. It gives some weight to the proposition that there are those in America who will pay for web content without being forced to.
We are safely at the beach house in San Diego, having taken about 3 1/2 hours of reasonably pleasant driving with a 20 minute stop at El Toro to get here. I have everything set up using the IBM t42p laptop and the ViewSonic VA1930wm monitor and the Microsoft sculpted wireless keyboard and mouse. I have one problem. The VA1930 wants a resolution of 1440 by 900. That turns out to make 12 point type too small for me to see properly. I have to run everything up to 14 point, both here and in mail. I suppose I could compose in 14 point and drop it back, but that's tedious. So for the next few days, we'll operate in 14 point.
You see this in a browser and for most of you it's easy enough to change text size. Alas, I can't do that in FrontPage. One of these days I may "upgrade" from FrontPage, but I don't have much incentive to do that. FrontPage is good enough for most of what I do.
September 7, 2007
We're down at the beach house, and with luck I'll finish Inferno II. I still have two big scenes to add, but each time I approach the spot where they need to be, I find a few lines I can improve along the way. The problem is that the new scenes have to be fit in, and the book has a continuity and logic that makes that hard to do. I have to take a couple of good scenes apart. I don't suppose much of this is interesting.
The fallout from the scribd/EFF vs. SFWA flap continues. There aren't really any new developments, but some within SFWA are discovering that the "disaster" wasn't nearly as bad for SFWA as they feared -- we were on the right side, we remain on the right side, and fighting for the right side is a good thing to do and most know that. Those who think SFWA was on the wrong side will never change, and anyone who believes it is OK to maintain a web site predominantly composed of pirated materials will believe many other things.
The fact remains that those "harmed" -- I would say inconvenienced -- by SFWA's action were using a web site composed largely of pirated materials to get attention to their freely distributed works. We can regret that their works were, for a time, no longer available on a web site that harbors thousands of pirated works, but I refuse to become terribly upset by it. My sympathies are for the pirated authors and their widows and orphans.
One more point. Robert Bruce Thompson and others continue to believe that the problem will never be solved. No matter what DMCA says, the US has no control over servers in the Ukraine and elsewhere.
That may be, but it may not be. Many European governments are harder on pirates than the US. So are many Asian countries. Even Russia is subject to commercial pressures. But even that is beside the point.
The important thing is never to give up the moral high ground. Many decent people will continue to pay for what they read -- the existence of subscribers to this web site is ample testimony to that -- provided that they understand that authors deserve payment, that information does not necessarily want to be free and creative work deserves to be paid for, and provided that there are convenient legitimate outlets for eBooks at reasonable prices.
Making those works available at reasonable prices will require publishing -- either by the author, as I have haphazardly done here, or, preferably, by a publisher with some experience in distribution, like Baen. Baen's lead is beginning to be followed by others.
What is important is that when a reader sees a legitimate copy of a book and wants it, he buys it from the legitimate source rather than routinely going to Google to find a pirate site for a stolen copy. If the authors ever give up in despair, that will be the situation. If we don't continue to assert our moral rights, then it won't be evil to list stolen books prominently on search engines, and the entire eBook industry will be in trouble.
I have made most of my lifetime income on the paperback rights to a few books. I am in a beach house bought in large part by the paperback income from Footfall. My house was paid for an improved by the paperback revenue of Lucifer's Hammer, which also paid for my four boys' schooling. Those books were a lot of work. Each took nearly three years. I would hate to see it impossible for other writers to have similar success.
The income I get from subscriptions here is a handy supplement to income from savings and social security. I could, I suspect, work hard enough to live frugally in retirement fashion having divested myself of extraneous assets like a second car and the beach house we bought 25 years ago in a real estate slump. But then my house and car are paid for (Mr. Heinlein told us to do that: writers are professional gamblers, and we must remember that) and I don't have any kids to put through school. But I couldn't make a normal living on the income from this site despite your generosity; and if I couldn't, then it's not likely that many can.
Eric Flint has recently said that for fiction writers most of their income will be from early sales of hardbound books in future. For those with readers and fans eager to see their next work that's fine; but again I point out that over my lifetime my income has come first from paperback book sales (Mostly Hammer and Footfall); then from columns (I had a very good run from 1980 to 1998 when BYTE was riding high); then from my other fiction, again mostly paperback sales; then from lecture fees; and finally from web site subscriptions which now comprise a significant part of my income until I finish more fiction. I hope to get significant revenue from both hardbound and paperback sales of Inferno II when that's done, and I can hope that Janissaries IV and then either a new Falkenberg or a space opera won't do too badly.
But for the future, paperback book sales are collapsing for everyone; and the scribd affair shows that it's possible that eBook sales won't amount to a hill of beans -- after all, many of the offerings of scribd were copies of once legitimately sold eBooks, so there's not much question of quality.
I repeat: if it becomes the standard practice for people to go to pirate sites for copies of eBooks, then a large part of a writer's potential revenue is gone, and much of the incentive for publishers to bring out legitimate copies is gone.
That's what is at stake. For now the revenue loss to pirate sites is trivial; but it may not be ever thus, and in any event the morality of the situation is clear. Authors should control what is done with their works. And while SFWA may regret inconveniencing people who used a site that harbors pirated works to draw attention, I fear their inconvenience at not being able to have their wares available on a place that harbors pirated works is not equivalent to the authors' potential losses if it becomes widely acceptable to go to a site harboring pirated works to get your eBooks.
So say I, and proudly.
On the one side we have defense of an author's right not to be pirated. On the other we have vigorous championship of the right to have one's work available for free download on a site that consists largely of pirated -- stolen -- property. I fear I am unable to equate those causes.
Jerry, Iíve no ability to assess this, but if it is really soÖ..
To which I can only say Goshwowoboyoboy! Assuming it's true. I have had missives from St. Andrew's for years saying that a reactionless drive that passes the swing test is coming Real Soon Now, and each time I have greeted the letter with joy, but alas, so far, no joy.
But we can hope! Dr. Huth kindly provides this reference on the Casimir Force:
And hurrah for her. I took her seriously: I never underestimated my audience. Go in peace, grand lady.
It may not be over. The SFWA officers are discovering that while there is a vocal contingent of people saying SFWA sucks, there are even more cheering for its actions. There are also many who are not happy with the retreat in the face of victory.
I said this in the private SFWA conference (naturally I can't quote responses or even summarize them without permission, but I give myself permission here). We should have said:
I believe this, and I am trying to convince my fellow members. This is not the time to retreat. This is the time to make it clear to everyone that if you expect to make money by harboring pirated material, we are going to be in your face, and your investors may not like it.
I don't care if over on SCRIBD those who post pirated works now start their post with "SFWA SUCKS".
I know that we will never stop piracy. I know that many people will post copies of MOTE and DUNE and STRANGER and such, and we will never find them all. That's at worst an annoyance. What I find worse than annoying would be this: a new reader similar to iPhone comes out. It's cool. Millions of oeople like it. They like reading books on it. And when they go to Google looking for MOTE IN GOD'S EYE the first entry is a link to a pirate site where they can get it free, and not to Pocket Books where they can get it for $5.95. (Alas, no, Pocket hasn't got a good electronic copy available at that price. I can hope they will get that smart. On the other hand we don't yet have the reader I postulate. I don't have to hope for or dread that one; it's going to happen.)
I sure hope to see some iron in SFWA's spine.
LATE: The President is making a powerful statement. SFWA lives.
September 10, 2007
What I put up here Sunday never got out on the web and is lost.
If you sent me mail between Thursday 6 September at 0900 PDT and Sunday, 9 September at 2000 hours (8 PM) PDT, I do not have that mail. If you sent it and I answered it, I have neither your mail nor my answer. In short, for that period I have lost all the mail. (It will eventually be recovered, but not for a while.)
If you have recently sent me a subscription notice and you have not received a welcome message, PLEASE LET ME KNOW. YOU ARE NOT ENROLLED. Please send me a notice. If you paid by subscription to Roberta's mail, that is not lost, but the NOTICE TO ME that you subscribed is lost.
And what I wrote to put up here for Sunday is lost as well. As well. So is much of the mail that I had selected to post.
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the weekly COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 8,000 - 12,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here. This site is run on the "public radio" model; see below.
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