Followup: 14 October 2007

After this letter had been up only a day on my site, Mr Doctorow posted an apology to me on his site. It may be a bit clouded with arguments and self-justification, but apologising is hard, and apologies are rare and valuable. I accept his in all good faith.

I hope people who copied my piece off his site will take it down, as he did, so that we can all put the whole fuss behind us.

If any good comes out of it, it might be a clearer perception by some SFWA members that copyright is a complex thing, and upholding it is a complex job, and mistakes are easy to make; but, with good will and a little patience, they may also be easy to correct.

14 October 2007

SFWA, Piracy, and Serious Literature — An Open Letter

I'd like to correct some misapprehensions about Cory Doctorow's unauthorized posting of my short comic piece "On Serious Literature" on his site.

I originally sent the piece to David Langford for Ansible, because that's where I first saw the quote from Ruth Franklin that the piece riffs on. I also put it on my web site. (It's still there.) Jon Carroll of the San Francisco Chronicle then reprinted it entire in the Chronicle, without asking permission. My agent Vaughne Hansen and I immediately demanded an apology from Carroll, and immediately got one. Harper's asked to publish it, offering me $200.00, which I accepted (I love gravy.)

I then discovered that Doctorow had put it on his web site, without asking permission and without observing copyright, misrepresenting its purpose, and falsely claiming that it was under license by "Creative Commons" so that anyone could copy it.

My agent and I had just decided to ask the e-piracy committe of SFWA, which I had come to count on in similar situations, to intervene on my behalf — when we found that the committee had suddenly been dissolved, following complaints about unauthorized interference, issuing from Cory Doctorow.

The irony of this situation is fairly visible. While Doctorow was making a huge fuss over an honest mistake, which when discovered was immediately redressed, he was publishing another writer's work without asking permission and in clear violation of copyright.

With my consent, Andrew Burt exposed Doctorow's piracy in a letter printed on Jerry Pournelle's web site. Doctorow scoffed, blustered, made no apology to me for misidentifying my work and using it without permission, and behaved as if his action was legitimate, although the Fair Use exception explicitly does not cover reprinting an entire article or poem no matter how short. But he took part of the piece off his site.

At the request of Michael Capobianco, President of SFWA, acting on my behalf, Doctorow has now finally removed the entire piece.

He has not apologised either to me for using my piece without permission, or to the people he misled with his pretense of a "Creative Commons License" into thinking they could reprint a copyrighted piece without violating the law. Nor has he offered to help them remove these many additional copies.

But, thanks to SFWA, he has taken the piece down. My agent is writing to request him to redress some of the other matters. I hope then to be done for good with Mr Doctorow. What I remain upset about is the confusion and destruction he seems to have effected within SFWA.

An overworked committee mistakenly identified a few works, among many, as infringing copyright; the mistakes were promptly admitted and redressed, with apologies; and President Capobianco invited any other parties who thought themselves wronged to contact him. Where is the cause in all this for dissolving a committee which has worked with extraordinary effectiveness to redress real wrongs?

In my view, the best thing that could come out of my brush with the Doctorow Doctrine would be this: the honorable reinstatement of the SFWA e-piracy committee, with an expression of appreciation from SFWA officers and members of the honest and effective work they have done for us for so long.

This letter is not copyrighted and may be excerpted or copied entire.

— Ursula K. Le Guin
October 12 2007


Webthing brings you to navigation links

Updated Tuesday, 18-Jun-2019 10:14:40 EDT