Andrew Burt has been reinstated as chairman of the Science Fiction Writers of America’s Electronic Piracy Committee, though the SFWA’s board listened to advice that the committee should be called differently, and has therefore rechristened it “Copyright Committee.” Cory Doctorow, Charles Stross and to a lesser extent John Scalzi are not amused. For one thing, Andrew Burt is seen by many as the root of the problems with the old committee, and should therefore not be allowed to return, and for another the SFWA is careless in claiming that the Scalzi-headed advisory committee recommended that “the former Electronic Piracy Committee be revived in toto under the new name »Copyright Committee« with the same members and chair as when it was disbanded,” which it did not.

Three months ago the SFWA’s VP Andrew Burt managed to get the Science Fiction Writers of America entangled into yet another PR disaster based on his rather one-sided view on copyright and its enforcement. Intent on preventing such mistakes, the SFWA disbanded its Electronic Piracy Committee and asked John Scalzi to head an Exploratory Committee (EP) that was to “investigate the views of the membership on issues of copyright, authors rights, what role the membership would like to see SFWA take on these matters and what level of risk (legal, public relations or otherwise) is acceptable to the membership in regards to that role, and what—if any—public policy statement SFWA might issue on these subjects on behalf of its membership.”

The EP has now produced its recommendations, and the SFWA seems to agree with most of them, but has sort of managed to miss their spirit, which was that a ham-handed and repressive approach to copyright enforcement may reflect back on the SFWA and its members, and should therefore be the sole province of the individual author. This is more or less the exact opposite of what the old committee’s position seemed to be, so reinstating that committee appears to be a very optimistic, yet ultimately wrong move.

Not to mention that Cory Doctorow has its own bones to pick with Andrew Burt, because Burt’s actions have repeatedly hurt Doctorow’s exploitation of his own works.

Quoth Cory Doctorow:

Burt’s copyright projects for SFWA have been controversial and divisive. He created a push-poll that attempted to convince the membership to stop Amazon from indexing their books; he created a non-working system for poisoning ebooks and ruining the download experience and then patented it, in his name, at the organization’s expense (he has promised to return the money); he helped create a loyalty oath in which members were told to swear to “respect patents and trademarks” and so on.

Note: yes, this has little to do with the electronic library anymore. Still, I thought our readers deserved to be kept abreast of the latest developments in what started as an e-book related story.


  1. How relevant is the SFWA, assuming they abandon the silly DMCA overreactions?

    Anyway, it is odd that they are still going this route with Burt given that scifi/fantasy seems to be one area where authors and publishers are actually using ebooks to expand their niche. I’d never heard of John Scalzi til he posted one of his novels online. Then I bought pretty much all of his novels in p-book form.

    Similarly, Baen has shown that people will pay for non-DRMed scifi.

    People like Doctorow, Scalzi and companies like Baen are doing what the music industry should have done. They’re involving the fans and creating a community around their work. Do that, and the money will follow.

    Go the other way, and you just alienate readers who aren’t going to care one way or another if they’re undermining your ability to keep making money writing by downloading every novel and short story you’ve ever written.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail