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DMCA and Sci-Fi

My previous post about the SFWA falsely issuing DMCA take-down notices [1] has got some reactions, many of which indicate a lack of clear reading of my post.

I am not advocating boycotting sci-fi. I am merely changing the priorities for my reading list. There must be at least 10 sci-fi books on my shelf of books to read, so refraining from buying more for a while isn’t going to impact my reading much either.

In regard to whether boycots are good or bad, it should be considered that the enjoyment of a work of art is highly subjective. If you don’t like the artist then you probably won’t enjoy the art. Boycots on products for which there are objective criteria of quality are often unsuccessful because the buyers have to make a conscious decision to buy a product of a lower quality or a higher price. I can’t make any objective claim about the relative merits of the work of Cory Doctorow and Jerry Pournelle. But it is impossible for me to enjoy reading Jerry’s work as much as I enjoy reading Cory’s work due to my opinion of the two authors.

I have just read a post by Eva Whitley [2] (the widow of Jack L. Chalker – one of my favourite authors when I was younger). She starts by describing Jack’s attitude towards electronic publishing, which sounds quite enlightened. She then notes that Del Rey has the rights to some of his books which are officially still in-print but in practice impossible to get, Baen is still paying royalties but had paid him a large advance so he won’t receive money until the royalties exceed the advance, and some books are out of print but no publisher wants to buy the rights to do a re-print. So it seems that she is not receiving money from her late husbands work partly due to book companies being uncooperative (not printing the books and not permitting others to print them without payment) and partly due to being paid in advance.

Eva states that she is happy that the SFWA issued take-down requests for copies of the work of her late husband. That is good and in fact it’s a legal requirement. No-one can legally get copyright laws enforced unless they own the copyright or they are acting on behalf of the copyright owner. She is entitled to authorise the SFWA (or any other group) to act on her behalf in regard to her copyright violations. Neither the SFWA nor anyone else can take action against copyright violations without such permission.

Jerry Pournelle has written about the situation [3]. He complains that the site owners wanted the items listed individually. The Wikipedia page about the DMCA [4] makes it quite clear that you must provide such detailed information to get something taken offline, and that the DMCA take-down request MUST include a statement claiming ownership of the material UNDER PENALTY OF PERJURY.

If you make a false DMCA claim then you are committing perjury, according to Wikipedia the penalty for perjury in the US is up to five years in prison [5]. Sure any idiot can write up DMCA take-down requests for random stuff on the net and get them acted on (here’s an example of a 15yo idiot who did just that [6]). But if you want to stay out of jail you have to avoid making such false claims.

Jerry expresses a total lack of sympathy for Cory Doctorow and other people who have been victims of slander of title [7]. I wonder how he would react if someone started making public statements under penalty of perjury claiming that he didn’t own the title to some of his work. I suspect that he would desire something similar to what he desires to be done to people associated with 9-11 [8].

Finally one thing that I suggest doing to make some additional money from writing sci-fi is to release T-shirts. A basic T from cafepress.com was $7 last time I checked. $11 for a shirt based on a sci-fi book is not overly expensive and gives $4 profit for the author (more than twice what most authors make from a book sale). Shirt sales are unlikely to make as much money as book sales due to lower volumes, but the effort involved in creating a shirt design is not so great. A publishing company may deny an author (or their estate) future revenue by refraining from printing further copies, but unless they also own the trademarks related to the book and deny the author (or their estate) the right to use them then it should still be possible to make money from merchandise. Making money from merchandise is not as glamourous as making money from book royalties, but it can be effective as demonstrated by xkcd.com.

1 comment to DMCA and Sci-Fi

  • So if you do put a work under Creative Commons, why not just generate a statement saying “I declare under penalty of perjury that the file whose SHA1 hash is 5f3e5… is under the CC-(whatever) license” — you could use a microformat for this — and PGP-sign it? Then let the web sites have copies, and if someone tries to abuse the DMCA, and your PGP key has enough Whuffie that they have a pretty good idea you’re a real person, then they’ll know it.

    Or–hey kids, business model–as an author, you could allow putback-o-matic.com to generate a DMCA putback for you. Web sites that do a takedown would send the hashes of the files taken down to putback-o-matic.com, and putback-o-matic.com sends out the DMCA putback letter for you. If the takedown was an example of egregious DMCA abuse (which it doesn’t look like the SFWA case was) then putback-o-matic.com sues the sender of the original takedown and splits the money with you.