Linux, politics, and other interesting things
I have just read an interesting post by Ted Ts’O about copyright protection on the net . Ted is well known as a free software programmer, but it’s slightly less well known that he is an avid Science-Fiction fan. In the Free Software community most people seem to be interested in Sci-Fi, but Ted is more interested than most.
Ted’s post concerns the irresponsible actions of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America  (SFWA). To summarise it they issued DMCA  take-down notices for any web page that matched a search on the names “Asimov” or “Silverberg“. I don’t approve of the DMCA laws as a collection, but take-down notices are not necessarily bad (I have issued such notices for unauthorised copies of my own work in the past). The problem in this case is that the words in question are extremely common, not only might they be used as the names for other people (authors or characters) but Asimov in particular is a well known term when describing the potential development of intelligent computers that operate robots (see the Three Laws of Robotics ), the term “not Asimov Compliant” has been used by Alastair Reynolds in Century Rain to refer to a class of military robots that have no compunction about killing humans.
Among the fall-out of the SFWA actions was the removal of a free novel by Cory Doctorow . Incidentally my favourite free to download Cory Doctorow book is Eastern Standard Tribe . craphound.com has Cory’s blog as well as links to other free Sci-Fi that he’s written.
Reading the links from Ted’s post took me to a blog entry by the current SFWA vice-president  which describes authors such as Cory Doctorow as “webscabs“. This offends me greatly. My work and that of my friends in writing free software could be described in the same way (and in fact is described in a similar way by some software monopolists). Every blogger could have their work described in a similar way by paid journalists.
The fact that the SFWA VP is not representing SFWA when writing such comments does little to allay concern about this. It seems to me that people with such ideas are intent on attacking my community, and that it would be wrong of me to give any of them $0.50 by buying one of their books. I resolve to not buy any more Sci-Fi books until I have read all the freely available books that I want to read. After that I will prioritise my book purchases with a significant factor being how well the author gets the concepts of copyright etc. If nothing else an author who can’t understand how copyright (something that is essential to their own livelyhood) interacts with current computer systems will have significant difficulties in predicting how technology and society will develop over the next hundred or thousand years.
My problem in reading Sci-Fi books is not in discovering books that are enjoyable and which contain interesting concepts, but in finding time to read them. Thanks to SFWA for giving me an extra criteria to cull the list of books to read.