Posted on December 7, 2007 Posted by John Scalzi 40 Comments
Last week I pointed you in the direction of Charlie Stross’ white-hot commentary about the new Copyright Committee at SFWA, and added a couple of my own comments. As a follow-on to this, SFWA has just released announcement that there is a change in the leadership of the Copyright Committee: SFWA VP Andrew Burt is stepping down as the chair and Russell Davis, who is also a board member, will be assuming the role. SFWA’s official release on the matter, from president Michael Capobianco, is here.
There’s lots to be said about this, to be sure, but what I’m going to say about it here is that I’m very pleased with the change, which I believe will benefit SFWA, that I offer Russell Davis my best wishes and support, and that I thank Andrew Burt for stepping down, and wish him success in his other roles and responsibilities at SFWA. I think this is good news for everyone.
Update: An official (and lengthy) statement from Russell Davis, the new committee chair, is here. Scroll down a bit, it’s below Mr. Capobianco’s statement.
As a note to folks who comment:
I’m sure many of you know I’ve had some go-rounds with Andrew Burt, SFWA’s current VP, and on occasion the gloves have come off between us. However, right now, he’s doing a good thing, and also the right thing for SFWA, and I’m inclined to give credit where credit is due, without an undertone of snark.
Keep it in mind for your own comments here. Thanks.
no snark? damn.
Okay, well, yeah, I’m glad Mr. Burt realized that his presence at the helm of the committee would undermind any action that they would take and did the right thing by stepping aside so the committee can get to the good work that I feel can do. Point for Mr. Burt.
the only negative is that this should have been done before SFWA went off and looked like it was shooting at its foot again. I’m glad the right thing happened. I wish it’d happened without a controversy pushing the issue.
” I hope in the future we can remember that SFWAns are all, fun”
Okay… I’m simply going to point out that Capobianco needs a copyeditor/proofreader. I’m not a published author, but I’d be happy to help him.
May I snark at Steve while undermining his cerebellum?
I’ve had my own go-round with Andrew Burt. However, my stance wasn’t that he was an evil man and I hated him with an eternal fire, my criticism was very specific. In this specific case, I credit Michael Capobianco for listening to the feedback, and to Andrew Burt for likewise doing a good and right thing. Bravo, and kudos to all.
One specific question – the last I heard, Jason Bentley from Scribd was working with Andrew to address SFWA concerns at Scribd. I wonder what happens to that progress?
There’s more to the paragraph. I suspect that’s an uploading error. It’s been fixed, in any event.
I don’t know who will be point man for Scribd, although as chairman everything will go through Russell eventually.
As VP, Andrew has an ex officio membership on every committee, so he’s not completely out of the loop. And he does have useful knowledge. I suspect at the very least that Russell and the committee will use him as a resource.
Whether he resigned because it was the right thing to do, or because he was forced to by the bad publicity, it looks like the latter. Such is life.
That so many people are willing to be satisfied with this, long after the opportunity to do the *real* right thing has passed, is a sign of the times, and it’s a sad, sad sign.
Scalzi: Oh, good! I was just amused (or is that bemused?) because of his saying SWFAns are fun, on the heels of the farting rainbows hilarity.
Well, we don’t have a time machine around these here parts, so we make do with dealing with the reality we have.
And anyway, there are two components to this. On the issue of bad publicity, SFWA missed the boat, yes, and there’s not much to do there except deal with it, note the change, and move on. On the issue of having a committee that is functional and useful for SFWA, however, there was still time for the right thing to be done, because the committee had not yet started its work.
And that’s why I imagine people are happy with this outcome: Because it allows the Committee to do the work it was meant to do. Would it have been better to have had someone else at the helm a week ago? Sure. Didn’t happen. But we go with what we have, and what we have is a committee that’s going to get the work done.
Nathan, if you wanna snark at me, feel free. I think John’s directive was to hold the snark directed at Andrew, Michael, SFWA, or the committees.
Indeed, intramural snark is perfectly fine.
And of course I don’t mean that people shouldn’t float anything but sweetness and light in the thread. Substance over snark, and over snark specifically directed at Mr. Burt, is what I’m hoping for.
I take issue with Capo’s statement that “No one who volunteers for SFWA should have to go through what Andrew has since the scribd incident”. Simply because a person has volunteered for a position does not entitle him to be exempt from criticism of his motives and actions. And Mr. Burt’s motives and actions have been suspect at best.
Jon R, you have to admit that Burt has really been heaped on, by a LOT of people. No one who volunteers for anything should have to deal with that, no matter how deserved. (That’s saved for people who screw up while being paid to do so, methinks.) Whether or not he would have resigned had he not been at the bottom of a giant, angry Internet dogpile is anyone’s guess, but I sort of agree with Capobianco.
13. Despite inclinations to snark at Andrew Burt, I took his immediate willingness to work with Jason from Scribd a week ago as a good thing, and his apparent willingness to step down today as a better thing.
The primary thing here is that the Copyright Committee (or is it the ePiracy Committee? – I’ve seen it both ways) is now positioned to act on the recommendations given to them. I’m interested to see what comes of all that. I think that should be the focus today.
I am glad he stepped down, and the whole business/ pressure leading up to it has been unfortunate. That is all.
“Whether or not he would have resigned had he not been at the bottom of a giant, angry Internet dogpile is anyone’s guess”
I suspect that the conversations within SFWA itself played rather more of a part in it; the non-SFWA discussion was second-tier to that, and that tier was well below the first.
Internet time and Internet piling-on has changed the ability to conduct quiet back channel discussions to correct a situation, as much as it serves to air out smoked filled back room dealings. Does anyone deserve a heaping plate of derision? Well, sometimes I fear it is the only way to get the attention of some people. Is it the best way? Well… say, is there something new and funny over at LOLcat?
So, have you decided whether or not to run for SFWA president again?
I have a book to finish before I can think about anything like that.
John, you wrote:
“Well, we don’t have a time machine around these here parts, so we make do with dealing with the reality we have.”
Very true, and the current situation is certainly better than it was a few days ago.
But there’s a message being sent here that you may not realize (cuz it’s hard to believe it’s an accurate one). First, it says “It’s OK to be corrupt and incompetent, so long as you don’t get caught.” And second, Andrew Burt didn’t do this alone. He did not arbitrarily decide, without any input or any control from anyone else, that he would be in charge of the new committee. I’m sure he played a major role, but *other people decided he should be in charge, too*. And there is apparently going to be *zero* consequences to them. They are not resigning because it’s the right thing to do, or because they’re being forced to, or at all. Even though they did *exactly* the same thing as Burt.
Accurate or not, it promotes an image of corruption and incompetence. And in the entertainment business, image is everything. Perception defines reality.
Scalzi: I have a book to finish before I can think about anything like that.
That’s an excellently cagey politician-like response.
“And second, Andrew Burt didn’t do this alone. He did not arbitrarily decide, without any input or any control from anyone else, that he would be in charge of the new committee. I’m sure he played a major role, but *other people decided he should be in charge, too*. And there is apparently going to be *zero* consequences to them.”
I think this argues that everyone who voted Burt back in were corrupt or had bad ulterior motives, which I don’t think is generally true. Knowing a number of the principals involved in the vote, there are alternatives explanations including:
1. The person voting believed that the errors made were not significant and/or were blown out of significantly proportion;
2. The person voting felt the changes in process (as suggested by the Exploratory Copyright Committee) would be sufficient;
3. The person voting felt that not appointing Burt would lead to significant strife within SFWA;
4. The person voting did not imagine the response to Burt being reappointed would be as negative as it turned out to be.
5. Any combination of the above.
Now, in each case the person might have been mistaken in his or her estimations, but none of the above in itself signals corruption, or incompetence. Sometimes people just get it wrong. I suspect most SFWAns felt the board just got it wrong rather than the board was sticking a middle finger out at its constituency. I’ve noted before that Burt is also on the board and was voting, which added another layer of social dynamic to it all.
As for “It’s OK to be corrupt and incompetent, so long as you don’t get caught,” I don’t see it, not in the least because the event that triggered this all was not in the least hidden; to the extent anyone was caught, they were caught early.
For my part, I suspect some portion of the board honestly believed that the process change in how SFWA handles things like DMCA notices — which is significantly different — was change enough, and underestimated the desire for change in personnel. It was an error of judgment rather than complicity in corruption. Once that change in personnel happened, it seems most folks in SFWA are ready to move on.
Also, you know. It’s all pretty fatiguing. I suspect most SFWAns are ready to be done with it.
Did anyone else see The Spider-Man of the sci-fi writing world today? I found it… okay, I was pretty offended by it. For a lot of reasons. But I didn’t get much sleep last night, so I’m not sure that’s the right reaction ;).
Dude, you just got called a politician on your own blog. I believe the correct response is to Godwin the thread.
Well, I did run for president of SFWA. I can’t really complain when someone calls me a politician.
“I think this argues that everyone who voted Burt back in were corrupt or had bad ulterior motives, which I don’t think is generally true.”
No. It argues that it *looks* *like* this is true, which is a very different thing. But perception is more important, in many ways, than reality.
“As for “It’s OK to be corrupt and incompetent, so long as you don’t get caught,” I don’t see it, not in the least because the event that triggered this all was not in the least hidden; to the extent anyone was caught, they were caught early.”
Again, I’m not arguing that this is the case – that these people *are* corrupt and incompetent. Part of the reason I’m not arguing this is the case is that you do know many of them personally, an do not believe that. But it does make them *look* corrput and incompetent, and most people do not have the benefit of your insight. And an insider, you are – of course – inclined to rely on what you know about these folks, because you (rightly) trust your own judgement of them.
But most of the public do not, and do not know anyone who does. All they know is that there was a row over this committee, and the SFWA got a lot of flak for doing something questionable (in the minds of the public), _and backed off_. Then, they went back to (in the minds of the public) the same people doing the same things, business as usual. And (again, in the eyes of the public), the people responsible have (as corrupt bigwigs always do) thrown a sacrificial goat under the bus, _but the real powers that be are still in the same places doing the same things_. Business as usual.
And, unfortunately, fair or not (and it’s really now), SFWA has been tarred and feathered with the same brush that has been (very rightly) used on the MPAA and RIAA. That makes it difficult for y’all to get any well deserved sympathy, or the slightest benefit of the doubt.
“Also, you know. It’s all pretty fatiguing. I suspect most SFWAns are ready to be done with it.”
Unfortunately, it’s not up to SWFAns to decide if the public at large will a) let it be done with, or b) trust writers to be the good guys when they’re represented by a bunch of (in the public’s mind) clowns just like the MPAA or RIAA. Be prepared for this to keep coming up for a while. But best of luck with it. As I said when the feces originally hit the fan, stupid things were done by all involved, and nobody seems to have really had a malicious intent. Certainly, SWFA members don’t deserve that tar and feather brush.
I’ve posted on many SF writers blogs, why am I not eligible to be the SFWA VP?
“But perception is more important, in many ways, than reality.”
This is me shrugging at this point. It’s done with, and we’ll deal with it the aftereffects from here on out. But on a process level, we’re in better shape than we were before.
Sean Eric Fagan:
It’s pretty clear Peter Glaskowsky is vomiting up a set of talking points about a topic of which he knows not a whole lot.
6. In response to my own question…
I find it hopeful that the statement by the new chair admits, if somewhat grudgingly, that the e-piracy committee must interact with the public as well as with the sff.private. group. It’s a pity he chose to phrase it as “every move of the new committee will be examined by those who seek to oppose our goals and the wants and needs of our members. “, but it’s definitely progress.
Terry Austin, as someone who has been very critical and somewhat vocal in my opinions of what happened (for not being a SFWA member), I can also see the committee voting to put Mr. Burt back in charge for two very good reasons; he has knowledge and enthusiasm about the subject AND he was willing to serve and give a lot of time to it. In a volunteer based organization, I can’t stress enough how important those two things are; even to the point of overlooking disagreements on politics and policy.
This is good news.
John, I wasn’t just “vomiting up” anything.
At the time of the original Scribd incident, I did my own original research, communicating with Andrew Burt, Cory Doctorow, Jerry Pournelle, and Scribd.
I did my own searches at Scribd, I studied how their website operates, and I studied the language of the DMCA.
I reached my own conclusions, including some critical points that nobody else had picked up on, and I wrote about them.
I also gave advice and assistance to some of the principals in this case, including writing a DMCA takedown notice for an author whose work was being illegally distributed by Scribd. That notice was successfully processed by Scribd.
I don’t leap to conclusions about things I don’t understand, and you shouldn’t either.
Peter Glaskowsky, if you weren’t just vomiting up talking points about things about which you know little, you do a pretty damn fine impression of doing just that very thing. Likewise, it’s nice you’ve reached your own conclusions; it’s too bad those conclusions aren’t particularly good or smart ones, as far as I can see.
Well, that tells us something about either my conclusions or your ability to see, doesn’t it?
Why, yes it does: That your conclusions aren’t good or smart ones. I’m not exactly sure why you needed that repeated. But just in case it takes a third time to do it: Your conclusions were neither good nor smart. Hope that helps.
I see. Thanks.
Sorry, John. If I can’t snark at Andrew–or Six of the Eight Idiots whose choices were made to avoid “significant strife within SFWA,” then I’ll save it for Capo, who started by acting sensibly and p*ss*d it all away with one last FU:
“No one who volunteers for SFWA should have to go
through what Andrew has since the scribd incident; many of the criticisms, especially from non-members, have lost any kind of perspective. I hope in the future we can remember that SFWAns are all, fundamentally, on the same side, and there are no enemies among us.”
I call b*llsh*t, and malicious, deliberate, insulting b*llsh*t at that.
Run and win, and you might just see an upsurge in SFWA membership. But, until then, you’re stuck with the pigs.