A Note of Appreciation for Michael Capobianco
As many of you know, last year I ran for president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America as a write-in candidate against Michael Capobianco. Among the reasons I ran was that I was concerned that Michael, who had not recently published, might be out of step with some of the challenges faced by writers in the current era of publishing. I lost the election, not just because I was a write-in candidate and came to the party late, but also because of the high regard SFWA members had for Michael, who had been president before. He won by a substantial margin.
It turns out I dodged a bullet, and that Michael got a crash course in some of the challenges writers face today, because less than two months into his tenure, SFWA found itself engaged in a major online copyright fracas after its VP sent out badly-formed DMCA takedown notices that resulted in the organization violating a number of copyrights (ironically while helping some of its members defend their own). The outrage exploded online, and it was on Michael to do something to smother the flames.
In the moment of crisis, Michael did the right things, and did them quickly: He apologized on behalf of SFWA to those the organization had wronged, he corralled the SFWA board to suspend issuing DMCA takedown notices pending a review of SFWA policies, and asked for and got an exploratory committee to look at when and how SFWA should help its members control their work, both online and off. He did this all when basically everyone on every side of the event was screaming in his ear, and he did it with competence and a measure of calm. I’m happy to say that I discovered that my concern that Michael would not be up to the challenge — one of the primary reasons I had run — had been unfounded. I had been wrong about him.
In the aftermath of all this, I didn’t always agree with the actions that Michael and the SFWA board took — in particular, I thought appointing the SFWA VP who had caused the copyright meltdown as chair of a new copyright committee was a major error (which was rectified not too long after, thanks to internal pressure) — but I respected the man and believed he genuinely wished the best for SFWA, even when I disagreed with him. The last year would have been a tough one for anyone, and I certainly couldn’t say with any honesty that given the same pressures and controversies Michael had to contend with, that I would have handled them any better. He did as well as anyone could, and by his swift action in dealing with a public crisis, calling for the formation of the Exploratory Copyright committee and with the board taking many of its recommendations to heart, he’s left SFWA better ready to help its members in the future. Which is to say SFWA is better off for having had him as its president. That’s what you hope for from any executive.
Michael’s tenure ends today; tomorrow Russell Davis steps into the presidential position, bolstered by what is in my opinion a very excellent board. I wish them well and they have my support. That said, I want to publicly thank Michael for his service to SFWA, and for his being a calm center in what became a whole lot of storm. He has my appreciation and admiration.