I recently came across three very well written and very thoughtful blog postings by Rick Cook (author of the Wiz Zumwalt Wizardry series):

  1. Copyrights, Whack-the-Gopher, and SFWA — Why I Quit
  2. The Economics of Theft: Son of Whack the Gopher
  3. WHACK THE GOPHER III: The Return of the Mutant Grandson

The incident which kicked off these postings was an informal DMCA takedown notice posted by the Vice President of the Science Fiction Writers of America, Dr. Andrew Burt which was created by a process only slightly more sophisticated than using word search for “Asimov” and “Silverberg”. Unfortunately, this takedown notice erroneously included a junior high school teacher’s list of 300+ recommended books (which naturally contained the strings “Issac Asimov” and “Robert Silverberg”, an on-line published science-fiction magazine that referenced the science fiction author Isaac Asimov in a review, and a creative-commons licensed science fiction novel which had been deliberately published on the web for free distribution, and for which the author had explicitly forbidden the SFWA from taking any action on behalf of his books.

The entire incident was wonderfully filled with irony — from the fact that an organization of writers who purport to write about what the future might bring given scientific and technological advances could so totally fail to get the Internet or understand that such a campaign might cause them to alienate their readers and fan base, to the the fact that Doctor Andrew Burt, Ph.D. is a professor in computer science at the University of Denver with a research interest in copyright and electronic piracy, could so incompetently foul up a DMCA takedown request and not understand that “grep” might result in false positives that would require human checking (“Andrew? Your alma mater is calling; they would like their degree back…”)

One good thing that has come out of this whole mess is that it has been, as junior high school teacher Nick Singer put it, “a teachable moment”, and an opportunity for people to reflect about issues of copyright, the rights of authors, ebooks, and the Internet. This is a hard problem; I very strongly believe that (at the same time) “Art wants to be free; Artists want to be paid” (to use a phrased coined by a friend of mine, Jesse Vincent (blog here), to the point that I’ve been willing to put my money where my mouth is. So far the solutions for achieving this are nowhere near perfect, but they are certainly better than sending out shotgun DMCA takedown requests. In any case, Rick Cook’s thoughts on the subject are a worthy contribution to the subject. He says he’s going to do one more article on his blog proposing an economic solution to this problem; I can’t wait to see what he has to say on the subject.