How to properly support writers/artists?

Russell Coker, commenting on my last blog, and apparently after exploring some of the links stemming from the SFWA kerfuflle, apparently stumbled on a post from former SFWA VP Howard V. Hendrix, where he took the amazing position (for a SF writer) that he hated the using the internet, and that people who posted their stories on the web for free download were web-scabs, has taken the position that since such comments were an attack on our (Open Source Developer’s) community, that he would resolve “to not buy any more Sci-Fi books until I have read all the freely available books that I want to read”. Obviously, that’s his choice, but while I don’t have much respect for SFWA the organization, and certainly not for their choice in past and current vice presidents, there’s another side of the story here.

First of all, Dr. Hendrix comments are not the official position of the SFWA, and there are many others who are SFWA members who would very strongly disagree with both the attitudes of Dr. Hendrix as well as the ham-handed DMCA pseudo-invocation by Dr. Burt. In addition, to quote Rick Cook:

The first thing you’ve got to understand about the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America is that it isn’t. Like the Holy Roman Empire, which in Voltaire’s phrase was “neither holy, Roman nor an empire,” SFWA is not an organization of science fiction and fantasy writers. While some of the leading SF and Fantasy writers belong, the vast majority of the members are people who barely meet SFWA’s extremely lax publication requirements. They are not professional SF or Fantasy writers in any meaningful sense of the term and many of them haven’t published a word of either science fiction or fantasy in years.

Secondly, there are plenty of Science Fiction writers that do really understand this issue quite well. In addition Rick Cook, whom I recommended in my last post, another example of a Science Function writer who has penned a very cogent series of articles about copyright, science fiction, and the business issues of being a SFF writer is Eric Flint. I strongly recommend his series, “Salvos Against Big Brother”,which includes a back-to-the basics examination of copyright quoting and reprinting two speeches by British Parliamentarian Thomas McCauley in 1841. Definitely worth a read, and again a demonstration that there exists Science Fiction authors that aren’t stuck in the dark ages; few (at least it is to be hoped) are like Dr. Hendrix.

Eric Flint is also a senior editor for Baen Books (read more about the founder, Jim Baen here). Baen makes all of its titles available in e-book form without DRM, and many of its authors have agreed to make their books available completely free of charge. Eric Flint does so for all or most of his books shortly after they are published in mass-market paperback form; others only make a few of their books available, typically the first or second books in a series (in the hopes you will buy the rest of their books) — a wise strategy, as he explains in one of his Salvos Against Big Brother columns.

More importantly, I strongly believe that if we enjoy an artist’s works, we should support the artist. That’s why I’ve directly reached out and given money to musicians, authors, and Debian release engineers. (Yes, that last was controversial, but to me and personal ethics, it’s all of the same piece.) Is patronage the right way to support musicians? Well, it’s one way, and I’ve always been fond of the “distributed patronage” model where we use the Internet to allow a large number of people to each contribute to support an artist’s work. The Big Meow is a good example how it might work. (By the way, to people who are wondering what is happening with The Big Meow — I have very recently pinged Diane, and she’s working on it. Between health and family emergencies, the last 12 months have thrown a lot of delays into her writing schedule.)

Are there other models other than patronage that might work? Well, there is the traditional one — just buying the author’s books. But what if we don’t want a dead-tree copy and just want to be able to read it on our Irex Iliad, and the book wasn’t published by Baen Books, or one of the few enlightened publishers who make non-DRM’d eBooks available? That’s a harder question. Personally, I don’t find “Copyright Theft” immoral per se. Illegal, yes, but immoral only if I haven’t done something to materially support the author. If I’ve purchased a new copy of a book, and the eBook version isn’t available via legal means, I don’t believe it is immoral to download it from a site like scribd so I can read it on my laptop. Of course, that brings up other questions, such as what if the book is out of print (because the publisher don’t think it’s commercially viable to reissue the books), the author is dead, and the widow needs money? Lots of hard questions, and no good answers….

But in any case, I think it is the right thing to do to support those authors we care about as we can, and boyotting all SFF books isn’t necessarily appropriate or helpful.