Science Fiction Writers Group Latest To Abuse DMCA

from the nice-work-there dept

The DMCA gets abused all the time to take down content that shouldn’t be taken down. Sometimes it’s abused by people who just don’t like content and want it gone, or sometimes it’s because organizations are way too aggressive in trying to police copyrights, and have no qualms about pulling down all sorts of content as collateral damage. The problem, of course, with this kind of collateral damage is that it’s illegal. The DMCA makes it quite clear that if you’re sending a takedown notice on specific content, you are assuring the court that you either are the copyright holder or have the right to represent the copyright holder in such issues. All too often, that’s not actually the case. The latest example is amazing in how far one person can go. Apparently a director of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America searched on document storage and sharing site Scribd for the words Asimov and Silverberg to try to take down any of the uploaded content written by either Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg. Of course, lots of content may mention either author and not be infringing at all. Unfortunately, the guy at the SFFWA didn’t appear to care and sent takedown notices for all such content, causing all sorts of legitimate content to be taken down. Among the content taken down was a bibliography of good science fiction works for kids and a book that was under Creative Commons license with the encouragement to have it passed around. It still is amusing that those who claim they want to protect copyright law seem to do so much abusing of it.

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Comments on “Science Fiction Writers Group Latest To Abuse DMCA”

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Mike (profile) says:

Re: Jerry Pournelle talked about this

Science fiction author and life member of SFWA (the correct acronym has only one “F”) wrote about this. The real story is much more nuanced than the Techdirt snippet.

You call Pournelle’s writeup “nuanced”? I find it barely readable and borderline ridiculous. He basically rants about Cory Doctorow and then bizarrely misunderstands both Scribd and the DMCA in claiming that authors have no rights and somehow that a DMCA takedown process is too onerous.

Sorry, his arguments don’t add much to this story other than showing that Pournelle remains confused about what he’s discussing. He never actually addresses the complaints other than to say that anyone pointing out that the DMCA process was abused ought to shut up because *his* rights were abused. He’s wrong, though. His rights weren’t abused. He had a clear legal process to protect his rights. He just doesn’t like that process and then encouraged someone else to abuse that process to his own benefit.

The law in this situation is clear. Sending bogus takedown notices is quite illegal. If Pournelle wants to be angry at those who put up his works, he has every right to — but he should direct his anger at those people. Not at Scribd and Doctorow who simply point out how SFWA abused the process.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Jerry Pournelle talked about this

Check out the BoingBoing article linked from the Techdirt article, and you’ll find a rather emotional (a little more agressive than normal) writeup on the situation from Cory Doctorow, one author whose work was removed illegally.

It’s affecting him personally because the message regarding the work’s removal suggests that the copyright holder (in the case of Doctorow’s material, Doctorow himself) has requested removal. Being an outspoken supporter of Creative Commons, this makes him look like a hypocrite, and he’s received a number of complaints accusing him of just that, which is what led him to blog about it on BoingBoing.

However, he’s innocent. The ‘copyright holder’ in question holds no copyrights relating to Doctorow’s work, yet his reputation and sales of his work has been negatively impacted by this action. So, explain why Pournelle’s supposed losses (which he seems confused about in the first place) trump Doctorow’s rights to have his CC-licenced work uploaded?

The infamous Joe says:

Re: this is too much

The law is written, and should be used, in such a way that a hundred guilty parties go unpunished to prevent one innocent party from being punished.

The fact that there is copyright infringement on the site does not give anyone the right to use DMCA takedown notices in a shotgun method, searching for a popular author’s name and then, without any further investigation, issuing a barely legal takedown notice for everything that popped up.

Avatar28 says:

I wonder if Cory Doctorow wouldn’t have grounds to sue SFWA for having his content pulled, damaging his reputation. That’s gotta be worth a pretty good chunk of change.

Quite honestly I think these sorts of mass DMCA abuses are going to continue to take place, and probably get worse. The only way I see that changing is if those wrongly affected turn around and start suing the offending organizations. Heck, if there’s enough collatteral damage from one offender *cough*Verizon, I could even see some sort of class action going on.

Really, though, only one good lawsuit would be needed to establish precedent. Then once the precedent is set, open the floodgates and let all the people whose stuff was wrongly pulled just freaking BURY them in lawsuits. They don’t even have to be big lawsuits. The costs of trying to defend against hundreds or thousands of lawsuits at once would be pretty massive wouldn’t they? They’d almost HAVE to change the way they do things then.

JustMatt says:

So use it the right way

If infringing material is found then write up a takedown notice for the individual pieces. Do not draft a takedown notice for everything because this strategy always backfires when non-infringing material is caught in the net.

Also, author names and discussions of books are not subject to copyright protections. Anyone who thinks otherwise is wrong.

Hmm, after reading part of Jerry’s rants I think I’ll pass on the Chaos Manor series. I shall not support someone with such a flawed understanding of the legal system, CC licenses and the DMCA.

Overcast says:

I wonder if Cory Doctorow wouldn’t have grounds to sue SFWA for having his content pulled, damaging his reputation. That’s gotta be worth a pretty good chunk of change.

He should – he should sue the livin’ hell out of them.

You know – they try to ‘quantize’ how much $$$ they are losing over a few downloaded files. Now, perhaps – we should try to ‘quantize’ how much money was lost from the web site being down for a day or more. eh?

Stuart says:


Ok. The SFWA has no idea what they are doing when it comes to sending out DMCA notices. They suck at it. Given.
Lets not forget what Scribd is though. Scribd intentionally puts up thousands of clearly copywrited works. Stealing the works of others is how they make their money. Scribd is scum. The SFWA are stupid. And the Doctor can burn for all I care for supporting a scumbag site like Scribd. If you care about freedom dont support those who use the flag of freedom to steal from others. It makes freedom look bad and you guys should be all over Scribd.

The infamous Joe says:

Re: Take your own advice.

Lets not forget what Scribd is though. Scribd intentionally puts up thousands of clearly copywrited works.

Two points here, first off, just because it’s copyrighted doesn’t mean it’s infringement. As per the case at hand, someone’s work (copyrighted) was under the Creative Commons License.

Secondly, saying that “” does anything is misleading. Scribd allows people to put up their own works to get free exposure. They have a quite clear copyright notice and, again in the case in point, they are a little quick to follow the DMCA takedown notices.

Stealing the works of others is how they make their money.

We’ll ignore the fact that they probably make their money from ads (I have adblocker, so I can’t say for sure) and that scribd doesn’t do anything but provide a place for *others* to upload content: It’s *still* _NOT_ stealing. You seem more than mildly retarded when you say it is, and I’m mostly sure you’re not, so do us both a favor and stop calling copyright infringement ‘stealing’. Thanks.

It makes freedom look bad and you guys should be all over Scribd.

Techdirt is notoriously against the poor business tactics copyright holders sometimes employ. This is no different. 🙂

Way to be like most political people now days and vainly try to link something you don’t like to being against freedom/patriotism. If anything, the way copyrights have been perverted by greedy ‘artists’ over the years is closer to being ‘against freedom’ than any amount of pirating, but that’s just the way I see it. 🙂

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Relax

Lets not forget what Scribd is though. Scribd intentionally puts up thousands of clearly copywrited works.

No. Scribd is simply a service provider that lets others put up any type of document. I’ve actually found it quite useful recently as a way to host some PDF files that I wanted to link to and share. Scribd is perfectly legal.

That some users are infringing on copyrights when they use it is a problem for those users, not Scribd.

longtime lurker says:

Re: Re: Relax

Mike, just curious here…why didn’t you mention that they had attempted to get the works removed informally first, WITHOUT resorting to the DMCA? While I’m in agreement over the misuse of the DMCA, I can also understand an author’s frustration when they try to deal reasonably with a site that is posting unauthorized materials and get absolutely no response. I can sympathize with a situation like that much more easily than a corporation such as Viacom.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Relax

While I’m in agreement over the misuse of the DMCA, I can also understand an author’s frustration when they try to deal reasonably with a site that is posting unauthorized materials and get absolutely no response.

The details of such a request aren’t clear… but having been on the receiving end of similar requests, I can tell you that we’re always a little nervous about such requests. There’s often no real way to know if they’re legitimate or faked and whether or not the person making the request has the right to make that request. That is, we’ve seen people ask for comments to be removed from our site when we have no way of knowing whether or not it’s really the person who made the comment or someone who just didn’t like the comment. It’s quite possible that Scribd was dealing with the same sort of thing. In such circumstances, it’s completely reasonable to request an official DMCA takedown notice, as you then have a legal process to follow. The person issuing the takedown notice is guaranteeing, under the law, that they have the rights to ask for the content to be removed, and that takes the liability away from the service provider.

So, I can completely understand why Scribd might ignore informal requests for takedowns.

chris (profile) says:

using software???

pournelle says his organization used software to locate the infringing works, and then complained that you have to submit takedowns one at time? WTF?

it seems to me that if you have a program that automates the location of alleged infringement, then there should also be software that automates the submission process for takedowns… or is that too much technology for a sci-fi writer to understand?

jLl says:


I love the arrogance and self-righteousness that all of these people show.

They do what they do because “pirates” infringe on their copyright.
But, then they turn around and infringe on others’ copyrights without any regard.

“F#&% everyone else’s rights…protect mine!”

So, how are they any more legal in their own actions? [rhetorical]

Matt Hickman (profile) says:

Another Example of Abuse

In 1996 a gal named Lindsey Ferris was a ball girl for the Seattle Mariners. One day she made a couple of spectacular plays that happened to be broadcast. NBC picked up the story and Jane Pauley had a 42 sec piece on it.

Fast forward and Lindsey Ferris is now Lindsey Harp. She posts the 42 sec NBC thing on YouTube. Then MLB Advanced Media puts in a take down notice. Now what you see on YouTube when you try to access the clip is “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by MLB Advanced Media.”

This is one of the more blatant examples of copyright holder abuse I have seen. First off, the subject of the piece is the one who posted the clip. If anything, she has a better claim on ownership than MLB Advanced Media. NBC News has a better claim than MLB Advanced Media since they aired the footage and presumably already paid for it. There has been a recent patent ruling that may be relevant. Further, 42 seconds? Really? What happened to fair use? And she is the one on the film!

It just seems like private party’s are attempting to use the U.S. government as their own personal Gestapo.

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