Science fiction writer and Boing Boing editor Cory Doctorow has made a career out of finely parsing copyright issues. He's lectured on the topic as a visiting professor at the University of Southern California. So it seems kind of weird that Doctorow would cut and paste a 600-word satire by A Wizard of Earthsea author Ursula K. Le Guin onto Boing Boing and leave off the last line: "copyright © Ursula K. Le Guin, 2007." The result: An outstandingly huffy email from a spokesman for Le Guin. But there's more to the story.
You can read the full-length complaint on science fiction legend Jerry Pournelle's site.
Dear Jerry,Here's the background story: Dr. Andrew Burt is vice president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America , and chairman of its ePiracy committee. Not long ago, Doctorow accused Burt of abusing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and "taking money out of my pocket."
something that might be of interest to your readers that Ursula K. Le Guin contacted me about: Cory Doctorow of boingboing.net infringed her copyright by reprinting the entirety of her short story "On Serious Literature" on boingboing without authorization; he misrepresented her intent in his copy; he omitted her copyright notice; and he instead placed a Creative Commons license on it indicating that others can freely copy and alter her story.
The boingboing copy is of the entire text of the short story, which would not be covered under Fair Use. Doctorow has spoken widely on copyright matters and the limits of Fair Use, so he should be aware that copying an entire work is not permitted.
Doctorow and boingboing, of which he is billed as a principal, operate for personal gain via advertising revenue, merchandise sales, publicity for his books, etc. Under copyright law, copyright infringement for commercial advantage may be considered a criminal offense.
—Dr. Andrew Burt As approved by Ursula K. Le Guin
Now, for Burt, it's payback time. Doctorow has removed the Le Guin piece and posted an apology. His interpretation of copyright law, which he says he discussed with scholars:
I did this with the understanding that reproducing, for the purposes of commentary, a single paragraph originally published in a noncommercial venue, was fair use under 17USC, the American copyright statute.The takeaway? I think it's "don't write 600-word paragraphs." Always good advice.
(Photo by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid)