A Teachable Moment about Copyright from the SFWA

Thanks to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, I now have a terrific “teachable moment” when I start school on Tuesday. When my students ask me what I did on my summer vacation I can tell them I was accused of violating copyright and learned all about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the SFWA and counter-notifications. I can tell them the reading list I just handed them is Internet contraband. I can tell them the president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America personally apologized to me on my blog.

I’ve been teaching my students about copyright for years, but now I have a personal experience to help make it real. If you’re an educator who teaches students about copyright, this would make a great story to use in your class, too. It’s controversial, it’s got two sides, and it’s on the cutting edge of law and ethics.

Here’s my time line of the situation:

August 27, 2007–I write this post about an email I received from Scribd:

August 28, 2007–The editors of Ray Gun Revival write their own post about how the back issues of their magazine were removed from Scribd:

August 30, 2007–Science fiction writer (and member of the SFWA) Cory Doctorow writes a terrific article about the issue on Boing Boing, the second most-linked-to-blog in the world:

Also on August 30–Michael Capobianco, SFWA president, begins leaving comments on blogs, apologizing for the erroneous DMCA notices.

August 31, 2007–Ars Technica, another top ten blog, has this to say:

August 31, 2007–Michael Capobianco, SFWA president, issues this statement on the SFWA web site:

September 1, 2007–Fred von Lohmann, Senior Intellectual Property Attorney for Scribd, sends the following letter to SFWA Vice President Dr. Andrew Burt:

**Update September 3, 2007–The SWFA Board passes a motion to disband the ePiracy Committee:

**Update September 11, 2007–Scribd president Jared Friedman re-enables my list of 300+ Recommended Books for Junior High Students after not hearing back from the SFWA about my counter-notification.

I’ll continue to update this time line as new developments occur.

If you decide to share this with your students, here are some more copyright resources:

9 Responses

  1. Johne Cook says:

    Hey, Nick!

    I get a sense of history-in-the-making from all this. Setting aside the whole ‘wrongful-DMCA-takedown’ stuff, it was actually very interesting to see this episode begin, simmer behind the scenes, and blow up into a fully-fledged geek internet storm.

    I have the sense that Things Will Change. We will only know from the distance of history, and won’t that be a cool point of history to share with new classes of eager minds?

    I’ve written an editorial about all this in the September 1st, 2007 Ray Gun Revival Issue 29. Ironically, that editorial will remain available for viewing at Scribd because of the stand taken by Scribd, yourself, Cory Doctorow, John Scalzi, and the all the rest. Kudos to all!

  2. Nick says:


    I agree. This is one of the most interesting situations I’ve been involved in since I started blogging. It’s become much bigger than I imagined it would be when I wrote about it initially.

    There are so many things I could do with this in my classroom: discussing copyright, tracing how a news story develops, examining the impact of blogs, to name a few.

    One silver lining in all of this is that I’ve been introduced to Ray Gun Review. Great Magazine! I’ll be mentioning it in a future post.

  3. Greg London says:

    If you teach copyright law, then this might be a useful free resource:


    It’s licensed CC-BY, so you’re free to use it in your class.

  4. Nick says:

    Thanks for the link. An interesting take on copyright history and theory. I’ll have to spend more time with the metaphor to fully grasp it.

  5. Francis says:

    But it should be noted that up until Monday Sept 3 Scribd had literally thousands of copyright infringing works on its site and seemed to make it hard to get them taken down – as in you had to generate a perfectly formed DMCA takedown for each and every URL

    I do sympathize with the innocents affected by the SFWA move but I also believe that a large chunk of the blame for their misfortune can be laid at the door of scribd for paying no attention what so ever to politer and more informal suggestions that maybe they should do at least a basic minimum of content checking.

  6. Deanna Hoak says:

    Francis, if it were the case that Scribd was requiring a perfectly formed DMCA takedown for every URL, they would not have removed hundreds of files–including the one by the owner of this blog!–on the basis of the e-mail Burt sent.

  1. September 2, 2007

    […] Because it resulted in mistakes like this. […]

  2. September 2, 2007

    […] whole episode will now be taught to a group of students about copyrights and how they work by the teacher who had his stuff taken down and was one of the […]

  3. September 15, 2007

    […] 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 […]

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