Authors not outspoken against SOPA? Think again

If you needed further evidence of just how out of touch with reality SOPA supporters can be, I just found this post by copyright attorney Lisa Alter decrying the fact that “[the] voice of the individual creator of intellectual property,” which is to say authors, has been largely “absent in the mainstream media debate.” She is coming down firmly on the pro-SOPA side of the debate, with little gems like this:

The position of the anti-SOPA activists is antithetical to the principle of protection — for authors, that is — mandated in the Constitution of the United States. Our nation’s founders recognized that furthering the rights of creators is in the national interest, to “promote the progress of science and useful arts” by “securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.” Over the centuries, copyright protection has been codified in an expanding body of federal law in an attempt to implement the protection outlined in the Constitution.

I can’t believe she wrote that with a straight face, given the history of copyright in Congress over the last few decades. What kind of “progress of science and useful arts” is being promoted by giving dead people a few more decades of copyright protection? What kind of “limited times” is it if Congress simply re-extends the copyright every time Mickey Mouse approaches the public domain? Of course, I suppose it’s to be expected from the author of a book called Protecting Your Musical Copyrights (now in its second edition).

As to her main point, I’ve seen a number of authors speaking out against SOPA. John Scalzi, for example, says he strongly supports the right of copyright owners to be able to control and defend their copyrights, in both on-line and off-line venues.

SOPA/PIPA aren’t the way to do this. These proposed laws are poorly constructed, overly broad and frankly thoughtless, the equivalent of dealing with burglars in someone’s home by carpetbombing every house on the street. You might stop the burglar, but the collateral damage makes it a hollow victory. The collateral damage here would be the hamstringing of the Internet, and trampling rights of speech and expression. That these proposed laws have been debated by a number of US Representatives and Senators who seemed proud of their ignorance of how the Internet works (and at least initially didn’t want to hear from technical experts) made it that much worse.

For bonus points, Scalzi has been the President of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Association (SFWA) for two years now—and the SFWA has been dogmatic enough on the issue of copyright protection to have issued a mistakenly broad DMCA takedown notice a few years ago. (Though in the blog post Scalzi is careful to note he is speaking only for himself, nonetheless if his views were not in line with a majority of the authors in the association it is doubtful he would have been elected twice so far.)

And here’s Scottish author Charlie Stross’s opinion. While he’s not an American citizen, he nonetheless has plenty of books under copyright in the US as well as the UK, and would thus stand to “benefit” from US copyright protection laws:

If this was an American blog, it would be going dark for 24 hours tomorrow in sympathy with the strike against the Stop Online Piracy Act currently before Congress — which might more accurately be named the Rent-Seeking Plutocrats Enabling Act.

And it’s not just authors, either. Editors Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden also spoke out against the act (even though their employer supported it).

Finally, I want to note that Teresa and I feel a particularly urgent need to make our opposition to this legislation completely clear, because among its publicly-listed supporters is Macmillan US, the publishing conglomerate of which Tor Books is a part. Intentionally or not, in a very real sense our employer is trying to destroy our web site. As Cory Doctorow points out, the Hollywood studios and Big Six publishing companies are behaving in a manner precisely described by the legal term “depraved indifference.”

And those are just the ones I know off the top of my head. I’m sure if I felt like spending a few minutes with Google I could turn up plenty more. Maybe those voices didn’t get heard by “the mainstream media” but they did speak out.

Getting back to the original article, Alter concludes:

Whether or not SOPA is the most effective means of curbing piracy in the online arena is a matter that should be thoroughly examined. However, the SOPA debate should not be commandeered as a vehicle for furthering the position of those who seek to write authors out of the copyright law and the Constitution.

Say what? I don’t recall seeing any evidence that the majority of the opposition to SOPA came from people who “seek to write authors out”. It came from average users of the Internet, who were convinced enough of how terrible SOPA was that they were moved to contact their congressmen. Sure, it was in part instigated by sites like Google and Wikipedia, but given how the law was written it’s hard to deny they had a legitimate concern.

And that “whether or not” sentence is pure weasel words—a way of pretending to give ground while not actually arguing the matter. The authors and editors I quoted above are the very people Alter is claiming to speak for, and they think it’s a bad idea.

1 Comment on Authors not outspoken against SOPA? Think again

  1. Lydia Pallas Loren explains the purpose of copyright very clearly here:

    Lisa Alter would do well to read it and give it serious consideration. As Loren points out, its purpose, according to the US Constitution, is not to protect economic interests but rather to protect the public interest. When they conflict, the public interest must win out.

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