Don’t reprint my paragraph!

Recently Le Guin made a huge fuss over the reproduction of a piece she originally wrote in Ansible on Boingboing. The bust-up with Cory Doctorow wasn’t pretty, and I was about to write a piece about how she didn’t ‘get it.’ How she doesn’t understand that in this day and age, publicity such as what Boingboing can give gets more than a few eyeballs your way, and generally translating that to attention and fans (and sales).
No, I don’t care if she wrote the singular piece of fiction that got me hooked on reading in the first place. No, I don’t care if she’s one of my favourite authors. It was only a paragraph, for goodnesssakes!
As I sat down to write, I re-read the whole saga carefully. Then things weren’t so straightforward anymore. If you are at all interested in the story, I fully advise you to read the whole story (by following the links) and evaluate the situation yourself.
A very brief summary is as follows: It started with Doctorow posting on Boingboing about Le Guin’s piece on Ansible. Le Guin’s piece was a response to a statement by a Slate reviewer about how Michael Chabon “spent considerable energy trying to drag the decaying corpse of genre fiction out of the shallow grave where writers of serious literature abandoned it.” The piece was funny and tongue-in-cheek. Doctorow thought it was cleverly done, came up a great blog title and posted it.
Le Guin found out, and wasn’t happy. She had proxies contact Doctorow to take it down, which he did, eventually, but not before attempting to laboriously explain his intentions, why it was in Fair Use, and in his opinion wasn’t wrong, etc, etc. Le Guin explained on her site why she was unimpressed. Doctorow followed-up with an apology almost immediately after.
What made it interesting is Jerry Pournelle’s unimpressed stance on Doctorow’s explanations. I followed the links to understand further, and found this.
Refreshing to hear from both sides of the story on a single issue. I have tremendous respect for Doctorow, but having heard Pournelle’s point of view, there does seem to be a little bit of irony in Doctorow’s case. My initial assessment definitely changed, and I have a little more sympathy now for Le Guin, regardless of whether it was a paragraph or not.
Having said that, I think all Le Guin had to do was to prod Doctorow, and he’d have taken it down with a minimum of fuss. In his apology, he made it very clear he wasn’t out to cause problems, merely to point people to her work.
So I share the concluding sentiment she expressed in her followup on 14 October 2007. As the dust settles, it simply goes on to prove that copyright is definitely not an easy problem to solve, and is getting harder than ever. Whatever it is that solves it (or as close as it gets) and makes everyone happy, it sure as hell won’t be DRM, I’m sure of that much.
As an aside, I once had someone comment that she’ll boycott Le Guin’s work after reading Le Guin’s Ansible piece because she feels Le Guin is jealous of Cormac McCarthy’s success, saying there ‘not a word out of place’ in The Road. I thought it was interesting reaction to a disagreement in opinions.
The other day John Mayer said Heroes sucked because it didn’t feature people with skin-tight costumes. I therefore boycott all his music because although his music’s good, I resent that he holds the opinion costumes were required in a show like Heroes. Clearly, anything skin-tight, costumes or not, was sufficient.


  1. A very interesting tale. I think LeGuin might not have reacted so strongly to Doctorow’s posting of her piece if his only error was his failure to ask permission and the inclusion of her copyright. If that were the case, a simple apology and possible removal might have sufficed.
    However, the main problem was that he placed a Creative Commons license on the piece — giving free reign to anyone and everyone to use her piece. And indeed, essentially, this is what happened. Numerous other sites re-published the piece without permission, acting on the erroneous information given by Doctorow that it was under CC license. I can see why LeGuin was upset.
    I’m glad that they’ve worked it out, but with such free and easy access to things on the internet, it’s easy to see how people take what’s written (in this case Doctorow’s assertion of the CC license) at face value, run with it and not double check. I anticipate that this will be a problem for some time.
    (ps. I love the revamp of your site!)

  2. direstraits

    Wow… you’ve been dormant, then wham! Love to see you back! We’ve got to get on Skype soon, Ell, coz apparently there are plenty of stuff to talk about. I’ve also not been around the forums recently, and I’d love to catch up.
    Actually, Doctorow mentioned that it’s his site that’s CC licensed, not everything that gets posted there. This bit of explanation was in Doctorow’s email in Chaos Manor (Jerry Pournelle’s site – link is in the blog post).
    But it’s indeed easy to see how thousands of people who visit Boingboing might just rip it off Boingboing’s page, which Doctorow fans have been doing all this while. In their minds, why should this be any different?
    I suppose one thing I had in my mind was why Le Guin didn’t directly confront Doctorow herself.

  3. Hey, I need to know what you’re currently reading, so I tagged you for a Book Meme:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *