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.