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SFWA's Spider-Man steps down

Russell Davis has replaced Dr. Andrew Burt at the helm of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America's Copyright Committee.

Last Friday, not long after I posted my comments about the controversy associated with the appointment of Dr. Andrew Burt as chairman of the Copyright Committee at SFWA (the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America), Dr. Burt stepped down. He was replaced by Russell Davis, a member of SFWA's board and a former chairman of SFWA's Electronic Piracy Committee.

The statement by SFWA president Michael Capobianco announcing the change, as well as a statement from Davis explaining his plans for the committee, has been posted on LiveJournal.

It sounds like Davis will be effective in this position, and to the extent he can be more effective than Dr. Burt, I have to support this change. But I think it's unfortunate that Dr. Burt became the focus of so much irrational antagonism.

I've been following these events so closely because it deals with issues that are going to become increasingly more important as the electronic publishing market develops. Current ebook readers such as Amazon's Kindle and Sony's Reader aren't ready for mass-market acceptance, but the readers will improve.

As ebook readers become more widespread, ebooks sales will increase... and electronic piracy will become a larger threat to the whole publishing market.

I would rather see publishers take the lead in fighting piracy-- since they have more money and an established legal infrastructure-- but if this fight is left to writers' groups such as SFWA, these groups need to act quickly.

Piracy can't be allowed to develop as a popular alternative to purchasing, or ebook readers will seriously undermine the publishing industry. Some people actually want this to happen, believing that we'll all be better off if content is distributed freely and writers make their livings from other sources such as advertising, endorsements, or personal appearances.

I'm happy that writers like Cory Doctorow are developing these new alternatives, but it would be wrong to let piracy take away the choice of working through traditional publishing outlets just because there are other ways to make a living.

So Davis has work to do, and I look forward to seeing how it goes.