This just isn't funny.
SFWA, the Science Fiction Writers of America, an organisation of which I am a member (on account of my having just a slight interest in writing and selling SF in that country) managed to get into a huge public relations mess back in August/September, when Dr. Andrew Burt, acting on his own initiative as a member of the SFWA e-piracy committee, caused a major screw-up in dealing with Scribd, a text file sharing website. (Details on the whole debacle start here; for SFWA's response see here: more here: if you really want to know everything, Google is your friend.)
One thing led to another in rapid order, including: the disbanding of the epiracy committee, the formation of a new internal committee to report back to the executive on what SFWA ought to be doing about copyright, and much internal politicking.
Confession of interest: I let myself be sweet-talked into participating in the copyright exploratory committee, along with various other members. Our remit was to focus on what SFWA should do in future about members' copyrights; we prepared a report in due course, and presented it to the executive.
The core of our report, in a nutshell, was this: SFWA should represent its members interests when asked to do so. (It should also poll the membership to figure out what they want to do.) In order to deal with members asking SFWA to act against copyright infringements, SFWA should establish a new copyright advisory committee to replace of the piracy committee, with set procedures (and a quorum of members required to implement them) to avoid anything like the earlier debacle recurring.
In addition, we made various other recommendations. (Mine included: avoid, at all costs, emulating the activities of the RIAA and MPAA. Rule #1 of being a professional writer should be: your fans are Not The Enemy. Unlike RIAA or MPAA, SFWA is actually a loose trade association of content producers — RIAA and MPAA are rather different organisms, funded by a cartel of major content distributors. Following their example would not only be disastrous and make enemies — I trust I don't have to explain why — but would rapidly bring individual writers into disrepute with their readers, something I think most SFWA members have enough brain cells to realize would be disastrous.)
A further recommendation was discussed, but the general feeling was that it would be inappropriate to put it in the committee's formal report. It was my understanding that it would be brought to the attention of the president of SFWA via a back channel. This recommendation was simple: that at all costs, Andrew Burt must be kept the hell away from the copyright committee. In view of his earlier activities, his appointment to it would automatically destroy any credibility the new body would have — not to mention sending out a clear signal that SFWA is a dysfunctional organization, institutionally incapable of learning from bad experiences.
Guess what's happened?
Yup. I am not privy to his thinking, but our dear president and executive have voted to reinstate the old piracy committee, with Andrew Burt to chair it, under the new name of the SFWA copyright committee.
To say that this is a fuckwitted decision is an understatement. Under Dr Burt, the new copyright committee will almost inevitably devolve into a reincarnation of the old piracy committee. If I thought it'd do any good I'd be resigning in protest right now; only the expense of a life membership purchased a couple of years ago is restraining me right now. Clearly the current executive of SFWA is making damaging decisions and ignoring input from committees it appointed, and and in view of this I call on SFWA president Mike Capobianco and the rest of the SFWA executive — including Andrew Burt — to resign immediately. Meanwhile, I'd like to call on all other SFWA members who don't want to see their organization commit public relations suicide to make their voices heard.
As for my own role in the affair, I consider this to be a betrayal of trust. I've been used as a stalking-horse to legitimize a process I absolutely despise; I've put in a fair amount of work on a project that was clearly intended as a distraction and which has now been set aside and ignored by the man who commissioned it. I will not forget this — and the current SFWA executive should consider that cozening and lying to their own members is not usually considered best practice for representing the members' best interests.
Finally, I should like to thank Cory Doctorow, who warned me that this was likely to be the outcome of the process: he was, of course, absolutely right.
I've just been made aware that there's an interesting anomaly in SFWA's by-laws. The vice-president of SFWA is officially the head of committees, and it's their job to appoint or remove people from committees. Andrew Burt is, interestingly, the vice-president, and there's no mechanism to remove someone from a committee without going through the vice-president: consequently the only person who could act on our call to prevent him from having anything to do with the SFWA copyright committee was ... Andrew Burt.
I'd like to apologize unreservedly to Mike Capobianco, and retract my call for him to resign. (He's in a very tough spot on this one: he appears to be the victim of a bug in SFWA's by-laws.) On the other hand, my call for Andrew Burt to resign is now doubled. As far as I can tell, he bears sole responsibility for this mess.