Science Fiction Writers of America election is a referendum on copyright craziness

Reacting to the news that Andrew Burt has announced that he will stand for president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, John Scalzi has posted a blistering rant explaining why Burt is unfit to serve. Burt was the only person who volunteered for the vice-president's role the last time around — after having previously volunteered to run the SFWA anti-piracy effort, loaning himself SFWA's money to patent a bizarre ebook-degrading program, creating a snitch-line for readers to fink each other out with, and then issuing a bulk takedown notice on behalf of the Asimov estate and Robert Silverberg listing thousands of files that did not infringe either writer's copyright (the files merely had the word "Asimov" or "Silverberg" in them). Included in that last was one of my own books, which was posted with my permission, under a Creative Commons license (Burt later lied about the scope of his offense, repeatedly characterising his mistake as encompassing "only three" files, then vilified me for publicly complaining about his abuse of copyright law).

Scalzi does an excellent job of summing up Burt's failures as a writer, a SFWA volunteer, and a policy setter, and his rant is world-class, even if you don't care about politics in SFWA.

Which is to say that to a very large extent, SFWA's entire last year has been spent dealing with the problems that Andrew Burt, during his tenure as SFWA vice president, has personally created. To be sure, he had help for at least part of it (he couldn't have been elected onto the newly-formed copyright committee on his board vote alone), but at the end of the day, his bad actions were the ones that damaged public perception of SFWA, tore at the unity of the organization, and caused it to invest significant time and resources repairing the wounds Burt inflicted with his initial lack of care, and his subsequent, entirely self-serving drive to install himself into a chairmanship he had no business seeking.

The fact Burt wants to be president of SFWA after jamming the organization into a wall twice in the last year suggests to my mind either an Aspergian lack of cluefulness, or a grim, committed drive to prove that the Peter Principle is wrong, and that, indeed, one can rise beyond one's level of incompetence, perchance to explore heretofore unknown, virgin realms of incompetence none have ever seen before. Alas toward the latter, SFWA would be chained to him and dragged along as he frisked about these new lands.

Burt's lack of writing career and penchant for publicly immolating himself and SFWA have not gone unnoticed, which presents a third issue:

3. Andrew Burt's Reputation in the Professional SF/F Community. Simply put: It's bad.


Other SFWA members have posted their own horrified reactions: Charles Coleman Finlay's The Secret Life of Walter Burty is an hilarious Thurber pastiche, with Burt as Walter Mitty:

"Quiet, man!" said Burty, in a low, cool voice. He sprang to the machine, which was now going pocketa-pocketa-qwerty-pocketa-qwerty. He began fingering delicately a row of glistening keys. "Give me a fountain pen!" he snapped. Someone handed him a fountain pen. He scribbled a series of hasty apologies, shifting blame to the villainous enemies intent on ruining his brilliant investments. And then he wadded up the pages and shoved them in the mouths of everyone who spoke against him. "That will hold for about ten minutes," he shouted. "Get on with the loan!"

An accountant hurried over and whispered to the treasurer, who, surprisingly, looked like Burty would look if Burty were the treasurer, and Burty saw the man turn pale. "Due diligence has set in," said the treasurer nervously. "If you would take over, Burty?"

Burty looked at him and at the cowardly figures of the ordinary mortals who doubted his fiduciary genius. "Glad to," he said. "As you know, I'm a doctor."

They slipped him a blank check and . . .

And Stephanie Leary's done fine work translating Burt's campaign platform into plain speech:

I have a track record as a problem solver and in handling unexpected situations calmly.

I am the instigator of flame wars unprecedented even in SFWA's long and contentious history. If someone disagrees with me, I quickly resort to personal attacks and attempt to bolster my credibility with specious publication credits and irrelevant remarks about my education. If I appear to be losing the argument, I will pick up my ball and go home.

See also:
Science Fiction Writers of America abuses the DMCA
Science Fiction Writers of America reinstates E-Piracy Committee — new name, same chairman