Introduction: New Writer Beware Committee Member Michael Capobianco

My name is Michael Capobianco. Some of you may know who I am. I was President of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for thee terms, 1996, 1997, and 2007. I’ve also served SFWA in a number of other capacities, including VP, Treasurer, and, currently, as one of SFWA’s representatives to the Authors Coalition of America.

In addition, I’ve worked with other SFWAns to oppose the Google Books Settlement, write SFWA’s Orphan Works white papers, and worked on various other copyright and contract related matters. I was married to Ann Crispin, and, while there’s no way I could replace her, with Victoria’s kind encouragement, I’ve decided to officially join Writer Beware.

I’ve already written a few blog posts for WB, mostly about legal copyright matters, but I’ve also helped with the April 1st posts from time to time. The Google Broccoli Kitten Settlement was my idea, for example.

My interests are somewhat more policy-oriented than WB tends to be, but WB has a very broad agenda, and I don’t believe I’ll be changing it much, if at all. My perspective is that of a non-lawyer author who is surrounded by technological and legal changes that call into question many of the ideas about copyright and authors’ rights that seemed to be fixed and immutable just a decade or two ago.

This is a time of tremendous upheaval, but it is only the beginning of a transition to a place we can only dimly perceive. Some of the changes over the last years are very good for authors, but others are eroding the underlying principles of copyright, and, in my opinion, that does not bode well for the future. I remember attending the “Electronic Book ’99: The Next Chapter,” sponsored the National Institute of Standards and Technology in September 1999. (Interestingly, Harlan Ellison was the keynote speaker, and I don’t remember much of his speech except that it didn’t have much to do with the topic of the conference.) Back then, a majority of the players were most interested in selling their new DRM schemes to publishers, because publishers were extremely fearful of the prospect of books that anyone could copy and “share.” Many publishers still feel that way, but I don’t think anyone at that conference could have predicted what the Internet has become, how the ebook marketplace functions, and the enormous changes created by a single corporation, Amazon. I don’t believe we can accurately predict what these things will look like in another fourteen years. But I think that, as in any chaotic system, a push in the right direction at the right time can affect the outcome in profound ways.

Topics I want to cover in future blog posts include the recent verdict in the Google Books case, why orphan works legislation needs to be tailored to the needs of authors, what to do in case your (small or medium-sized) publisher violates your contract, and some stuff about writers’ organization such as SFWA.

I’d like to beef up Writer Beware’s sections that are directed at what is currently being called “hybrid authors” – authors who had some success in the world of traditional publishing, but whose books are now mostly out of print and who have not been able to figure out how to self-publish, or have self-published but gotten nowhere. Since I am an explorer in that realm myself, I hope to bring some specificity to the discussion.

And finally, I hope to act to some degree as one of WB’s faces, appearing at conventions and conferences to help spread the word about literary scammers of all stripes.

I do understand that there are scammers and trolls out there who actively oppose Writer Beware, and I suspect I’m due for my share of the libel and innuendo. While I in no way want to engage in useless public diatribes with these people, I do intend to do something about them.

So, Victoria and Rich, thanks for letting me come aboard, and I hope I can help fulfill the mission of Writer Beware. I look forward to hitting the ground running.


  1. Michael, welcome. You wouldn't be here, if you couldn't contribute in some way. 😉 We look forward to working with you, in a manner of speaking.

  2. I don't know if anyone is reading this any more, but I just made a discovery. Somehow, I accepted the court rulings for the Hathi Trust that the "blind" (really, I assume the vision-impaired) needed e-books so they can magnify them. Not true! I am nearsighted, middle-aged, and do a lot of fine needlework. I can't focus my eyes as well/flexibly as I used to, so recently I started hunting for a magnifier. I found out there is a world of modern magnifiers, many with LED lights, and many of which can be used on printed books while keeping your hands free. I saw a rectangular book magnifier/stand that goes from 6.5X, if I recall, to 25X magnification. For my needlework, I found a very nice 5x stand magnifier with LED. There are also many magnifiers you can wear over your eyes, in the manner of goggles. Bottom line, you really do not need an e-book to get magnified type.

  3. I pretty much agree with most of Frances's points on Grimmelmann's essay. He's a good legal scholar and was invaluable for his analyses during the Google Books Settlement, but I think this essay is not a legal analysis, but a personal one which shows his biases very clearly.

  4. Check out the loaded language in Grimmelman's post:

    "With Judge Denny Chin’s decision, two federal judges have now held in no uncertain terms that book scanning is fair use."

    Only specific and narrow uses of scanned books.

    “There can be no doubt but that Google Books improves books sales.”

    Is there any evidence for this? Does Judge Chin have any actual figures on book sales of any specific titles and how the snippets have affected them?

    "It invites libraries and archives to digitize their collections, for preservation and for access by the disabled."

    There are a lot of problems with this. How are libraries going to restrict free access to the vision impaired, and will they even try?

    "And, of course, authors benefit by having their books available for discovery on the Internet."

    If the authors and/or their publishers did any marketing at all, their books were already widely available for discovery on authors' and publishers' websites, Facebook pages, numerous online bookstores such as Amazon, reviews on blogs, print reviews, and many other places. When people want to buy books they will go to such venues long before hunting for search engine "snippets."

    "Victory for the Authors Guild would have slapped books out of the hands of the blind, for example. While some might argue that this is what licenses are for . . ."

    As do I. Besides, it is unfair to criticize copyright holders for not having produced ebooks decades ago, before the technology and/or the market existed. That does not mean they will not produce them now–as long as free access does not preemptively destroy their markets.

    "Google excludes the books of anyone who opts out."

    But, using books and then forcing the copyright holder to opt out is not consistent with US copyright law. Besides, Gogole's numerous previous opt-outs were a mess. They paid little attention to them and since they often scanned the same book multiple times as it came in from different libraries, copyright holders had to repeatedly opt out the same titles.

    "But here, that principle is all but indistinguishable from Grinchiness—the fear that someone, somewhere, might access a book without permission."

    This is trivializing a project that, according to Wikipedia, had scanned 30 million books by April 2013. Not to mention trying to make authors feel selfish and silly for defending their copyrights.

  5. Grimmelman is or was associated with Microsoft (he worked for them directly, then they were paying his salary at his previous job) and is coming out increasingly clearly as anti-copyright. It is likely in his interest to encourage copyright holders to willingly allow the use of snippets, if Microsoft intends to start a similar project.

  6. I'm surprised to see Grimmelmann described as an anti-copyright advocate. In fact, he offered some of the most insightful criticism of the (thankfully) now-defunct Google Books settlement.

    During the whole Google Books settlement discussion, I and others pointed out that, among other things, the settlement dodged one of the core issues of the original case: Google's claim that its scanning was fair use. Well, now both technology and legal precedent have moved on, and Judge Chin's ruling is in line with an earlier major fair use decision. Be careful what you wish for.

  7. Welcome Michael, I look forward to your discussions about policies and trends. Many policy makers are treating "Content" like a commodity, which is not a good trend for writers.

  8. Your efforts in fighting erosion in copyright protection, and the corresponding efforts of many parties other than creators and/or copyright holders to shift revenues from copyrighted work to themselves, are totally welcome. I hope you will also discuss the Hathi Trust, the organization set up to trade the scans of books made by Google (including millions of copyrighted books) to other libraries in the Trust (which any library can join as far as I know), in turn for eventual distribution to library patrons, possibly over the net without the patron ever entering the library.

  9. Thanks for the welcome, everyone.

    Rich, you definitely have seniority over me as an official WB person. I've always been an advisor and kibbitzer with no responsibility to actually do anything.

  10. Good luck Michael – Victoria will tell you I'm a big fan of WB and I truly look forward to your posts.

    Al Emid

  11. Welcome to a great blog, and I look forward to your perspective. The more information we have, the more informed our decisions will be.

  12. As I mentioned on FB, you've always seemed like part of the team, Michael. I think we're very lucky to have you with us.

    Trouble is, since you were helping WB in the background long before I joined the team. Someday, I'm going to get seniority over someone. Just you wait . . .

    Bwah-hah-ha . . .

    Sorry, was that outloud?

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