Taral Wayne: Defending Ursula Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin’s resignation from the Authors Guild over its acceptance of the Google book search settlement has elicited all kinds of response, not all of it positive. One of the snarkier posts has brought Taral Wayne to her defense:

By Taral Wayne: I read a blogger who ridiculed Ursula Le Guin for writing a socialist utopia, The Dispossessed, and then complained about her property rights.

Perhaps if Ms. Le Guin could walk down the street and help herself to a free meal in any restaurant of her choosing, pick out furniture in a store without charge, and order all the books she likes from Amazon.com without getting billed, then she would be content to let freeloaders read her books. Whatever convictions Ms. Le Guin has or has not, she doesn’t live in a socialist utopia. She lives in the same world we do, and has to obey the same economic realities. That being the case, I see no incongruity in her asking her novels to be paid for, just like any other product or service.

As an artist, I create and sell “intellectual property” myself. Images are the easiest form of intellectual property to take from the creator and share around the internet, and it happens to me all the time. I try to take a balanced view of it. As long as it does not undermine my income, it may do me a little good to have my work shown around. I’d like to have more control of the process, but that’s just not going to happen. On the other hand, it does me little good when art is taken and posted somewhere without credit, as does happen. And the practice of pirating art also fosters a culture of entitlement to free access to intellectual properties that may not benefit creators in the long run.

The truth is, I don’t know what to hope for. For creators, there is a good side and a bad side to the internet. Which will prevail is impossible to say. I wouldn’t like to see the great paintings of the world locked up on pay-per-view sites operated by a handful of museums, or owned by Google or the Encyclopedia Britannica. But neither do I want to see a world in which no free-lance artist is every paid for his labours.

What is the middle ground? How do we provide openness to our culture, but not drive professional creators into amateur status?

9 thoughts on “Taral Wayne: Defending Ursula Le Guin

  1. If someone was charging Le Guin with hypocrisy because she “wrote a socialist utopia,” they’re an idiot. The Dispossessed‘s subtitle is “An Ambiguous Utopia”, and the book’s emphasis is on the ambiguity. Anyone who claims it’s a hello-clouds hello-sky call for naked-hippies-in-the-woods propertylessness is simply making stuff up.

    I don’t actually agree with Le Guin about intellectual property issues, but the hypocrisy charge is a bum rap.

  2. But nothing in the Google settlement would undermine Le Guin’s income from her writing. The argument here is about control, not about income, and this response completely fails to address it.

  3. It does not address the issue of Ms. LeGuin’s stand against Google, nor did Imean to try. I have little idea of what the compromise with Google involves, nor any details of LeGuin’s objections. My remarks were 1) a very loose discussion of the implications of the internet on property rights. 2) a defense of Ms. LeGuin against a poorly thought out attack.

    Do read more carefully.

  4. It might also be noted that one of the big formative events in the life of the main character of The Dispossessed occurs when someone steals his work. (IIRC, he’s working with a more senior researcher, who arranges the publication of their results, only it somehow comes out with only the senior researcher’s name on it.)

  5. I opted out of the Google Settlement. I’m a former Google Print Partner and know how they do business, and they are not a friend to content originators. The most pernicious parts of the so-called settlement is their child like faith that they can take anything they want and no one will say them no. Well the French just did. And when I found out they had scanned both my MFA thesis and my current book, which I am still selling, I did too and advise others to do likewise and not buy into the idea that consenting to your own robbery somehow will become the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

  6. Her name isn’t “Ursula LeGuin.” It’s “Ursula Le Guin.”

    (Or “Ursula K. Le Guin.”)

    (I can’t decide if she’s got the most misspelled name in skiffydom, or if the winner is “Tolkein,” with distant runners-up of “Azimov,” “Hienlien,” and “Heinlien.”)

  7. Of course, now that Mike has corrected without comment all his iterations of Le Guin’s name, my comment seems inexplicable. But back when I made it, this page read differently. 🙂

  8. Gary’s right. I changed the tag! In a regular post I could add an “Update” but unless Faithful Reader stumbles across this comment thread I’m not sure what more I can do.

    And lest we forget that the perfect is the enemy of the good, anybody can run a search for “LeGuin” and still find the misspelling survives in the body of a number of posts.

  9. While agreeing with GF’s claim that “LeGuin” and “Tolkein” are the most common misspellings of SF/F authors’ names, I dispute his runner-ups. I haven’t seen “Azimov” in years, and the others hardly at all, though they do get impressive results on web searches.

    No, my candidate for runner-up is “Delaney”, especially insidious as it is actually the name of far more real people than “Delany” is.

    The most mispronounced name in SF is “Leiber”.

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