Saturday, April 04, 2009

Scribd Trips Out of Litopia

Litopia After Dark started as usual last night and had a special guest – Trip Adler, CEO of Scribd. Having identified and highlighted the issue of copyright infringement in the UK media, Peter Cox had invited Adler to come on the show and discuss the issue of digital piracy on his site. Adler who had agreed, didn’t show and his direct line went straight to his answering machine and record.

Did he get the time wrong? Was he called to an urgent meeting? Did he feel that there was little to answer and little point to the exercise? We will not know what his motives were only the sound of his answering machine.

Whether we like it or not, we all have to face our critics, but more importantly some would say that we must face them when we are found to be in a questionable position. Whatever the rights or wrongs, Scribd had been found displaying copyrighted materials, which could be copied and further infringed. Scribd had an opportunity to support and been seen to support copyright protection.

Book publishing is at a digital turning point where the door of opportunity is opening, but it is also opening the door of infringement. We have seen the damage done by the pirates to other media sectors and should be taking steps to minimise the risk to book publishing. Is the threat new – no. Can we stop books being scanned – no. Can we stop infringement – no, but we can make it difficult.

So we need to ensure digital copies of books are not pirated. We will never stop the hardened copier be they malicious or professional and stopping ordinary consumers has posed a challenge to other media sectors. In these days when it costs relatively small amounts to scan and digitise books its not the digital renditions that are the threat but the physical ones. Watermarking physical copies may help but we would suggest it is inappropriate and ineffective – if they want to scan it they will.

Some would suggest that publishers such as Random House and Simon and Schuster should reconsider their new arrangements with Scribd and others until such time that they have taken proactive actions to clean up their site?

Today we operate a take down notice approach covered by laws such as the DMCA. Yes it works and often the offending material is taken down promptly, but it may be only one manifestation or instance and more importantly, its reactive not proactive. Once the cat is out the bag for a minute its likely to have many digital kittens.

We believe that unlike physical copies of books it is impossible under copyright to resell a digital rendition or make a copy of it to share with others. Obviously public domain works have different issues. So if that is correct, or we would suggest half correct, why not establish a seller licence or approved seller policy. Scribd, eBay, Wattpad whoever can block all digital renditions of books being sold, posted, linked, uploaded unless from an authorised licensed body. In a digital world this is not difficult to achieve if the will is there. Ok there will be ways around it and it may cost money, but its better than expecting thousands of copyright owners to check thousands of sites everyday and issue potentially hundreds or thousands of take down notices after the cat is out of the bag.


Betty D'argent said...
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Peter Cox said...
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Anonymous said...

I'm an aspiring author - Scribd is the end of the professional author. The internet will be awash with drivel and written culture will be in the hands of government, corporate and personal patronage. Now that kind of worked in the Renaissance - but there was very little Art produced that was not propaganda for one body or another.
Scribd and its like will be the death of the written word as a significant cultural phenomenon.