Friday, January 15, 2010

Upload and Wait = Digital Piracy?

Today’s trade press is littered once more with assumptions about the state of book piracy and its impact on revenues and the market. This is an emotive subject which has many issues, much sensitivity and is often divorced of real facts.

Attributor, who monitor the access to illegally posted content through their FairShare Guardian service, have released a report based on their tracking of 913 books in 14 subjects in the final quarter of 2009. It estimates from this that over 9 million copies of books were illegally downloaded from the 25 sites it tracked. So they extrapolate, estimate and come up with figures which make many bestsellers and are somewhat questionable!

Four sites that made digital download data,,, and and Attributor found 3 million illegal downloads in the final quarter of 2009 of the 913 books followed. They then claim that based on 53,000 book takedown notices sent out to various Web sites in the second half of 2009, that these sites represent about 30% of all book piracy.

We found ourselves questioning what an ‘illegal download’ was and if Attributor can identify one, why can’t Scribd, Wattpad, 4shared and docstoc? They claim to have found illegal copies of “Freakonomics,” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, that were downloaded 1,082 times and “Angels & Demons,” by Dan Brown, 7,951 times. This would hardly adds up to 3 million.

Irrespective of the numbers, these sites continue to hide behind the skirt of the US ‘safe harbor’ protection and are merely continuing to react on take down notices?

We have written extensively about the Scribd service and its ‘post first and wait’ approach to copyright, claiming they nothing but offer a service and the onus is on the owner to prove ownership and issue a takedown notice. Some would suggest this sounds similar to some sharing services of the past. Attributor claim 53,000 in 6 months last year! So something is clearly no working and all is defiantly not well in the state of

Tammy Nam, Scribd’s VP of Content and Marketing says that “People used to call us the ‘YouTube of books’ given all of our user-generated-content,” and then says. “But now, given the amount of professional content we have, we’ve become more like the ‘Hulu of books.’ Some may ask why not a reference to being the ‘PirateBay of books.’

Scribd, is less than 3 years old, hosts over 10 million digital documents which it defines as ‘books’ if they run to more than 100 pages. So we even have some issues in defining a book! It now claims some 2 million visitors a day and what it sees as the number one position. Obviously it has been seen by many as an attractive channel and some 150 publishers have joined Scribd and now Scribd has also moved into newsprint and is become the home for journalists to post their documents.

Scribd is trying to be proactive with publishers on copyright. Instead of merely working on a reactive take down basis they now offer publishers the opportunity to provide Scribd with e-book files for sale on their e-commerce site. In doing so the publisher can also allow them to use those files to filter all user uploaded content and if it matches they can automatically suppress the upload. Some would say this is a very clever tactic of getting content and license to sell it based on the premise of blocking illegal files. If you don’t give them the file, the alternative is that they do nothing and hide behind their ‘safe harbor’.

We think someone is kidding someone here and what is still required is proactive protection, accountability and responsibility.

Finally, we would also suggest that it isn’t the publisher we should be concerned about but the author and their lost royalties that they have entrusted with the publishers.

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