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You've been Scribd

Monday, April 02, 2007

Following onto Leigh's posting about Scribd, and an older posting of mine about academic papers on iTunes, I'm following up with another Scribd posting - having been alerted to some slightly alarming content within the site by Rafael Sidi over on Really Simple Sidi.

Scribd, you may remember, is "a big online library where anyone can upload" and which "lets you publish and discover documents online". So far, so legal. However, as other industries have found (Sidi cited You Tube, of course, and one might equally obviously suggest Napster), you cannot supply users with sharing tools and expect them to observe, of their own volition, such niceties as copyright. Noting, deep within the FAQ, that "copyrighted content you don't own may not be uploaded" is inadequate.

Lo and behold, amongst the detritus, Scribd is already bubbling with copyright material being made freely available. Sidi, an Elsevier employee, cites a couple of examples from their publications, to which one might add this AIP example, this from Macmillan's Encyclopedia of Energy, this from the Ecological Society of America and this from the Linguistic Society of America, both via JSTOR ... and so on. The most alarming thing about the JSTOR examples is that they must (due to JSTOR's business model) have been accessed by users within an institution - users whose librarians will of course be tearing their hair out about this misappropriation of licensed content. And it is particularly galling that the AIP example includes a clear message ("this article may be downloaded for personal use only") which the user has either misunderstood or simply ignored.

Of course, it might be that all the articles I have found have been posted by authors with self-archiving permissions (do these tend to allow for posting on a site like Scribd? or might they only allow for self-archiving on one's own site, or one's own institution's repository?). But even if publishers do allow self-archiving on any chosen site, I believe authors are often restricted to archiving a pre-print (which none of the above are) - and one thing I *can* say categorically is that no publisher permits authors to archive the JSTOR version, so I would suggest the JSTOR examples above are clearly posted illegally - not necessarily by the author, of course.

Scribd full text is indexed by "Google and other major search engines", so it's certainly going to be as discoverable if not, one would hope, as highly-ranked, as the publishers' own sites. If the site takes off, therefore, publishers - like the entertainment industry before them - will need to rely on user understanding of, and adherence to, copyright law, or end up in a position where revenue streams (particularly single article sales) are threatened by centralised, free availability of copyright content. Of course, publishers could recourse to legal action - as they are doing in several other cases where they believe copyright and fair use are being undermined (think AAP v Google) - but, again, the music industry has a bit of a nasty precedent there. It is today, after all, that EMI has decided to give up and withdraw DRM from its iTunes content - i.e., music publishers have realised that getting Joe Average User to adhere to copyright law is just not happening.

Now, Scribd is not, of course, the downfall of copyright and scholarly publishing as we know it. But it's a nice site, with adequate functionality (as Leigh noted, for example, the PDF viewer is nice) - and 3 million documents viewed in less than a month since its launch is not to be sniffed at in terms of its findability, useability and, of course, quantity/quality of content. Users are discovering this site, and they are accessing content on it that - in some cases at least - should rightfully be accessed elsewhere. It will be interesting to keep track of the site's usage (both in terms of what's being posted, and how high its traffic is) - and to see how those publishers whose material is being pirated react.

Screenshot of the Scribd homepage, showing its identikit Web 2.0 design and some of today's popular documents (themselves demonstrating the varied quality of the content uploaded)


posted by Charlie Rapple at 1:26 pm


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