Scribd Puts User Docs Behind A Paywall Without Them Realizing It

from the totally-not-cool dept

Last year, I wrote about some issues I had with the way Scribd tried to avoid liability by suggesting that public domain documents couldn't be hosted on the site or that fair use was not allowed. To the company's credit, it responded quickly and fixed the situation, but soon after that I switched to (mostly) using Docstoc to host documents. Doctstoc has its own problems as well, but for the most part has worked well for me. Still, in my experience Scribd is still quite popular among folks -- especially for uploading and hosting legal documents. Apparently, the company recently made some quiet changes and it's seriously pissed off law professor Eric Goldman, who has relied on the site for quite some time.

The key problem? Without clear notification, it took "older" (and older is left undefined) documents and put them behind a paywall. As Goldman notes, the whole reason he used Scribd was to make the documents available, and it was quite a shock to suddenly find them behind a paywall:
Scribd's paywall stunt instantly put Scribd on my shitlist because it vitiates the reason I chose to use Scribd in the first place. I don't know that they ever promised me perpetual free access to the documents I post, but their value proposition always has been open access to the documents--freely shared with everyone and indexed in the search engines. The paywall destroys that value proposition. They've taken the documents that I wanted to freely share with the public (many of them public documents like court rulings and filings) and made them inaccessible. If my readers can't freely get the documents I wanted to share with them, then what's the point of using Scribd in the first place???

I also feel like Scribd used me. With their implicit promise of open access, they got me to share a lot of high-interest documents and generate lots of link love, then they flipped the default (from free to paywall) as part of a cash grab. I could check out of Scribd, but then I would break a lot of links and it would take a lot of time. So now I feel trapped. It's a terrible feeling.
Goldman is looking at other options, including Docstoc and Rapidshare. Another one worth checking out could be Slideshare, or even potentially Google Docs. However, all this has me thinking again about the wisdom of relying on third parties for such things (even though I do it myself). I do like the ability to display PDF documents, such as legal filings, embedded within a post, but I'm wondering if there are any simple solutions for setting up that sort of thing on your own server. Anyone know of any?


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    J.D., Sep 20th, 2010 @ 6:48pm

    Scribd - Seems Obvious

    There are a lot of seemingly smart people doing dumb things. Do people really believe that they own their own information when they willingly and freely give it to somebody else that they have no control over? Does this really make sense to anybody?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    John Schmidt, Sep 20th, 2010 @ 6:54pm

    Eric Schmidt is on Colbert tomorrow night.

    Here's the debate, Mike:

    Either you PAY for the privilege for it to be private or you make it freely available under what they call "ad-supported" but, it's actually paid for with tax dollars.

    It's what's called the Tax-funded "CIA-interwebs-gotta-get-em-terrerests-by-selling-snooping/tracking-technology" business model.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    David (profile), Sep 20th, 2010 @ 7:09pm

    A suggestion.

    I don't know of any simple solution myself, but I suspect that the folks at Super User likely would, if you ask them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    Jon Renaut (profile), Sep 20th, 2010 @ 7:10pm

    A lot of room in that space

    I'm not sure why the Wordpress model isn't more widely used. You essentially have three options - free and limited hosted at wordpress.com, paid and supported hosted at wordpress.com, or free and whatever you want hosted yourself.

    Document hosting or nearly any sort of web application could function the same way. With the cost of cloud storage dropping daily, it seems like someone should be able to make this model work for tons of useful things, like embeddable PDF hosting.

    I'm currently accepting venture capital to get right on this.

     

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  5.  
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    Karl (profile), Sep 20th, 2010 @ 7:16pm

    Know of any?

    If you don't mind using Flash, then one option is to go with FlexPaper. It's exactly what you want, but though it claims to be "GPL v3," it's really not (you have to display their logo even on modified versions, and you can't use it for free on a commercial site). Might be worth the $70, though.

    There's also SWFTools, which includes PDF2SWF, and is completely open source. However, this generates a distinct .swf file for each PDF, so I don't know if it's the right solution.

    If you don't want Flash and your site is uses PHP, you might be able to hack something together using Samuraj Data's online coverter and embedding the HTML in an iframe.

    There's also CynergyPDF, but it's only for Joomla-powered websites.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Mat, Sep 20th, 2010 @ 7:22pm

    Have you thought of the idea of PAYING people to host your documents so you can make them available for free?

    You put your documents in the cloud for free then they have no value and you can't really get upset if the people you gave them to choose to do things with them that you don't like.

    You don't get stuff for free - and if you're dumb enough to think that you do then you deserve everything you get. Apparently our "law professor" shouldn't really be trusted to make adult decisions.

     

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  7.  
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    SUNWARD (profile), Sep 20th, 2010 @ 7:36pm

    web hosting is now cheap. Host the files yourself and you also get to keep control of it. No more problems with suppliers. And it adds to the search ranking of your own site.

     

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  8.  
    icon
    testcore (profile), Sep 20th, 2010 @ 7:36pm

    Off-topic a bit, but...

    Anyone else notice the quiet disappearance of their TechDirt Crystal Ball? Mine disappeared after the weekend, TD CS hasn't responded to my inquery, seems a bit ironic...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2010 @ 7:38pm

    Re:

    Quick, stop breathing. You haven't paid the required Oxygen Fee.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    abc gum, Sep 20th, 2010 @ 7:43pm

    So, the cloud has lost its silver lining

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2010 @ 7:51pm

    FTP meets my needs.

    I use something called FTP. It's reliable.

    Steps to replicate:
    1.) Buy used computer on craigslist.
    2.) Install TFTP server.
    3.) Connect to interwebs via wired cable (So the Google Car and their legal team that's driving by can't steal your info!)
    4.) Sign up for GoToMyPC and give all your students the login and ability to remotely read the documents.
    5.) Proceed to Cheezburger.
    6.) PROFIT.

     

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  12.  
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    BearGriz72 (profile), Sep 20th, 2010 @ 7:57pm

    Re: Off-topic a bit, but...

    Mine works....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    DS, Sep 20th, 2010 @ 7:58pm

    Re: Re:

    You must crack yourself up when people pay for oxygen, or when you see people paying for water.. because after all, rain is free, amirite?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    MPAA Shill, Sep 20th, 2010 @ 8:13pm

    Here's the answer... You can thank me later.

    Eric,

    I have a breakthrough idea for you. You're really going to like this one. Have you considered producing them on DVDs and mailing them to your customers?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Dan, Sep 20th, 2010 @ 8:13pm

    Re: Karl

    I would recommend FlexPaper too, sure you have to pay to get rid of the logo if you're using it for commercial purposes but thats fair enough, gotta give them some cred for building a good viewer

    http://flexpaper.devaldi.com

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2010 @ 8:28pm

    Maybe the infringement (both patent and copyright) legal expenses makes it not plausible to do something like this for free?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Sep 20th, 2010 @ 8:48pm

    Re: FTP meets my needs.

    7) Your ISP deems this 'providing a service' and shuts you down.

     

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  18.  
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    Karl (profile), Sep 20th, 2010 @ 9:00pm

    Re: Re: Karl

    My issue with FlexPaper isn't with the product, which actually looks very good (and worth the $70 that Mike would have to pay).

    The issue is that it's supposedly GPL, even though it's not. If you look at the FSF's Categories of free and nonfree software page, it would actually be what used to be called "semifree software," and is now just called "proprietary software."

    Still, that's an issue for the FSF to deal with, not us.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Dan, Sep 20th, 2010 @ 9:08pm

    Re: Re: Re: Karl

    I don't think they're violating the GPL3 license, I have seen others do the same thing, like FlowPlayer for example:

    http://flowplayer.org/download/index.html

    The GPLv3 allows this and the FSF actually does too;
    http://www.fsf.org/licensing/licenses/gpl-faq.html#HeardOtherLicense

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    sd, Sep 20th, 2010 @ 9:12pm

    embed

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    Yogi, Sep 20th, 2010 @ 9:15pm

    Re: A lot of room in that space

    I agree - what's the big deal in setting up a site? hosting costs are very low, set up is easy, Google crawls everything what else do you need? Wordpress is a good solution.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 20th, 2010 @ 9:27pm

    Maybe there is a way to put it on Google Books?


    "Can Authors and Publishers distribute their works under the settlement for free, under a Creative Commons license or otherwise?
    Yes. Rightsholders are free to set any price for their work including the ability to distribute their work free of charge. If you are interested in distributing your work for free, including under a Creative Commons license, then you should claim your Book on the Claim Form and, on the “Manage Your Books” page, fill in the box asking you to specify your sale price for the book at “zero.” In the future, the Claim Form will also provide an option for you to offer your Book under a Creative Commons license, and you should check the Claim Form periodically for that option to appear. The Registry will inform Google of your request, and Google will include information on its web site so that end users are aware of the licensing terms chosen by you. Rightsholders are also free to authorize Google directly to distribute their book through a Creative Commons license."

    http://www.googlebooksettlement.com/help/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=118704#q43f

     

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  23.  
    icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Sep 21st, 2010 @ 12:58am

    Re: Know of any?

    Aha. That's a very useful list. Thanks, Karl.

    FlexPaper does look nice. I'll explore and see.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Chunky Vomit, Sep 21st, 2010 @ 2:59am

    I guess there is something of a Catch 22 here. After all, he did put the documents on servers that don't belong to him.

    I wonder: is there a reason why Google Docs isn't an option here? I realize that the service has its limitations, but I have had great luck with sharing documents on that service.

    I wonder if they index documents open to the entire web?

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    Spam scribd, Sep 21st, 2010 @ 5:27am

    not really paywall

    it's not really a 100% paywall, you get free access if you upload a document back.

    any document works, really...
    including any pdf that says only "scribd sucks" :D


    try it, scribd just opened the flood gates for a whoop-ass of document spam :p

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    DS, Sep 21st, 2010 @ 5:32am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Ah, it's on Infowars, so it must be true.

    Just like how 9/11 was an inside job,
    Obama is a secret muslim that wasn't born in Hawaii
    The US dollar is going away for a new North American "Amero"

    etc...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Rick Powell, Sep 21st, 2010 @ 5:52am

    Embedding Google Docs in WordPress

    If you're using WordPress, there's at least one plugin that allows embedding of both public and private documents: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/inline-google-docs/ It works pretty well. Of course, then you'd have to trust Google.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
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    Sean T Henry (profile), Sep 21st, 2010 @ 6:36am

    Re: Re: Know of any?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    icon
    Karl (profile), Sep 21st, 2010 @ 6:42am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Ah, it's on Infowars, so it must be true.

    Or, you could just go to the sources linked in the article, like this report from Channel 5 News.

    Now, Inforwars' reaction is a bit histrionic, but it's based on truth. (Unlike a lot of other stuff on there.)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    icon
    Sean T Henry (profile), Sep 21st, 2010 @ 6:43am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Just noting that the linked article on collecting water being illegal is true.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    icon
    Sean T Henry (profile), Sep 21st, 2010 @ 6:52am

    Re: FTP meets my needs.

    If its a university they provide hosting for you so:
    1.) Post doc
    2.) students go to the address and DL it

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    icon
    Karl (profile), Sep 21st, 2010 @ 7:10am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Karl

    Yes, but unlike FlexPaper, Flowplayer allows commercial use, which is a requirement of the GPL. From their FAQ:
    I'd like to license my code under the GPL, but I'd also like to make it clear that it can't be used for military and/or commercial uses. Can I do this?

    No, because those two goals contradict each other. The GNU GPL is designed specifically to prevent the addition of further restrictions. GPLv3 allows a very limited set of them, in section 7, but any other added restriction can be removed by the user.

    (Emphasis mine.)

    But I guess you're right about the requirement that the logo stay in place. You learn something new every day, I guess.

    We're probably just picking nits at this point. FlexPaper seems like a good program, so even if it was proprietary, it would be worth using IMHO.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 21st, 2010 @ 7:42am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Karl

    The logo can always be freely removed and redistributed under the GPL license (but then you must give it a different name so that people know it's a mod). I see no good reason to do it but a copy under that license can be.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 21st, 2010 @ 7:45am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Karl

    No, it allows commercial use. Read what the site says.

    "This is the appropriate option if you are creating a commercial website and you are not prepared to distribute and share the source code of your application under the GPL."

    http://flexpaper.devaldi.com/license.htm

    You can use it for commercial use but you must then release it under the GPL-V3. If you want a different license that allows you to use it for commercial use and keep what you made a secret then you must buy that different license.

    Same thing if you want a license that allows you to bundle it with proprietary software.

    "This is the appropriate license to use if you intend to bundle or ship FlexPaper as part of a product."

    It's released under the GPl-V3, you can do whatever yo want with that provided you maintain the license because the license requires that you do so. If you want a different license, if you want a license that allows you to do something without maintaining the Gpl-V3 license, then you must pay.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
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    Coises (profile), Sep 21st, 2010 @ 7:51am

    OBJECT tag?

    I do like the ability to display PDF documents, such as legal filings, embedded within a post, but I'm wondering if there are any simple solutions for setting up that sort of thing on your own server. Anyone know of any?

    Does anything prevent you from storing the files on your own server and using an OBJECT tag in your posts?

    This page has instructions for using the OBJECT tag to embed a PDF.

    The link on that page to the explanation of PDF Open Parameters is stale, but here is a PDF that explains PDF Open Parameters.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
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    weneedhelp (profile), Sep 21st, 2010 @ 7:56am

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
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    Karl (profile), Sep 21st, 2010 @ 8:05am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Karl

    Aha. So the commercial license is only required, if:

    1. You are using it on a commercial site;
    2. You modify the program; and
    3. You do not release these modifications under the GPL.

    Correct?

    It seems someone like Mike wouldn't have to pay for a commercial license, then?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
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    Karl (profile), Sep 21st, 2010 @ 8:20am

    Re: OBJECT tag?

    Does anything prevent you from storing the files on your own server and using an OBJECT tag in your posts?

    The fact that users must have the Acrobat plugin installed. Naturally, this causes browser incompatibility issues. See the "Compatibility" section of the PDFObject guide.

    Incidentally, PDFObject seems like it would be useful if you want to go this route, as it gets around most browser limitations using JavaScript.

    But I should note that I have Acrobat installed, and I can't view the PDF in my browser (Chrome), even using PDFObject.

    There's also one other, possibly major, drawback: No search engine will index anything in an OBJECT tag. Of course, that applies to Flash as well. If that's a worry, you'd have to convert the PDF into HTML before displaying it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 21st, 2010 @ 8:20am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Karl

    You are right.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
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    Karl (profile), Sep 21st, 2010 @ 8:38am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Karl

    Ah, I must've misread the license terms the first time round.

    It sounds like we have a winner, then. Hop to it, Masnick!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 21st, 2010 @ 10:33am

    I am quite disappointed that Mr. Goldman cast aside professional decorum and engaged in a public rant that ill serves his position as a member of academia.

    Now that he has put emotion before reason, perhaps he will realize that reversing the two and dealing directly with the site will yield the results he wants.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
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    mariush (profile), Sep 21st, 2010 @ 11:01am

    Re: Re: OBJECT tag?

    Lots of people disable Adobe Acrobat from automatically opening documents in the page because of all the vulnerabilities and critical bugs it has.

    Plus, it loads very slow and would annoy users if you embed 10 pdf files on a single page.

    Flash is more reasonable as I can just use the Flashblock extension for Firefox to block all flash on the page and, if I'm interested in seeing the PDF file, I can just click on the flash icon for that object and unblock it without reloading the page, and I can then see it loading in the Flash object on the page.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 21st, 2010 @ 12:47pm

    You can host the documents yourself, but use an external viewer application in an iframe to embed them. Google provides a viewer and so does Zoho.

    Google viewer: https://docs.google.com/viewer
    Zoho viewer: http://viewer.zoho.com/home.do

    It might be worthwhile to include a direct dl link to the document if possible as a backup.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 21st, 2010 @ 1:22pm

    Yes just host the documents yourself, then you have control over them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 21st, 2010 @ 7:46pm

    Re:

    Yes, he should just be vaguely arrogant and elitist, like a certain anonymous lawyer.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
    identicon
    Rod, Oct 3rd, 2010 @ 11:51pm

    Scribd Alternative

    Use http://www.notelog.com/ if you're looking to post and share your docs. If your used to using scribd this is the best alternative because your technically still using scbrid on this site. The site is academic based, but anyone can create an account outside of academics by creating an expert account. It's absolutely free...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
    identicon
    Eric, Apr 16th, 2013 @ 6:59pm

    idea

    p2p filesharing programs. There are a couple of scribd alternatives out there.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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