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Going Too Far In Kowtowing To Copyright Holders

from the public-domain-and-fair-use-exist... dept

In the past, we’ve used the website Scribd to upload documents that we want to show readers here — usually things like court filings. It’s a decent solution, and often better than providing a link to a pdf which annoys some people (myself included). Recently, the company has come under some misguided fire by copyright holders, falsely accusing the company of somehow making it easy to infringe on copyrights. The company has pointed out that beyond its existing DMCA safe harbors, the company goes above and beyond in helping copyright holders stop unauthorized use. In fact, we’ve defended the company against unfair attacks. However, it looks like the company has ramped up its attempts to appease copyright holders, and in some cases may be going too far. We already pointed out how it took down a public domain book (though it was quick to fix that mistake).

The latest, though, is that I just went to upload another document (a public domain court ruling), and as I did, I saw that Scribd now requires me to check off a box saying: “I certify that I own the copyright to these documents.” That was troubling to me, because I do not own the copyright on this particular document… no one does. As I moved to upload the document at a competing site (DocStoc), I Twittered the dilemma, noting that I wasn’t sure what to do. To Scribd’s credit, it took a company representative all of three minutes to respond that public domain documents were okay, and that they would update the language of the uploader to make this clear. A quick response, which actually makes me feel good about Scribd, but… at the same time highlights the problem.

After getting so much pressure from copyright holders, Scribd feels the need to be extra proactive in “protecting” copyright, even to the point where its default decisions go too far. While it will now clarify that public domain documents are okay… what about cases where the document would be fair use? Someone should still be able to upload the document without declaring that they own the document or that it’s in the public domain if it’s a fair use case. This certainly isn’t putting any of the blame on Scribd, who seems to be bending over backwards to satisfy everyone. But that’s a part of the problem. The copyright holders are clearly pushing well beyond what copyright allows them to do, and it’s putting pressure on Scribd to respond — with the early response going so far as to wipe out certain user rights. The copyright supporters love this, because they don’t care much about trampling user rights, but it shows just how screwed up things are that a company like Scribd even needs to be put in this position.

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Companies: scribd

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Comments on “Going Too Far In Kowtowing To Copyright Holders”

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Analyst (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

CST: You assume people actually adhere to the law in this situation. All it really takes to file a DMCA takedown notice is to file the DMCA takedown notice. The application of this segment of law has devolved into “ask [for the takedown] and you shall receive”, regardless of actual legality. Fair use and other tests are often not performed until after the content has already been taken down.

In other words, you can use fair use to fight a DMCA takedown request, but that will never prevent an asshole from filing it or from dragging you through the legal hassle.

LostSailor says:

Fair Use?

Mike, can you provide even a hypothetical example where “uploading a document” to which you don’t have copyright permission would be fair use?

If you’re uploading a document you wrote that fairly quotes some copyright material, that wouldn’t be a problem since you would have copyright in that document.

hegemon13 says:

Where would fair use apply?

If the document you upload is fair use, it means that it IS yours. It may contain some excerpts from other documents, but if yours is sufficiently transformative or provides commentary, the resulting document is yours, so you can declare it as such. Where could fair use apply that you could not declare the document as yours? (Except for public domain, which has already been addressed.)

The fact that Scribd responded to concerns about public domain within three minutes shows that they are closely monitoring this to see how it affects users and adjusting their system to address issues. How are they doing the wrong thing here? How is asking a user to declare that they have the right to upload what they’re uploading going “too far”? You may not like current copyright law, and I tend to agree with a lot of that. However, it is still currently the law.

“The copyright holders are clearly pushing well beyond what copyright allows them to do…”
What? Asking users not to upload unauthorized copies of their work, and seeking the cooperation of the platform provider to assist with curbing such uploading? No, as a service provider, Scribd does not have to cooperate, but they have the right to, and the copyright holders have the right to request cooperation even where it is not legally required.

Besides, this action is really just a token action, anyway. That checkbox doesn’t stop anyone from uploading unauthorized copies any more than the “I’m Over 18” button stops minors from entering adult sites.

I think you have REALLY blown this one out of proportion and provided that much more fodder for the Weird Harolds out there.

hegemon13 says:

Re: Re: Where would fair use apply?

Actually, I don’t think I was clear enough, as you and Mike both misunderstood my intention. What I meant, is that if you write a document which includes, for example, commentary along with fair-use excerpts from other documents, then you own the copyright on the new document as a whole. Stephen King, for example, owns the copyright on Danse Macabre, despite the fact that it contains excerpts, screen-captures, etc, from other works. I did NOT mean to suggest that you own the copyright on the excerpts or the original documents from which they were sampled.

That said, making an ad hominem attack, as you did, without any facts or details just makes you look like an middle-school ass. And to do it anonymously is just, well, cowardly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Where would fair use apply?

Actually, I don’t think I was clear enough, as you and Mike both misunderstood my intention.

People can only go by what you write. We can rad your mind and know that you meant something different. If you meant something different, you should have written something different. As it is, you’re just busted (again).

That said, making an ad hominem attack, as you did, without any facts or details just makes you look like an middle-school ass. And to do it anonymously is just, well, cowardly.

Actually, it’s based on your own reputation and the evidence is all in the Techdirt archives. But talk about ad hominem attacks, it looks like you’re the first one engaging in name calling. And criticizing someone for posting anonymously? That’s funny, coming from someone who’s posting anonymously. I know, why don’t you post your identity (full name, address, employer, SSN, etc.)?
(sound of crickets)
Yeah, that’s what I thought. You really take the cake. What a hypocrite.

twitgnorant (profile) says:

scribd response

Mike (or anyone),

I know you twittered about it and scribd answered in a few minutes. Are they following YOU on twitter or could I twitter about scribd and expect some response? I guess I don’t “get” twitter – but I don’t see how they knew about your tweet in order to respond nor do I understand how they responded. Please explain.


RD says:

Once again...

Once again for all those in the cheap seats and the corporate scum like Weird Harold:


say it with me, say it proud.


You have a LIMITED rights for a LIMITED TIME (though thats getting absurd now) to exploit your work. People are using the copyright sledgehammer WAY too much these days, and it has the effect of everyone being afraid of doing ANYTHING for fear of being sued. And you are getting absurd ideas about the extent of copyright coverage, like people thinking you cant take a picture of them because their person is “copyright.” Sorry, wrong, you cant copyright a human being. You can copyright a specific image taken of a human being, but you cant copyright the PERSON such that it prevents pictures being taken. Thats not copyright, thats privacy and is covered under different laws (harassment, civil rights, etc)

pr (profile) says:

Just one more click

Never mind the actual copyright issues, there’s a pervasive attitude that just one more mouse click never hurt anyone.
What does anybody think they’re proving by forcing users to check some box that doesn’t mean anything?

When I try to book travel on my employer’s officially sanctioned web site, I have to enter my “international travel authorization” number, even if I don’t have one because I’m not traveling internationally. Somebody somewhere decided that those international travelers weren’t properly entering their international travel codes, so they would make EVERYBODY enter one. It’s just one more mouse click. Multiplied by thousands of users every day.

When I fill out my expense report I have to check the box where I swear I’m not defrauding anyone, nor have I used the funds to commit any international crimes to bribe foreign officials even though it might be legal in their country. I can’t get reimbursed for my legitimate expenses unless I swear that I didn’t commit a crime with the money. It’s just one more mouse click. Who the hell would admit that they did commit an international crime? (If you knew who I work for and what international crimes they have committed you’d really find that funny.)

When I turn on my TomTom I have to swear that I’ll drive safely. Some damn lawyer’s idea that they’ll be able to avoid one of those class action lawsuits brought on by the user’s stupidity. They won’t, of course, but it’s just one more click. My clicker’s clicked out. I’ll sure never buy another TomTom, but that’s just one of the reasons.

JimE says:

Scribd check box

Scribd now requires me to check off a box saying: “I certify that I own the copyright to these documents.”

There are several other instances where I can legitimately upload a digital object for which I do not hold the copyright. For example, many of the Creative Commons licenses allow users to do so. Thus, as noted by several people, the Scribd check box is too rigid.

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