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.

Filed Under: copyright, fair use, kowtowing, public domain
Companies: scribd


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  1. identicon
    LostSailor, 14 Apr 2009 @ 11:51am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Fair Use?

    Your interpretation, then, would mean that things which are actually fair use could never be present on the Internet.

    Not at all. There are probably thousands of instances of fair use all over the Internet, every day. Most blog posts fall into this category, where quotes and clips are used for commentary widely.

    However, because of the way the Internet works, there is no way to place those same clips with a transcript of my commentary because everything on the Internet is piecemeal.

    Not everything on the Internet is piecemeal by a long shot. There are any number of ways you could embed those clips within the context of your presentation. It may take some slight effort and forethought to do so, but, again, thousands of people seem to be able to do this everyday on the Internet without a problem.

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