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
    pr, 14 Apr 2009 @ 12:46pm

    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.

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