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

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. identicon
    hegemon13, 14 Apr 2009 @ 9:44am

    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.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: I Invented Email
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.