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?

Filed Under: eric goldman, paywall, user notification
Companies: scribd

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  1. icon
    Karl (profile), 21 Sep 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.

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