March 30, 2009

Sribd is fuckd, say writers


Publishers, agents, and authors such as J.K. Rowling, Nick Hornby, John Grisham, Salman Rusdie, Ian McEwan, Aravind Adiga and Ken Follett were alarmed yesterday to learn that the American website Scribd has been posting entire copies of their books for free dowload. As Dan Sabbagh reports in a story for The Times of London, the site calls itself “the most popular literary site in the world” and “attracts 55 million visitors a month, many drawn by the chance to download versions of books by popular authors that have been uploaded on to the website without the consent of the writer or publisher.” And indeed, Sabbagh reports finding books by all of the above named authors, such as Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

A Guardian report by Alison Flood adds that “Internet users can not only read free copies of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, The White Tiger and World Without End at, but also download the text onto their computers to edit as they see fit.”

According to The Times, “Scribd was set up by Trip Adler and Jared Friedman, Harvard students in their early twenties, and in two years has become the ‘YouTube for books’, helped by $12 million (£8.4 million) of financing. It makes money from advertising but pays no royalties to authors.” A spokesperson says the company operates on a “notice and takedown system,” which means it will take down books … if they’re asked. “This makes the site compliant with the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which means that the site is not held liable for actions of its users of which it is not aware.”

But many in the publishing community say this is not enough. “99% of writers aren’t aware it’s going on,” bestselling science fcition author Christopher Priest tells The Guardian. Priest says he discovered a copy of one of his books, The Affirmation, on the site and demanded it be taken down. “ were very courteous and immediately took it down, but since then it’s gone up again,” he says. “It’s very annoying … I’m a writer and I write for a living, I don’t want to have to do this.” Meanwhile, J. K. Rowling’s lawyer Neil Blair says he’s looking into “actioning” against Scribd, Follet’s publisher Macmillan is “looking into this,” and Aravind Adiga’s publisher, Toby Mundy at Atlantic Books, says that “Adiga’s publishers around the world would be taking action.” “We’re in the copyright business,” Mundy tells The Guardian. “We can’t be complacent about this.”

Many, in fact, echo what literary agent Peter Cox tells The Times: “These people are pirates. We don’t have to give in to this. We can’t afford to make the same mistakes the music industry did.”

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives