Harry Potter Author JK Rowling Attacks Scribd For Pirated Content (Updated)

Famed Harry Potter author JK Rowling is taking on Scribd, the free document sharing service that has been likened to a “YouTube for documents”. Rowling and her publisher have discovered that a number of her books were being illegally shared on the site, after being pirated and uploaded by Scribd members. According to The Times, Rowling’s publishers (along with those representing author Ken Follett) were “battling last night to get free copies of their novels removed” from the site.

At this point it’s unclear just how much ‘battling’ is really going on – Rowling’s lawyer has said that Scribd is “quite helpful and they act immediately, but they won’t police it themselves.” Rowling and her representatives are concerned that Scribd is not proactively searching its database for pirated content, instead waiting for authors to submit complaints before pulling content down. Scribd says that it has an automated system that can prevent content that has previously been marked as pirated from being uploaded again, but given that it apparently isn’t even catching Harry Potter novels (which are likely among the most pirated books ever), I have a hard time believing the system is working very well.

Rowling isn’t the first author to attack Scribd for piracy issues, but her international acclaim makes her voice much louder than most. Her attack is a blemish on the site’s reputation, and perhaps even worse, it will likely have aftershocks – now that Scribd’s piracy issues are receiving widespread attention, more authors and publishers who weren’t even aware of the site may begin to discover that their content is being illegally hosted as well.

That said, not all authors and publishers are anti-Scribd. The site has recently been making headway with other authors and publishers who are legally hosting their content on the site as a means to increase exposure. And such piracy complaints are not unique to Scribd – other sites that host user-generated content (most notably YouTube) have had to deal with the same issues.

Scribd says that the is no battle going on between Rowling and the site, and that the Times piece is “inaccurate and misleading”, going on to say that Scribd is not being threatened with legal action. From the Scribd blog, which is entitled ‘What Ever Happened To Fact Checking?’

Yesterday, The Times of London published an article claiming that various authors, including J.K. Rowling, were “fighting” Scribd over copyrighted material on our site. Unfortunately, the Times’ article was misleading and included significant factual errors that must be corrected.
1. To make it absolutely clear, J.K. Rowling and the other authors mentioned are not suing Scribd and have never filed a lawsuit against us.
2. Scribd takes the concerns of copyright holders very seriously. It’s why we created our industry-leading copyright management system, which goes above and beyond requirements set forth in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Our system compares every work uploaded to Scribd against the tens of thousands of documents in our copyright reference database, and if someone tries to upload one of those copyrighted works, our technology prevents them from doing so. Every time a document is flagged for copyright, the file is entered into our system, and that work can’t be re-uploaded. As our reference database grows over time, our technology will become even smarter and faster.
3. Scribd is a document sharing site where people come to publish their grandmother’s 80-year-old pierogi recipe, to find Barack Obama’s latest economic plan, to read The New York Times’ official Madoff filing, to receive feedback on their new screenplay, and to reach a community of over 55 million readers. Books are a small reason readers visit Scribd but growing thanks to our recent partnerships with leading publishing houses, including Simon & Schuster and Random House. (See: Scribd Publisher press release.) These publishers and many authors are voluntarily giving us exclusive excerpts and full books because they see Scribd as a valuable way to get their works in front of tens of millions of readers. For a thoughtful and informed analysis of Scribd, here’s an Ars Technica post that presents a totally opposite take as The Times piece.
Also – our CEO is named Trip Adler, not Trip Adkins.