Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Untold Dangers of Web-based Docu-sharing

It seems that Scribd--the popular document-sharing website--is pulling a fast one on its users...or a fast few rather. This might all be old news to some of you, but for me, it's brand spankin' new and pretty darn shocking.

As a Scribd user myself, I couldn't believe it when I heard from an author I work with--the fabulous Jill Myles--that the site lays claim to material posted on the site, even if the material is copyrighted.

Take a peek at the Terms of Service--as highlighted by Mike Cane over at Mike Cane's iPad Test--which I'll admit that I, like many people, didn't look at before participating:

As Mike goes on to explain in his post just what that means:

So, Scribd signs an agreement that, for example, lets Amazon also distribute all of the Scribd content to owners of the abominable Kindle. This would be a sub-license. But you hate Amazon, you hate the Kindle, so you pull your stuff off Scribd in protest.

Too late, sucker. Amazon has been granted the right to still use your stuff.

Hmmm. Not to say that this would likely ever happen to me or my work, but I suppose most people would think that way. But for some users, these things actually do happen. And that's not all that happens...

Evil Reads points out one distrubring instance from Paperback Writer earlier this year:

I thought I had figured out every conceivable way to squeeze money out of
authors...until I saw this post yesterday from Paperback Writer:

[As of July 27th] Scribd.com has begun charging people to download my free e-books hosted on their site. They are using an archive subscription scam to make their money (this also neatly avoids them having to pay me any royalties on the profits they make.)
Evidently all the money they've been raking in from the Google ads they've posted on my e-book pages hasn't been enough for them.... I was not made aware of this new policy by Scribd at all; a reader kindly brought it to my attention. If you have free stories or documents hosted on this site, chances are they're doing the same to you.

Yikes! And you thought that Evil Wylie was evil! Charging readers to access free e-books and other documents WITHOUT NOTIFYING THE AUTHORS?! I wish I had thought of this (scam) legitimate business venture first.

Their "archive" (scheme) process works like this: after an unspecified "period of time," all free, publicly-viewable documents posted to Scribd.com are retired to an archive. To download those documents, readers who visit Scribd.com must cough up either $5 for a 24-hour downloading period or $9 for a monthly subscription. Simply viewing archived documents does not require payment.

Scribd.com offers an option to return the document to the free "current" section AFTER it has been archived. In an absolutely brilliant move, however, their terms of service don't actually state when documents will be archived...so authors have no easy way to determine when their work will be archived (and thus available for un-archiving).

Read the rest of the article on Evil Reads HERE

Scribd isn't the only site with these types of clauses in their Terms of Service though. Competitors like Doctoc, Issuu, and even GoogleDocs all have similar stipulations. WePapers, to me, looks like the most user-friendly option, but still has its caveats as well.

And don't even get me started on the fact that all these sites maintain the right to modify your content without your consent. For me, the appeal of these sites was that I could post my work via pdf for someone to read without the capability of copying, pasting, or modifying. But it seems that doesn't even matter at this point. There are bigger fish to fry.

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