Peter Cox has seven questions for Scribd at LBF

Peter Cox
Opinion - Digital 17 Apr 2009

Memo From: Peter Cox, Litopia Writers Podcasts To: Trip Adler, Scribd CEO Hey there, Trip! I hear that you ve taken a stand at the LBF this year. That's excellent news. I m only sorry you backed out of our live, on-air discussion a couple of weeks ago. A whole lot of writers certainly were keen to hear what you had to say for yourself. However, that was your decision. I have a feeling that, somehow, our paths will not cross at this year's LBF, so here are some questions that I'd like people who do meet with you to ask. I hope you appreciate the advance notice - and I m certain you ll come up with some really good answers. And of course, if you ever do want to come on our podcast, there's always an open door and a warm welcome. 1) When you launched Scribd some two years ago, you were warned that you were hosting blatant copyright violations Harry Potter, Dan Brown et al. With admirable frankness, you admitted at the time that 'we can t control it'. What I'd like to know is do you think you can control it now? Why, exactly, has it taken two full years (and a ton of negative publicity) for you to take down all those Harry Potters?

2) Excuse me, Trip. I need to amend that question. Why am I still seeing Harry Potter copyright violations on your website? I m looking at Harry Potter Et L'Ordre Du Ph nix and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. That's a bit, um, disturbing isn t it, Trip? Oh, hold on just spotted The Tales of Beedle the Bard as well. I'd say that your 'automated copyright protection system' needs a tad more development , wouldn t you?

3) The one and only time we spoke on the phone, Trip, you denied that your site hosts copyright violations. I m curious to know if that's what you really think? Or was it what shall we say a Trip of the tongue?

4) Trip, do you need a little help using your search function? I only ask because I ve found it really good, and dead easy. For example, you just type Harry Potter and hey presto! all the results come up, quick as a flash. Now don t be shy to ask for my help, Trip I know these things can seem a bit intimidating at first, but I m sure you ll get the hang of it pretty quickly. For example, I ve just found a John Grisham, lots of Sydney Sheldons, a Salman Rushdie (better watch out for those fatwas, Trip!), a Nick Hornby, dear old Mitch Albom, Michael Ondaatje It's really great I never thought it would be so easy to steal books! I love how your site makes it feel so guilt-free. Two clicks, and you ve stolen from an author. But you know what? It really doesn t feel like it!
5) How many people really visit your website, Trip? I ve seen all sorts of figures quoted up to 55 million people a month. I'd love to see your research on this. For example, do you know what proportion of them come to share their aunt Mildred's cookie recipes and what proportion of them come to steal books? I m just asking, that's all.
6) One financial website said that your huge popularity may be due to the fact that users 'can read copyrighted material there without being tracked'. So if and this is merely a hypothetical, Trip if your website's popularity is at least partly due to the presence of flagrant and continuing copyright violations, then what I'd like to know is why would any publisher in their right mind want to be associated with you? As I say, I m sure you ve got a really good answer for this. Also (and I know this is an extra question, but who's counting?) three months after your launch, VentureBeat wrote 'We previously covered Scribd and expected it to run afoul of hawkish publishers out to protect their copyrights, but Trip says this has not really been an issue.' Do you still think this isn t an issue, Trip? Honestly, Trip just between you and me do you think publishers are total wussies about things like protecting copyright? You can tell me.
7) There's a story that you started Scribd because you were jealous of fellow-undergraduate Mark Zuckerberg's success with FaceBook. Actually, it's the Wall Street Journal's story, so I assume it must be true: 'I was so jealous,' recalls Adler, now 23 years old. 'I thought, 'I've got to find an idea and drop out of Harvard'.'
Do you know why I find this so disturbing, Trip? I ll tell you. It suggests that you re a young guy in a huge hurry, jealous of your peers success, and perhaps none too careful about the incidental damage you may do along the way.
I really don t know how important books are to you, Trip. I hope your reading has encompassed a bit more than lifeless tomes about raising venture capital and computer programming. I hope that your life has been enriched by an author or two, at some point. I'd really like to believe that. But Scribd's actions don t fill me with confidence. Because if you were truly respectful of authors and their work, you wouldn t make it so devilishly easy to steal it.
And by the way, monitoring your site for copyright violations would be easy, given sufficient willpower and money. Now we know that you ve raised more venture-capital spondulicks than Croesus could shake a gold-plated stick at, so that just leaves your motivation. Do you sincerely want to stop copyright violations, Trip?
I don t know if you re aware of this, Trip, but the likes of your Mark Twain and our Charles Dickens fought long and hard to achieve a decent level of copyright protection for today's authors. Just think in a few short years, sites like yours have the potential to undo much of that hard-won work.
Which, in a way, would guarantee you a place in the history books, Trip. But I m not sure it's the place you'd want.
Enjoy your book fair.

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