Tuesday, March 31, 2009

JK Rowling leads fight against free books site Scribd
Harry Potter author is among writers shocked to discover their books available as free downloads
Alison Flood guardian.co.uk, Monday 30 March 2009

JK Rowling. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

The publishers of bestselling authors JK Rowling, Aravind Adiga and Ken Follett have been shocked by the news that their authors' latest books are available to read for free on a US website. Internet users can not only read free copies of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, The White Tiger and World Without End at Scribd.com, but also download the text onto their computers to edit as they see fit.
Neil Blair, Rowling's lawyer, said the Harry Potter downloads were "unauthorised and unlawful" and that the website had been asked to take them down. "We are aware of this and we've asked them to take them off," he said. "They are quite helpful and they act immediately, but they won't police it themselves."
The San Francisco-headquartered company was set up in March 2007 and claims to have more than 50 million readers a month, with more than 50,000 new documents uploaded by users every day. The Obama campaign used it to publish policy documents, and the site has recently signed a deal with some US publishers to post books and extracts with permission.

Tammy Nam, Scribd vice president for marketing, said that its policy was to "immediately remove copyrighted material when we receive notices from copyright holders", but that it had received no take down notice from Rowling's lawyers. "Our community is generally very good at policing itself and let us know when they come across copyrighted works or other inappropriate material," she added, saying that Scribd also has a copyright management system which contains "tens of thousands of works that have been entered or flagged as copyrighted - so that if anyone tried to upload anything in that system, they're immediately denied".
Rowling's novels aren't the only ones to be available from Scribd. A quick search throws up novels from Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Jeffrey Archer, Ken Follett, Philippa Gregory, and JRR Tolkien.
"We are monitoring this and are concerned about it," said Mark Le Fanu, general secretary of the Society of Authors. "Internet piracy is increasing," he continued, advising authors to monitor sites such as Scribd.
The bestselling science fiction author Christopher Priest is one author who has already been in touch with Scribd over a copy of his 1981 novel, The Affirmation, though he suggests "99% of writers aren't aware it's going on".
"Scribd.com were very courteous and immediately took it down, but since then it's gone up again," he said. "It's very annoying … I'm a writer and I write for a living, I don't want to have to do this."
According to Priest the threat to copyright extends beyond the loss of a few sales. In a letter to writers' magazine The Author he suggested that the threat is "not going to go away and it becomes a greater threat with every passing week ... Pretending it doesn't matter is not in my view an option," he continued. "A few downloads here or there are not going to make a measurable difference to book sales, but treating the text as something that is available to be used or adapted in some unspecified way is a different matter."
Adiga's publisher, Toby Mundy at Atlantic Books, said that Adiga's publishers around the world would be taking action. "We're in the copyright business," he said. "We can't be complacent about this."
Priest agreed. "The music industry has been practically ruined by this. The film industry is fighting hard and it's got lots of money. The book industry is the poorest of the lot – we are vulnerable."
The above is further to my report from The Times earlier today.

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