Responding to a blog post on Writer Beware, the writer’s support website, Scribd v-p of content acquisition Andrew Weinstein both acknowledged the on-going problem of pirated content on Scribd while also outlining the company's efforts to address and prevent unauthorized uploads. The blog post by Michael Capobianco focused on Scribd’s new subscription e-book service and accused the site of using pirated material as “subscription bait” to attract traffic.

In a post on the Writer Beware blog, a site sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy writers of America to highlight problems facing authors, Capobianco examined Scribd’s new subscription e-book service with a focus on uploads of infringing material, an ongoing issue at Scribd despite efforts to prevent the practice. Using screenshots of the site, Capobiano showed how the new service now offers nonsubscribers “previews” of legal as well as illegal content, and, in effect, allows subscribers to get full-text access to a variety of unauthorized content on the site.

“All across the Scribd website,” Capobianco writes, “there are illegally uploaded, copyrighted files that you can only read in their entirety if you start paying Scribd, which doesn’t pay authors anything for those uploads.”

Responding to questions from PW about the Capobianco post, Weinstein readily acknowledged the problem while outlining the extent and, difficulty of preventing, illegal uploads. Weinstein was also emphatic that “it’s not true” that Scribd was out to “incentivize” the uploading of illegal content. “There is unauthorized content on Scribd,” he said, “the problem dates back a while and I’ve been working with publishers on this for a while.” Weinstein said that while Scribd has not talked publicly about it—“we’ve tried to deal with it on an individual basis with take-down notices and in our new agreements with publishers”—he said, “we’ve done a lot of work on developing a technological solution to this and a process to deal with bad content on Scribd.”

In a conversation with Weinstein, he outlined Scribd’s proactive policies and ongoing efforts to fight digital piracy while acknowledging that the site needs to do a better job at publicizing their anti-piracy efforts. Indeed, Weinstein said, he was in New York in November to speak to the Association of American Publishers about the site's anti-piracy efforts.

He outlined what he called a “four-point” program to address the issuse of pirated content on Scribd. The points include the posting of clear legal terms of use banning the process. The next point, he said, is a technical solution, a “document fingerprint system” in which they create a database of content (requiring an unencrypted copy of content from publishers) which allows Scribd software to reject unauthorized uploads that match. The third point is “a robust process of reaction,” offering a copyright link with instructions and guidelines for reporting bad content to Scribd. “We take action in one day or less and document the process,” he said. Finally, Scribd works with content management services like Attributor, the online content monitoring vendor. “We help these companies do bulk DMCS take-down notices and constantly look for ways to help them find infringing content," he said.”

Neverthless, Weinstein said, it’s an ongoing battle. “We’re not standing still on this, it’s been a longterm effort.” But problems remain. The copyright fingerprint system is imperfect and requires publishers to submit content to Scribd to make the system work at all. “It’s tough asking publishers for unencrypted content to help prevent illegal uploads,” he said. Besides, Weinsein added in exasperation, Scribd doesn’t have relations with all publishers so there is essentially an unlimited amount of material the system can’t recognize. Weinsein also acknowledged a lack of communication to authors as well as publishers about Scribd's policies and efforts. Weinstein said “We need to change that perception if we want to have a successful business and write bigger checks to publishers and be a meaningful sales channel for them.”

Asked for a response to Weinstein’s comments, Capobianco said, “despite Scribd efforts, there are still many, many pirated works available through their service, and it’s troubling that they have included them, along with other works uploaded by users, in their paid subscription service.” Capobianco added, “I am amazed that they do this so boldly, and that the legitimate publishers who are offering books through their subscription service apparently don’t care. I hope Scribd re-evaluates its policies and removes all unauthorized versions of copyrighted works from its subscriber service.”