Think before suing

Piracy stings, but if it helps sell books...

On September 18, Elaine Scott filed what her lawyers hope will become a class-action copyright infringement suit against Scribd.  Ms. Scott, author of the 1985 title, Stocks and Bonds: Profits and Losses, was reportedly shocked to learn that her book had been posted to Scribd and downloaded 100 times or more.

Now, I am a fan of copyright, but before Elaine Scott decided sue the service that hosted her pirated content, I wish she had asked herself three questions:

- Is my book still in print?

- If it is in print, what effect have these downloads had on its sale?

- And if it’s not in print, what can I learn from the fact that literally hundreds of people want a copy of something I wrote 25 years ago?

Scott complained to Scribd and they took down her book, but she could have worked with them to do one better: set a retail price and sell the book to people who want it.  She could also look at options to offer physical copies using a print-on-demand service.

As the record shows, she chose to sue.  That’s a right, but the data available suggest that she could have leveraged the situation to her advantage at little or no cost.  Just wait until she finds out what’s going on with her used books.

Sep 22, 2009  at  08:39 AM

Don’t hesitate to click on the last link of this post. I did and was happy to have…

Posted by Brian F OLeary
Sep 22, 2009  at  08:52 AM

Thanks… a bit understated on my part.  I appreciate the shout-out smile

Posted by Mark Barrett
Sep 22, 2009  at  12:03 PM

I don’t disagree that she had an angle to play here, but I’m glad she’s pushing back.  Until people stop thinking of other people’s copyrights as a revenue stream to be exploited, all writers will be at risk.

More here:

P.S.  Your captcha function failed in Mozilla 3.5.

Posted by Brian F OLeary
Sep 22, 2009  at  02:49 PM

Thanks for the heads up on Captcha; we’ll look into that.

I accept your point about the value of copyright.  But in arguing that Scott is taking a stand against abuse, you’re stepping over three facts of the case: Scribd took the content down when notified; it took steps to prevent the book from being returned to the site; and while the content was available on Scribd, literally hundreds of people expressed an interest in it.

Compare that to the (non-existent) sales activity of the book prior to the upload.  A digital version made available on Scribd opened the door to new sales of a title that everyone else had forgotten.

Elsewhere on our site are copies of presentations I have given on our piracy research.  We don’t condone piracy, but if it helps sell more books (which is one of the three questions I hope anyone answers before suing), removing content from the source seems self-defeating.

I enjoyed your post, and I think we can co-exist.  If Scott found that her book sales were hurt by piracy, I’d support her cause.  It’s the data that’s missing.

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