Founded in 2007, Scribd billed itself as the “world’s first open publishing platform.”
In 2013, the platform debuted “the first reading subscription service”, offering readers access to all books for a single flat fee.
The following year, Scribd added audiobooks to its service, later adding access to sheet music and magazines. By 2017, the site had established itself as a base for news articles, publishing works from The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and others under its subscription model.
With an estimated 100 million visitors per month and a place in the world’s top 200 websites, Scribd is now huge. According to the latest company information, it has 700,000 premium subscribers, but not everyone plays by the rules when obtaining content from the service.
Various tools and services enable people to download Scribd content to keep (rather than using the Netflix-like features provided by the platform) and a recent complaint filed with Github shows the company is still looking to plug the leaks.
Scribd-Downloader is a tool created by an India-based student. The 19-year-old says he began coding aged 10, working on various projects since, including YouTube and Spotify downloading tools. But while those remain active, his Scribd tool has now been targeted by the company.
“Scribd, Inc. (www.scribd.com) is an online service that hosts copyrighted material such as documents, books, and audiobooks, that are available to view or listen to on a subscription basis,” the company said in a complaint filed with Github this week.
“Scribd uses digital rights management (‘DRM’) technology to prevent users from downloading or saving copies of this copyrighted material. This takedown request concerns a script hosted on GitHub that allows a user to circumvent Scribd’s DRM technology to make a copy of and download copyrighted material from the Scribd website in violation of 17 U.S.C. 1201.”
17 U.S.C. 1201 deals with the circumvention of copyright protection systems, stating that “no person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title,” adding that circumvention means “to avoid, bypass, remove, deactivate, or impair a technological measure, without the authority of the copyright owner.”
In that respect, Scribd-Downloader does appear to breach the DMCA, particularly since its hosted on a US-based platform that must respond to takedown requests when they are appropriately filed. However, the software does have limitations and in some cases still requires a premium account to access all its features.
Nevertheless, it’s clear that Scribd wants to control when and how access to content occurs, something made clear when it notes that “books stored on your device can only be opened through the app and we don’t permit access to a stored book’s file.” Of course, Scribd-Downloader does.
Following the complaint, Github quickly removed Scribd-Downloader from its platform but there are other services and tools around that have the same or similar functionality.
It’s a game of cat-and-mouse that will probably go on for some time, one that underlines the fact that people like to keep hold of content once they’ve paid for it, rather than let it disappear behind a walled garden when subscriptions lapse.