Scribd, the “YouTube for documents,” copyright violations and all

Updated

Scribd.bmpScribd, the new Silicon Valley company pitching itself as the “Youtube for documents” is getting some good traction, in part because it hosts copyrighted material.

Scribd launched three weeks ago, and is attracting 100,000 unique visitors a day. Those are the viewers. Far fewer have signed up to upload documents — about 10,000 users have uploaded 13,000 documents.

Why, we asked initially, are people coming to a site to post documents, when all they have to do is post them on their own blog? One reason is because Scribd makes it dead simple — just like YouTube makes it easy to post videos. Whatever document you want to upload (Pdf, Powerpoint, .lit, .ps, .txt, Word, etc), Scribd throws it into a convenient Flash player format, so that it can be easily read by anyone. It converts simpler documents to HTML.

This saves hassle: If you want to load say, 30 documents online, most blogging software converts them to links that you paste into your blog, and which require visitors to download them for viewing. Scribd lets you upload readable files to its site within ten seconds. Scribd makes documents both searchable and taggable. It lets you zoom in on text. Scribe wants to foster a community around the documents (like YouTube’s community around video), with comments and ratings. Each person who posts gets their own profile (here’s the person who uploaded the Da Vinci Code, apparently copyrighted material; the person’s profile links to a 17-year-old Myspace user).

Scribd offers more features than competitor sites such as Slideshare.net, which is only for Powerpoint documents.

Adobe has not released Flash tools in a way that consumers can easily create a display player on their own blogs (perhaps because Adobe wanted to avoid cannibalizing its other product, the Pdf).

The second reason for Scribd’s popularity is apparently because you can read copyrighted material there without being tracked (posters of material do have to disclose an email address to Scribd, though that can be spoofed).

Scribd has received 30 copyright take-down notices already, according to co-founder Trip Adler. He has removed hundreds of documents, he told VentureBeat today. The problem is acute because Scribd lets you easily download the documents (there’s a prominent download button, and you can download in multiple formats: .pdf, .doc, .txt, and .mp3 files), something YouTube doesn’t let you do easily.

VentureBeat found a couple of copyrighted Harry Potter books online, and Adler said he was aware of them, but at the time hadn’t been able to take them down — he was in his car during our interview, and besides, Scribd is just three guys: “We can’t control it,” he said. He added: “We’d like them to let us know to take it down.” Adler did email us later today to say he’d taken the Potter books down, and pointed to his copyright policy, to indicate Scribd is DMCA compliant. However, another book hosted at Scribd that he was aware of, The Da Vinci Code, is still up several hours later, as of this writing. See screenshot below.

How will Scribd make money? Advertising can be targeted to the text of documents. Scribd may offer premium accounts for various services, from licensing document conversion tools to other sites (perhaps at five cents per conversion), to printing, to allowing authors to sell documents through Scribd.

Scribd is raising venture capital, and should close a round soon. It received $12,000 from Y Combinator, and $300,000 from angel investors (as reported by Techcrunch) in convertible notes, but has spent a total of only $30,000 to date, Adler said. Joining Adler is Jared Friedman, 21, and Tikhon Bernstram, 27. Adler and Friedman studied at Harvard, and they met Dernstan, from Dartmouth, at the Y Combinator school in Cambridge, Mass. last summer. Adler studied biophysics, while Friedman and Dernstan studied computer science.

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