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Arrr! J.K. Rowling and John Grisham fall victim to pirates

Two of the planet’s bestselling authors, J.K. “I’ll kick Stephenie Meyer’s ass” Rowling and John Grisham, are among several authors whose books have apparently been illegally uploaded to a San Francisco-based website that promotes itself as “YouTube for books.” Scribd.com was launched by a couple of twentysomething Harvard students, and has since become an attraction for a reported 55 million visitors each month. While the site boasts a number of legal uses “ the Obama campaign used it to upload policy material and thereby sidestep media filters “ it now looks to have succumbed to the “Napster effect,” whereby copyrighted works are uploaded without permission and distributed for free.

An article in The Times online reports:

A search of Scribd by The Times yesterday found copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Ken Follett’s most recent novel World Without End among many bestselling titles, raising fears that the piracy affecting the music industry may have spread to books.

When presented with a list of links to various Harry Potter books, Neil Blair, J. K. Rowling’s lawyer at the Christopher Little literary agency, said that Scribd did not have permission and what you have identified are infringing listings which we were aware of and actioning.

The online culture of disseminating information online for free (Quillblog finds it interesting that the word “crib” appears in Scribd’s name) has also been taken on recently by The Globe and Mail‘s Peter Scowen. Scowen writes that the culture of “free” threatens the traditional means by which authors and other content creators earn their living, which seems irrefutable, but it’s open to debate as to whether the solution is to rage against the machine or try to adapt traditional methods of doing business to the new reality.

Scowen’s specific target is the upcoming Book Summit, “Giving It Away: Books, Business, and the Culture of Free.” The conference, sponsored by Humber College and the Book and Periodical Council, is an opportunity for publishers, writers, booksellers, and other interested parties to “learn about the opportunities, the pitfalls, the marketing techniques, the delivery methods, the creators, the readers” that can be tapped by properly utilizing the “culture of free.” The cost of the summit is $145.