A legal complaint seeking class action status filed in Houston on Friday accuses social-publishing site Scribd of egregious copyright infringement.
Scribd managers have "built a technology that's broken barriers to copyright infringement on a global scale and in the process have also built one of the largest readerships in the world," the attorneys representing the class wrote in the complaint. "The company shamelessly profits from the stolen copyrighted works of innumerable authors."
While this may sound like a generic copyright case, there's one interesting side note. The attorneys that filed the lawsuit are at the head of Camara & Sibley, the Houston-based firm defending Jammie Thomas-Rasset against copyright claims made by the music industry.
Joe Sibley and Kiwi Camara have made names for themselves largely by representing Thomas-Rasset, the Minnesota woman accused by the music industry of copyright violations. In June, a jury found her liable for willful copyright infringement and ordered her to pay $1.9 million in damages. Thomas-Rasset has asked for a new trial.
In an interview for a story published in July, Sibley said he and Camara could see themselves working for copyright owners, if they believed in the issue. He told me that they weren't locked into any legal dogma and would take cases based on their merits. It's not unusual for lawyers to argue both sides of copyright issues.
In their complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, the lawyers wrote that plaintiff Elaine Scott, a book author, found on Scribd in July an unauthorized copy of one of her titles, "Stocks and Bonds: Profits and Losses, A Quick Look at Financial Markets." They claim that the book had been downloaded more than 100 times from Scribd, which her attorneys called the "YouTube for documents."
Neither Scott nor Scribd representatives were immediately available for comment.
The class purports to represent "every author who owns a valid registered copyright in a work infringed by Scribd." Camara & Sibley said the number of infringing material on Scribd was known only to that company but predicted that the size of the class could be huge.
They did note that Scribd has said it would remove infringing documents when notified by a copyright owner, as is required by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. San Francisco-based Scribd also has created an automated filtering system designed to prevent the publishing on its system of unauthorized works, once identified, from being uploaded again.
Camara & Sibley say very clearly what they think of Scribd's business model.
"Under the aegis of self-promoting misinterpretations of federal statutes," the lawyers wrote in their complaint, "the West Coast technology industry has produced a number of start-up firms premised on the notion that commercial copyright infringement is not illegal, unless and until the injured party discovers and complains of the infringing activity, and (the) infringer fails to respond to such complaints."
Camara & Sibley added to the complaint, "Apparently (the West Coast start-ups) believe any business may misappropriate and then publish intellectual property, as long as it ceases to use a stolen work when an author complains...Many millions of dollars have been invested in this business plan."