Scribd's Copyright Robocops Are Automatically Taking Down The Mueller Report

President Donald Trump “waves” to supporters after arriving at his Mar-a-Lago resort on April 18, 2019 (Photo: Getty Images)

Scribd has become a popular place for people to upload PDF documents to share with the world. But the hosting site’s algorithms aren’t handling the release of the Mueller Report very well, according to a new report from Quartz. Scribd’s robots are flagging the document as a copyrighted work, despite the fact that, as a government-produced document, it’s in the public domain.

The Mueller Report, which documents the Trump regime’s many contacts with Russian government associates in the lead up to the 2016 US presidential election as well as Trump’s efforts to impede the investigation against him, was offered for free, but some publishers are selling it as a book.

It isn’t clear why Scribd’s algorithms are flagging the document, and the San Francisco-based company did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment. But Scribd’s official Twitter account was sharing the report on Friday, and a lot of people were uploading the document after it hit the US Justice Department’s website at precisely 1:00AM AEDT that day.

The US Justice Department’s servers were apparently overloaded by the deluge of interest, as many people reported not being able to download the document after it was first released.

To make matters even more complicated, the DOJ’s version of the document wasn’t searchable, so it became even more important that the historic 448-page report be uploaded in multiple places in a format that had been converted using OCR software.

Quartz reports that its own version of the document was flagged because of “Scribd’s BookID copyright protection system” which “disabled access” to their upload.

The automated email that Quartz received acknowledged that their copyright robocops, “will occasionally identify legitimate content as a possible infringement”. Quartz reports that its upload of the Mueller Report was reinstated quickly after the news site protested.

Other internet platforms such as YouTube have similar measures in place to flag materials that might violate copyright. But it isn’t always the robots that are taking down perfectly acceptable material.

Speaking from personal experience, I regularly have copyright trolls that claim ownership of public domain, government-created videos that I upload to my personal YouTube account. And there’s basically nothing I can do aside from contest the copyright claim and spend time providing evidence that it’s in the public domain.

Scribd is great, but there are other options for uploading documents that won’t be taken down by automated systems. I’m a big believer in the Internet Archive, which introduced embed features in recent years, one of the reasons that people loved Scribd when it first launched in 2007.

But you don’t need Scribd any more. And there are plenty of easy-to-find copies of the Mueller Report over at Archive.org.

[Quartz]

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