Scribd – Your Claiming Someone Owns the Copyright on Huckleberry Finn?

January 6, 2011

by — Posted in Personal Writing

Yesterday I was being a smart ass with  the following tweet:

Considering releasing my own version of huckleberry Finn – where the only diff is every instance of the characters name is fuckleberry hinn

I figured this was a really quick edit, I could make the changes and upload it to Scribd.   I could then make a blog post of the irrational behavior of both sides of this recent Huckleberry Finn debate.   I downloaded the Project Gutenberg edition of the book (URL is below), opened up MS Word and did the find and replace.   3 minutes later I had Huckleberry Finn – The Fuckleberry Edition.  I listed it was this edition after the title.  I also placed my screen name after Twain as an author (it is a derivative work and it’s not an original work by me – so both names were appropriate.

I then uploaded the file to Scribd, which if you are not familiar with is an online document sharing service.   Probably the largest service of this kind.  I uploaded my document and perused it.  I then click the embed code to place it on my site in preparation of writing the blog post announcing it.    Waiting a second for the code, came back with this work has been removed.  What the heck.   I click the back button, the work is still there.  I click refresh, the work is still there.  I click the embed button, this work has been removed.   Hmmmm.  Maybe I tried to embed it quickly, and I would need to wait a minute before that would work.  Then I notice the email sitting in Thunderbird (full email at the end of this post):

We have removed your document “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Fuckleberry Edition” (id: 46416259) because our text matching system determined that it was very similar to a work that has been marked as copyrighted and not permitted on Scribd.

So what they are saying is a public domain book is not permitted on Scribd – and because they have a fingerprint for it that on someone else claims they own it.   This means that Scribd signed off on the fingerprint.   Really?  Really?  How hard would it be for Scribd to regularly take the full Gutenberg Archive – fingerprint all those books and reject the allowance of copyright claims to anything that matches document fingerprints from there.   It is services (and companies claiming the copyright) that confuse and relinquish rights for individuals that exist in the public domain.  The general person doesn’t know or understand the public domain – this makes them understand it even less.   This makes some people that gets these notices go – “Oops I was mistaken and Twain must own the copyright.”  This mis-educates them and erodes knowledge in an area that Scribd should be trumpeting.   I have quite a few things (mostly turn of the century sheet music) uploaded to Scribd.   Every item I have uploaded is in the public domain – or at least I was under a good faith impression it was.

Here is the email I sent Scribd about all of this with their original email at the end:

Dear Scribd,

I received the notice attached at the end of this email about violating a copyright on Scribd and the work was removed.   I understand the need to police this action on your site, especially since it  allows you to maintain safe harbor provisions under the DMCA.   The problem is that the work in question was rudimentary edited copy of Huckleberry Finn.   I am assuming unless another work triggered this, that there is an issue if someone is trying to claim that Huckleberry Finn is under copyright.

This file was edited from Gutenberg edition at the following URL:

Since I removed all references to Project Gutenberg I have removed any worry of trademark infringement as per their license.   So if this is an issue about a certain edition / edits – my source file is from Project Gutenberg, and you should once again take it up with the original person claiming copyright over this work.    The main problem that this calls into question is what other public domain works are being banned from your site?  Huckleberry Finn is fairly high profile, what about lesser known public domain works?

I did say my edition was a crude edit – it was done to coincide with a blog post pointing out that anyone can legally do anything to a public domain book (except on Scribd).   The recent controversy about the Huckleberry Finn edition coming out that removes the N word and Injun – made changing Huckleberry to Fuckleberry a crude but important commentary on the recent controversy.   I can thank you now for giving me a new blog post to right instead of that other one.

Received Copyright Notice:

Subject: Your Document Has Been Removed

Hello, creeva2912 —

We have removed your document “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Fuckleberry Edition” (id: 46416259) because our text matching system determined that it was very similar to a work that has been marked as copyrighted and not permitted on Scribd.

Like all automated matching systems, our system is not perfect and occasionally makes mistakes. If you believe that your document is not infringing, please contact us at and we will investigate the matter.

As stated in our terms of use, repeated incidents of copyright infringement will result in the deletion of your account and prohibit you from uploading material to in the future. To prevent us from having to take these steps, please delete from any material you have uploaded to which you do not own the necessary rights and refrain from uploading any material you are not entitled to upload. For more information about’s copyright policy, please read the Terms of Use located at

Best regards, Scribd Support Team Questions?

UPDATE:   Received a reply:

Subject: Scribd Copyright/DMCA request received: 94540 / Copyright Violation for Huckleberry Finn (ticket #94540

Ticket #94540: Copyright Violation for Huckleberry Finn
Thank you for contacting Scribd Support. Your request has been automatically routed to our Copyright department and will be processed as soon as possible.

Content on Scribd is uploaded and maintained by Scribd’s users with no editorial intervention or approval from Scribd employees. Scribd takes the rights of intellectual property owners very seriously and complies as a service provider with all applicable provisions of the United States Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) of 1998. We expeditiously remove infringing material and terminate repeat infringers when such action is deemed appropriate. Click here to read Scribd’s complete official copyright infringement removal policy.

If you have submitted a request to remove a copyright infringement, please make sure that your request meets the basic criteria for validity as specified under the DMCA [17 USC 512(c)]. We have created a template that makes it easy for you to submit a legally valid removal request. If your request does not meet the legal criteria for validity, use this template to update your request. Substitute all [bracketed] placeholders in the template with the required information. All information is for legal purposes only and is kept strictly confidential. We typically process complete, valid requests within two (2) business days.

You can update your request by replying to this email. You do not need a Scribd account/password to access the template or to update your request.

Best regards,

Scribd Support, Copyright Desk


Click here for a complete list of copyright-related resources, policies, and templates.

This email is a service from Support Desk

I’ll update this again when I get back a real response.  Until then we’ll wait on Jason.

UPDATE – Jason Replies

Your request (#94540) has been deemed solved.

To review, comment and reopen the request, follow the link below:

Jason, Jan-06 11:44 am (PST):

Thank you for contacting Scribd Support.

I’m sorry that our automated copyright protection system misidentified your document as infringing. We try very hard to protect the rights of authors, and sometimes our copyright robot gets a little oversensitive.

I’ve restored your document and removed all references from your account.

Scribd Support

Now to  the normal person that doesn’t understand the implication of mis-education caused by this time of behavior (seriously I wasn’t trying to sound smart there), they would let this go.  I am curious though how this falls in the “lessons learned” chart.   What other things are they going to claim under copyright?  Why can’t we submit “known good” fingerprints of works.   The auto-detection of youtube’s music and video match might not be explorable – but a text only search sure is.

Here was my response:

So while I had a case that is fixed – what about other public domain books?  How is this going to fixed from a long term stand point.   Should I start taking popular public domain books and submitting them one by one to see if they are erroneously flagged?

I’m curious now what Scribd’s solution for handling this going forwarding instead of a case by case basis.   Checking Scribd already had many copies of Huckleberry Finn – so I am confused why they were given a pass and my was flagged.   I would also like to know why can’t Scribd have a known list of public domain books (Huck Finn would easily be in the top 100-500) and have those fingerprinted as “clean”.



Reply from Jason:

We are continuously improving our copyright management system to safeguard against false positives across the board, not just on a case-by-case basis. However, details of our copyright systems are not available to the public.

You are more than welcome to test the system with other public domain books. I look forward to your findings.



I know what I’m doing tonight.

10 thoughts on “Scribd – Your Claiming Someone Owns the Copyright on Huckleberry Finn?

  1. Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot. -Mark Twain.

    Holy crow, when doing a search on M.T.’s awesome quote I was also fancifying and doing a little speculatin’ as to what the great Engine Google (The Little Engine that told ya so!) says. Already on a search of “is huckleberry finn in the public domain” brings up your little article here (Already read it, so I came here cyclical wise)… as the 6th entry already. Dang, what is Jason’s deal?

  2. I was going to use that quote in the original article that then spun into this one. I’ve always had some good luck with google juice – for at least a year I had the number one and number three hit for “the greatest achievement of mankind” so they must like me.

  3. Way wrong Jason, I dropped the name a long time ago. That was an old fable.. there was just too many Jason’s my age. At any rate, I am glad it posted, stupid thing took me forever to post. It didn’t want to post under any of my other IDs… Can’t wait to see if you get some script testers.

  4. It does seem odd that the people have been trying to do just exactly what Mark Twain told them not to do with the story since it was released. I spent about an hour reading posts of original paper reviews of the book. Now that was interesting, I also pursued the wood cuts for the books too. Great stuff out there in public domain.

  5. Which login did you use – FB? I had a Disqus account before they added FB integration so it has always worked fine and fast for me (and I’m on a netbook right now).

    I figured I’ll take a couple hundred books – make some mild modifications and throw them at scribd and see what happens. I’m also going to do a suckleberry fhinn edition of huck finn now and see if the problem happens all over again.

  6. I understand his point, which in some ways is very different than it is now. He was also known as a crotchety old bastard, and it seems like a lot of Copyright asses seem to be Grumpy Old Men. There are also the lawyers too.

    Things are so different today though, and while I understand his point it isn’t one I can agree with. There are other opinions of his of which I am very fond, particularly about politicians being useless and the like.

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