Monday, March 19, 2007

The YouTube of documents

I just found this website that lets you upload documents from almost any format and then converts them to PDF, Word and even audio. It does this for free, and you can set the document to public or private. If that weren’t enough you can also embed the document anywhere!
We are used to embedding videos, and this isn’t that different. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it is an amazing resource.

Like YouTube, it also will have copyright issues. I don’t know about you but I do have a problem with ripping, burning and downloading music illegally. I know almost everyone does it, and there have been many attempts to say that halakha doesn’t prohibit the practice. It’s interesting, the very same rabbis who complain about the slippery slopes in other areas will be the first to moreh heter for music and media. I am actually don’t have as much trouble with books. I know that for long books with large distribution that you want to actually read, you will want a real copy and support the author. For books with small distribution the royalties are tiny and it all goes to the publishing house. Why would I want to support a publishing house in its efforts to destroy forests? I still know its wrong to download copyrighted materials of the internet no matter what the format, but with google’s book project, and the access that we all have to public and academic libraries I know the lines are fuzzier here. At the end of the day I believe that data wants to be “free.” Not it the sense of zero-cost, but in the sense that it should be accessible to as any many people as possible without physical, technological or economic boundaries.
We have seen companies respond to the amazing ease with which it was possible to view and download their content. I am talking positive models, not suing YouTube. I mean things like opening up their databases to be people who want to view content and wouldn’t mind too much for a small fee to access content. Hopefully this will lead to the same results in print without all the road bumps. That looks unlikely to me, because despite the warning about copyright and some great documents that were out of copyright or not copyrighted, the site lets you upload anonymously. It’s too easy to upload things you shouldn’t be and have no responsibility.
Anyway for a positive use of Scribd, here is the diagram with text of the mishnah yevamot 4:7