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Author’s Guild Objects to 1DollarScan

A couple weeks back I showed you that the Lendink lynch mob was caused by a bunch of authors who didn’t understand law, technology, or the contracts they had signed. Today the Author’s Guild once again reminded us that those problems can exist on an institutional scale as well.

Publisher’s Weekly is reporting the Author’s Guild, publishing’s own rearguard Luddites, is now objecting to the services provided by 1DollarScan.

This company is the US spinoff of an immensely popular Japanese service called Bookscan, and like its parent company 1DollarScan offers a cheap book scanning service. You mail them the book and they scan it and email you the PDF. Their process usually results in a destroyed book, so it isn’t of much use for rare and valuable books. But it does offer an opportunity to get an ebook for a title that might not be available digitally.

Update: 1DollarScan is  in not related to the Japanese company Bookscan.

The company is in the news today because of new Evernote integration, which Chris covers over here. While that topic is interesting on a technical level, I’m more interested in what others are saying about the service.

According to the Author’s Guild, what 1DollarScan is doing is illegal. PW reached out to Author’s Guild executive director Paul Aiken, and this is what he said: "If the information on its website is accurate, this is a copyright infringement service. Their fair use defense is laughable."

I love it when someone in power spouts off about topics they clearly don’t understand, and Paul proceeded to dig himself a deeper hole: "There are differences between digitization projects of 1DollarScan and Google and HathiTrust, but they share this: each is subverting the author’s fundamental right to choose whether or not to make a work available digitally, and under what terms. Though it makes sense for most authors to enter the digital book market, digitization has clear risks. It’s not up to unlicensed third parties to choose whether to take those risks with an author’s work."

Yeah, if you believe that authors can effectively control whether their work gets digitized, I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn. That control went out the window over a decade ago.  I’m sure you recall the dedicated efforts to scan the Harry Potter books as each was released?  Those fans aren’t the only ones who can scan books.

What’s more, I seriously doubt that any copyright infringement suit against 1DollarScan will succeed. A  basic reading of the website will tell you that the customer gives up the original book in order to get the PDF. As I see it, to show that a copy was made you’d have to show the judge the original book as well as the PDF. That’s going to be a little hard, given that the original book was likely destroyed as part of being scanned.

I don’t claim to be a lawyer, but I will bet dollars to donuts that so long as 1DollarScan maintains a process that’s one to one it’s going to be rather hard to convince most judges that they’re committing copyright infringement. But more importantly, it’s going to be hard to convince most readers.

Think for a moment about all the people who have ripped their CDs.  No one objects to that anymore (none besides the terminally clueless), and it’s not unreasonable for readers to make the jump that scanning a book is okay. From there it’s only a small step to paying for their book to be scanned. After all, no one would blink if the reader did it themselves. How could a service that does the exact same thing be illegal?

I’m not trying to browbeat any author, but in this day and age you really do need to be aware of what readers believe is right and moral. Taking a position against it, especially when you’re not being harmed by the situation, is self defeating.

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Gary August 23, 2012 um 2:18 pm

I don’t believe that you can scan a book for one dollar. I think that the time and effort required to open the mail, cut the spine off the book, feed the pages through a scanner, email the resulting PDF to the customer, and process the payment will cost more than one dollar of labor, even at minimum wage.

If I am correct, 1DollarScan must be doing something else.

My theory is that 1DollarScan only scans each title once. Then they save a copy of the the PDF file on their own servers. From then on, subsequent customers who submit the same book would get a copy of the first copy processed, not of their own specific copy of the paper book.

This would be easy to check. All you would have to do is make some small ink marks on specific pages of your personal copy of a recent best-seller, and then send that copy to 1DollarScan. When you get the PDF file of "your" book, check and see if the ink marks you made on your paper copy are present on the scanned images.

Now the question is, is it legally different for 1DollarScan a) to charge one dollar to scan your personal copy of a paper book for you, and to send the scan to you, without keeping a copy for themselves; or b) to charge one dollar to send you a scanned copy of someone else’s copy of a book, using an electronic copy that 1DollarScan keeps on their own server.

This question could take years and millions of dollars in legal costs to decide.

Eric Welch August 23, 2012 um 2:48 pm

You should take a look at their web site. Books are divided into sets of 100 pages each, with each set being $1 so a 500 page book will actually be $5 (still very cheap) and the resulting pdf can be "fine-tuned"for free making them very readable on a Kindle or iPad. They also do scans of photos and other kinds of documents and while they claim to be fair use (that’s for the lawyers to battle over) there is rather prominent opt out method for authors and/or publishers.

I do wish the Author’s Guild would be less reactive all the time and look for some creative way for authors and publishers to capitalize on something like this, e.g. a small royalty fee paid to the author (or most likely the publisher) each time a book is scanned. It would be interesting to see data on just how often a particular non-ebook title is actually scanned.

Eric Welch August 23, 2012 um 3:15 pm

P.S. I thought I would try it out and sent 3 books with a total of 1800 pages (all OP history books that had been damaged) and with the options added (OCR and Title) the total cost was $54, hardly $1 per book, but worth it for me.

1DollarScan August 23, 2012 um 4:05 pm

Hi Gary,

Thanks for sharing your comment. We realize that you said 'theory' and that you were not claiming to know our practices, but I do want to clarify something.

In all honesty, we scan each and every book. If a customer sends two books with the same title, we scan both books. You are absolutely right about the ink mark suggestions as you said. If you were to make certain marks on specific pages, we probably wouldn’t notice, but you would get that exact paper book scanned, this is our regular practice. Anyone can try this, they will get the scanned version of the exact book that they sent. Thanks.

Gary August 24, 2012 um 8:46 am

Thank you for the first hand information. Obviously, I was wrong.

Legal Minimum August 24, 2012 um 1:16 pm

I’m not 1DollarScan’s lawyer obviously but based on cases like Cablevision doing single scans would be the right response. This looks to me like the book equivalent of time-shifting. If you make a copy at the specific request of a customer and it’s only one copy and the original is never reused, that might pass copyright muster.,48&case=13763893657469687275&scilh=0

Tony Hursh August 23, 2012 um 4:34 pm

I’m trying to think of the last time the Authors Guild has been on the right side of ANY issue.

Nope, can’t think of one.

Nate Hoffelder August 23, 2012 um 5:07 pm

They were in favor of the switch from scrolls to codex (the modern book), but even that was a close call.

Karl August 24, 2012 um 9:54 am

I make a (meager) living through writing, and I’m with you: I’ve never heard of a single position the Author’s Guild has taken that I agree with.

I think they must open all their meetings with this song:

William Jay August 24, 2012 um 7:25 am

I can see one drawback with this so far as book authors/publishers are concerned, though it would make the likes of me quite happy. I find my preferences are slowly but surely moving over to ebook reading using both a Kindle DX and a Sony PRS-T1. I mainly buy my ebooks from Amazon UK. The very big drawback in buying some ebooks is the exorbitant price charged as compared to a brand new paperback copy and definitely when compared to a used paperback.
For example, I have a book in my "wish list" and the various prices are as follows:
Paperback new (Amazon) = £11.99
Paperback new (Marketplace seller) = £7.57
Paperback used (Marketplace seller) = £2.81
Kindle edition = £9.95
(Prices include P&P where necessary.)
Now, it would be a no-brainer to buy the used paperback, pay a dollar, then have a copy I can read on my Kindle or Sony.

(And thanks Nate for your great daily email. My morning coffee has definitely improved since subscribing.)

Eric Welch August 24, 2012 um 9:42 am

As you’ll note from my experience above, it’s not that cheap or simple. Assuming your paperback was 300 pages long, that would be "3 sets" or $3 plus another $1 per set for OCR making the book searchable, and another $1 per set for "title" making $9.00 for the scan and then you have to pay for shipping to Jan Jose, CA making the Kindle price very competitive and instantaneous rather than waiting. I agree that ebook prices are too high, but 1dollarscan won’t make them any cheaper. On the other hand, it’s a great service for OP books or books for which there is no ebook available.

1DollarScan August 24, 2012 um 9:59 am

Hi Guys,

I understand what you are mentioning here. There is however a Platinum Membership that allows 100 sets per month for $99.99 (it includes OCR, Book Title, and a few other things) It’s a monthly membership and has no time minimum other than the 1 month. So that is an option as well.

Eric Welch August 24, 2012 um 2:32 pm

Thanks, I should have mentioned that. It does bring the price down but still not to the point where people will rush off and buy used copies of books to scan and compete with already published ebooks especially since shipping is a factor. It’s a great service for titles that have no ebook equivalent.

P.S. Is it too late to switch an existing order to the monthly? 🙂

1DollarScan August 25, 2012 um 1:53 pm

Send us an email at [email protected] and I’m sure we can work something out for you. Thank you for your comments.

Geoffrey Kidd August 27, 2012 um 2:32 pm

I tried the service out and was delighted. Honking big books converted to PDFs. However, when they went "all monthly subscription" only, I had to stop, since my scan load isn’t enough to justify the charge.

As for the Author’s Guild, 1dollarscan doesn’t do anything I haven’t done for myself at home. Are they going to confiscate everybody’s scanners?

Emily September 11, 2012 um 6:04 pm



Krys April 18, 2013 um 8:59 pm

It is an awesome option for someone like me that has several older books that won’t go digital no matter HOW often I request to the publisher. I’m a minimalist, and I travel often, e-books have been a wallet-saver since they came out–no more late fees, rushing to libraries, buying a book only to sell it back in a week, etc.

Their prices, if you want high-quality scans, are comparable to e-books on amazon. $1 a set for a book (fiction novels average 500 pages) + $2 for OCR and high quality scanning option = $15 right there for a book, so if it is digital is not at all cheaper. A subscription is great if you’re expelling all of your books at once and they come out to around the price (but still.. 100 sets, if you use them all, is still $1 a set, so you’re really only getting OCR for free. It’d be a better deal if they included the high quality scanning option) but even so, that’s still not as cheap as a digital version, high quality, that already exists.

But, I’m still a fan of the service because it’s created a bridge between digital books and those publishers that are not offering digital versions yet. Now, I don’t have to wait for a book to become available in digital format, and I can get rid of a stack of them that’s been in storage unused because of my travel habits.

dmc October 4, 2013 um 2:12 pm

They are scanning at 300dpi.

I downloaded their sample pdf and did some preflight checking in Acrobat to find out that they are using resolutions of 1735X2683 on 5.783″ X 8.943″ pages, giving it a dpi of 300.

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