Scribd’s Bizarre "Anti-Plagiarism" Hack Changes Copy-Pasted Text to 104 Point Comic Sans
Motherboard points us to one of the strangest anti-copying measures I have ever seen.
Copy text from a document uploaded to Scribd, and when you paste the text it will come out as comic sans:
While reviewing a public legal document to prepare for a podcast covering Friday news dumps, I cut and pasted a couple of lines I wanted to paraphrase. The document had been uploaded to the digital document site Scribd. My on-screen text was normal size, but cutting and pasting into a text document changed the font and size to 104 Comic Sans MS in a text editor or 78 Comic Sans MS in a Word doc. (Try it yourself.)
A Scribd spokesperson reached via email said: “We’ve had many requests from our uploaders to make it more difficult for readers to copy and paste original content. These measures may appear differently, depending on the document and program you’re pasting into.” The reason? “To deter plagiarism.”
I reached out to Heavy.com news editor Tom Cleary, who’d downloaded the document in question from PACER, a service that provides public access to federal court documents, and uploaded it to be used in a colleague’s report on the ruling. Cleary said he didn’t take any special measures to make the document difficult to copy. “Since it’s a public court document I wasn’t concerned about [plagiarism],” he told me. He said he didn’t believe he’d changed any settings when uploading the document, and was unaware that cutting and pasting the document changed the font size. “We’re trying to give more people access to source documents when we upload them, not restrict it. So it wasn’t my intention to make it harder for people to quote from it or use it themselves,” he said.
There’s no way for the user who uploads the document to enable/disable this feature; it is entirely Scribd’s idea and and under Scribd’s control.
In the couple decades I have spent online I have encountered sites which added a source link to any copied text, disabled right-click, or blocked copying entirely. Sometimes the features are effective, but most of the time they are easy to bypass.
But this is the first time I have seen a site use a pointless measure like changing the font to comic sans. This is also the first time I have seen this kind of user-hostile feature imposed on users of a document hosting site without the users' permission.
As an anti-copying measure, this is so easy to thwart that it hardly counts as an effective measure. All you have to do is paste as text rather than formatted text and the weird font size goes away.
How many hours do you think were wasted on this?
image by jonrussell