Kamis, 14 Agustus 2008

Microsoft Mis-Steps on Intellectual Property

A contest that was purported to highlight Britain through "recommending" images that are not your own has turned into a black eye for the good folks at Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT). In reality, the program was really designed to get people familiar with Microsoft's "Live Search" functionality. I say "good folks" because they've been working hard to improve their positive visibility in the past few years, with the Microsoft Pro Photo Summit, Microsoft Icons of Imaging, http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifpaying photographers more reasonable fees for licensing of images for Vista, and their soon-to-be-released PhotoSynth promises to redefine the landscape of photography - literally. Yet, the Microsoft's Iconic Britain has raised the ire of the usually free-wheeling rights-easy folks in Flickr forums (see here), so much so that Nikon UK took the unusual step of releasing the following statement:
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"Nikon UK would like to confirm that it has formally withdrawn its support from Microsoft's Iconic Britain competition. This is due to the feedback and concerns raised by photographers and entrants surrounding the competition mechanic that was developed and promoted by Microsoft. As the camera prizes that were on offer have already been won, Nikon will fulfiLl its commitment to these winners, however it will not be associated with the competition going forward."
What's wrong with the competition? The action of submitting someone elses' image - however complimentary - is an infringement. It is the unauthorized distribution/transfer of one persons' images without their permission. Further, the winners of the competition are those that submitted the images - they get something for the quality of someone elses' work. How does this work?

Well, if you have pages and pages and pages of amazing images, and you have sponsor logos and promotional materials adjacent to these images - the sponsors gain the benefit of association, the pageviews and click-throughs that accompany them, and so forth. The unwitting "entrants" have, in most cases, no idea that their work has been submitted to a contest. Imagine that they have this great image on display on their website, and decided to submit that image to a contest that had as it's requirement that it either had not been in another contest, had not been published previously? These are just a few of the potential problems associated with this contest.

Nikon makes a point in their retraction from the contest "moving forward", that the contest award winners have already won the cameras, but I expect that this contest will be a one-time thing for Microsoft, given the negative attention it has garnered. CNET does a great job here of dissecting the language from Microsoft and Nikon UK, where they're trying to dance around how they're going to wrap up this contest. What is troubling to me, but wasn't highlighted by CNET, "the competition's final stage -- planned but as yet without a date -- would feature photographs for which Microsoft is "currently obtaining the copyrights"." CNET parses everything else, but not the point where Microsoft is trying to obtain "copyrights". Folks - that's a quoted word - "copyrights". Not "currently obtaining the rights..."

Kudos to the Pro Imaging website for their efforts on this.

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