For the half-year to 30 June 2014, the IPKat's regular team is supplemented by contributions from guest bloggers Alberto Bellan, Darren Meale and Nadia Zegze.

Two of our regular Kats are currently on blogging sabbaticals. They are David Brophy and Catherine Lee.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

A Thought for Thursday: Crowdsourcing

Late September marks the start of a new academic year, and so idle moments are currently something of a rarity for this particular Kat. However, in a ‘slightly less busy than other moments’ moment, he did stumble across an intriguing news item from the BBC that he thought he would share with his readers.

The story, entitled “Crowdsourcing: Turning customers into creative directors”, details the novel approach to the furniture business that has been adopted by Made.com, an online-only furniture retailer whose product designs are provided by the public.

The BBC explains:

"Visitors to the website are encouraged to submit their designs. The best of these are worked up into prototypes, and posted on the website. Registered members of the Made.com community vote. The most popular pieces are then available for pre-order - made in China, shipped by container and delivered directly to buyers from the port."

It continues, noting that:

"The designers are paid nothing upfront - but receive 5% royalties on successful designs".

The article also considers the crowdsourcing efforts of Threadless, a t-shirt design company that operates along the same broad lines, and Fluevog, operator of an "open source footwear website" where, you’ve guessed it, visitors upload shoe designs for the community to vote on (the BBC notes that “Winning shoes are named after their creator, who also receives a free pair”).

The IPKat has a number of questions relating to this practice - not least: what about the rights? As far as he can see (admittedly it was a brief perusal), the only statement on the Made.com website (he’s not been sufficiently 'less busy' to have checked the others) that even vaguely acknowledges the existence of IP rights is the following:

"We are the owner or the licensee of all intellectual property rights in our website, and, save for our users content (where we are licensee), in the material published on it."

This seems unsatisfactory on a number of fronts - what happens to the business, for example, in the event that the licensor gets a better offer elsewhere? Moreover, what of the potential liabilities involved with accepting designs from the Crowd and then making (albeit abroad), importing, and selling articles made to those designs?

The BBC takes a slightly different angle in its analysis, quoting the views of Jaron Lanier, “a US computer scientist … and virtual reality pioneer”, who is reported as being concerned that: "by "mining" the crowd in this way, the wealth that results from the work done remains concentrated in the hands of the people who put out the call - ultimately endangering jobs and the economy." He also apparently believes that “crowdsourcing threatens creativity" [quite how is never really explained].

So what do our readers think? Is crowdsourcing viable?

The rise of crowdsourcing here

Crowdsurfing here

5 comments:

AJ said...

... and liabilities around submitted designs that infringe 3rd party existing reg / unreg designs. As business model needs some more consideration of IP management, but nothing that seems to make in inherently non viable.

Aaron said...

Absolutely.. it is used on zazzle.com, too. The designer may not be in a position to manufacture themselves, and the system is very simple. I wonder how long it will be before a designer will do well and then branch out or be employed by a large firm, having used what are in effect UGC sites to create a virtual portfolio.

As for ownership, I think it does depend on the site. There are obvious issues around infringement and ownership, so I would expect ownership to be retained by the designer but contractual rights to be granted so that the site can play both horses - they get cash, but also avoid liability.

Gavin Ward said...

If that is their IP policy / terms and conditions, they will be in for a tough time in court in years to come.

I disagree with crowdsourcing threatening creativity. Indeed, I think it embraces creativity, just not in the best possible way.

Anonymous said...

Crowd sourced t-shirts? Old news. They're now even crowdsourcing cars...

http://www.local-motors.com/howItWorks.php

philip.eagle said...

I suspect that the remark about crowdsourcing threatening creativity is because of fears about the availability of free contributions from enthusiastic amateurs destroying the market for material created by people who are paid to do so.

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