Starving The Golden Goose

The new revolution in apps and social media continues at a stunning rate. Nearly every day a colleague tells me of another app or site that is bubbling up and about to hit the big time. Many will not break through, but some will capture the imagination and become the next generation of YouTube and Facebook.

The behaviour of certain apps/sites, however, gives me some cause for concern. As a recent entrant to Pinterest, I was alarmed to note that the site takes a copy of the pinned image and serves that from its own servers. The burden of managing copyright issues seems to sit firmly with the users, most of whom never give such legislation a second thought. There is a method for removing content however, unsurprisingly, it’s not half as simple as pinning new content.  Pinterest’s terms and conditions are also interesting, giving it “irrevocable, perpetual, royalty-free” permission to “exploit” member content.

The Pinterest site is building its value on other people’s content — which is fine as long as those people have consented.  I recently looked at some interesting Infographics pinned on the site, all of which must have taken considerable resources to put together, yet I never once needed to visit the source site, which may have perhaps triggered advertising income vital to enabling them to continue their work. I wonder if they even realize their content is available in this way?  

The same could be said of other aggregator tools such as Zite or Pulse. These present news content from other sources in a very slick manner, but actually remove the need to visit the source page. If these tools hit critical mass — and why wouldn’t they? — then the content creator may only see a few hits on their page while the news aggregator services push the content to hundreds of millions. How long could a content creator exist in that environment, starved of advertising revenue, before they decide to step behind a paywall, the kiss of death for much Internet content?

Is this practice not starving the golden goose that provides the content these services rely on? Is it still ethically acceptable to apologize after the fact rather than ask permission beforehand, perpetuating the myth that all Internet content is free? And should new application creators take on responsibility for these issues themselves rather than palming it off onto their users, who have shown a remarkable indifference in the past?