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

A Thought for Thursday: Crowdsourcing A Thought for Thursday: Crowdsourcing Reviewed by Matt on Thursday, September 30, 2010 Rating: 5


  1. ... 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

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


  5. 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.


All comments must be moderated by a member of the IPKat team before they appear on the blog. Comments will not be allowed if the contravene the IPKat policy that readers' comments should not be obscene or defamatory; they should not consist of ad hominem attacks on members of the blog team or other comment-posters and they should make a constructive contribution to the discussion of the post on which they purport to comment.

It is also the IPKat policy that comments should not be made completely anonymously, and users should use a consistent name or pseudonym (which should not itself be defamatory or obscene, or that of another real person), either in the "identity" field, or at the beginning of the comment. Current practice is to, however, allow a limited number of comments that contravene this policy, provided that the comment has a high degree of relevance and the comment chain does not become too difficult to follow.

Learn more here: http://ipkitten.blogspot.com/p/want-to-complain.html

Powered by Blogger.