Collection Society for Passive Use of Visual Media (part 2)

The previous post defined passive use of content – how users of primarily social domains, or domains where content is shared across a community, engage with content, and how this fundamentally differs from how the same content is used/licensed for an explicit purpose.

The widespread consumption of visual media across these web properties drives significant traffic and valuation, with no real way for rights holders to be part of that valuation. If a collection society was able to distribute royalties across a broad constituency of rights holders, how might that work? Where would the revenue come from?

Some leaders within the visual media licensing industry are seeking their own solutions around monetizing their images on social domains. The most-simple method seeks to offer a web display license, whereby the host and its users are allowed to post any content in a non-commercial way within the site platform. Image tracking technology crawls the site periodically and reports back specific usage details, which then is tallied up and integrated into the overall license fee structure.

The incentive for a host to use this type of license is a veiled threat by the rights holder: agree to this license or we’ll come after you for copyright infringement. While all current hosts are protected under (and in turn greatly exploit the loopholes of) the safe harbor of the DMCA, there’s little enticement to change current business practices. Why buy the cow when the milk is free?

Another lacking incentive is pure scale and volume. For hosts (like Pinterest) that have millions if not billions of shared imagery, one rights holder might make up a fraction of a percent of overall inventory at any given time. Even being pushed to take down that content wouldn’t disrupt user engagement – something that isn’t even a realistic solution given the frequency of content entering onto the hosts’ domain.

The only way for rights holders to gain a foothold onto any successful model is by greatly increasing the scale of content (by collectivizing across other rights holder groups) and creating new revenue opportunities off of the backs of their content (by allowing relevant advertising to be filtered against their content).

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