Millionaire hits out at internet copyright abuse

23 Apr 2007

Stockbyte founder Jerry Kennelly, who sold his company to Getty Images for US$135m last year, has hit out at what he believes is a worrying trend whereby social networking companies are profiting from advertising on the back of users uploading stolen content such as movies, songs, music videos and TV shows.

In an interview with Kennelly said the current trend that sees users uploading videos and other copyrighted content on to websites that in turn make significant advertising revenues due to the large volumes of traffic is inherently wrong.

“There is no doubt that the social networking trend is changing everything. However, I find it shocking that Google would pay €1.65bn for YouTube and a lot of the value is being driven by stolen content. This is something that needs to be fixed big time.”

Last year Kennelly sold Stockbyte, the company he founded in Tralee in 1996, to Getty Images in a US$135m (€110m) deal. The stock images company the former photographer had founded had grown to have an estimated 10pc share of a €500m market and had a turnover of €50m.

As someone who built up a business based on original copyrighted work that was sold to publications and advertising agencies on the basis of the companies acquiring unlimited usage rights for a once-off payment, Kennelly admits to being annoyed by the current web trend.

“Content being created has a value and if large corporations are going to be allowed to derive revenue in a cavalier fashion, there is major trouble down the line for anyone who creates and owns their own content.

“It is the opposite of fair trading and is totally disruptive. There has to be something that can be done if third parties come along, use your content and sell advertising because of the traffic it draws to their website. That is wrong in my view.”

He continued: “A friend of mine emailed me a link to the clip of George Hook’s appearance on Naked Camera and I found most of the series up on YouTube. I don’t know if this is inconsequential to RTE or not but here are copyrights being stolen. I think that is outrageous,” Kennelly said.

Kennelly, who is speaking at a Trade and Innovation Conference in DCU this week, started Stockbyte after a 15-year career as a photojournalist. “What we managed to do was, in a positive way, to commoditise photography. Now it is possible to get access to better standard of photography in a heartbeat.

“A lot more people around the world are able to access high quality photography. The work has seen millions of uses from the covers of Time and Newsweek to billboards in Times Square and on the Metro in Paris.

“Most of these photographs would be the result of really well planned photo-shoots involving models, photographers and stylists and sometimes it resembled a movie production. Each shoot would involve contractual arrangements as large agencies like Saatchi & Saatchi could not close a campaign unless models’ contracts were signed.

“To get images out into the world meant producing tens of thousands of contracts,” Kennelly said, arguing that for other forms of intellectual property be it films, movies or software, the copyright of creators must be respected if they are to make a living.

He uses the analogy of Stockbyte’s success as a way of explaining that social networks host content can still make the right choices and respect creators’ copyright.

“The reason why Stockbyte was a success was I understood how to create high quality digital imagery and in 1996 when CDs were the principal way of getting images to people I created a delivery mechanism for 650MB of stock photos. As a businessman I found a way of turning a piece of plastic worth €5 and convert that into €500 worth of revenue,” Kennelly said.

By John Kennedy