Heller and PicScout Part Ways Amid Orphan Works Controversy

Posted on 5/29/2009 by Julia Dudnik Stern | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Last week, image-tracking company PicScout announced the appointment of industry analyst Dan Heller as vice president of marketing. The relationship did not last. On Thursday, PicScout chief executive officer Offir Gutelzon said “the fit just isn’t right” in a short update posted in the press releases section of the company’s Web site.

In elaborating on his departure on the PicScout blog, Heller attributed the split to day-to-day logistics, particularly different time zones, and said that the relationship will now return to the contractual consulting arrangement with which it began.

The blog post also assured readers that Heller’s departure is entirely unrelated to a controversial post on the same blog the day before. In his first writing as the PicScout vice president of marketing, Heller announced PiScout’s participation in the June 5 CEPIC “Orphan Works in Practice” panel—and expressed some rather unpopular opinions about the proposed U.S. orphan works legislation.

These opinions themselves are not new; Heller has previously written much about the now-stalled but inevitable bill on his own blog. Those that have the patience to labor through his extraordinarily thorough and thus lengthy treatises will find his analysis of the Orphan Works Act—and countless other business issues—to be more logical, impartial and considered than many other would-be-expert opinions found on the Web.

However, Heller clearly did not consider the difference between publicly expressing his views as an independent analyst or as a representative of a company whose livelihood is entirely dependent on a relatively small group of people. As a case in point, referring to those who vehemently oppose the Act as “fear mongers” was not a particularly good idea.

Naturally, the PicScout blog was littered with unfavorable comments. Some called Heller irresponsible, while others objected to alleged inaccuracies of his analysis. The rebuttal of prominent industry analyst, photographer and prolific blogger John Harrington ran under the headline “PicScout – Delusions of Grandeur?” Surely, PicScout management was thrilled.

Now, Heller is backtracking. While he stands by his analysis, he stresses that “the Orphan Works Act is not relevant to PicScout.” And that is just not true, for two obvious reasons. First, anything that has the potential to significantly affect the image industry is highly relevant to PicScout, especially when it is an issue that has elicited such vehement reactions. Second, PicScout’s newest, soon-to-fully-launch product is the Image Registry, billed as “the simple way to identify an image copyright owner.” It is hardly a coincidence that this product is coming to market now, amid orphan works-related debate and looming legislation.

From these events, a skeptic might infer that the near-immediate annulment of the Heller-PicScout marriage had less to do with logistics than with the new executive’s inability to fittingly represent his employer’s best interests, a critical shortcoming for a senior marketing executive. At the macro level, the relatively inconsequential public-relations faux pas should also serve as a reminder that even the most intelligent and seasoned should carefully consider the consequences of their words and actions—particularly online, where information spreads like wildfire and negative commentary almost always outweighs positive.

Copyright © 2009 Julia Dudnik Stern. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz


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