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A Creative Lesson in Bad PR

Since last weekend, Creative Labs has been dealing with a PR nightmare over its reaction to daniel_k, a programmer who was providing modified sound card drivers that resolved Windows Vista compatibility issues for some products.  The Consumerist, has the complete story.

Here, as was the case with Scrabulous, was an excellent opportunity for a company to really shine.  Instead, they reacted like many companies with heavy investment in Intellectual Property and went straight to the dual guns of infringement and takedown.

By enabling our technology and IP to run on sound cards for which it was not originally offered or intended, you are in effect, stealing our goods.  When you solicit donations for providing packages like this, you are profiting from something that you do not own.  If we choose to develop and provide host-based processing features with certain sound cards and not others, that is a business decision that only we have the right to make.

Often, we in the IP business fall back on old ways of doing business - ways that may not allow us to be as successful in the new economy as we were in the old.  IANAL, and I am not saying Creative was not within their rights in doing what they did.  But that’s not really the point at all.  There are several lessons in this, and here are a few of my thoughts as to how Creative might have handled this differently:

  1. Public discussion forums are probably not the best place to post C&D notices.  Contacting daniel_k directly would have been my first choice.
  2. Chalking up not giving customers what they are asking for to a business decision is well, a bad business decision.  Are customers always right?  No, but in this case it seems like there was an overwhelming outcry to this incident.
  3. Beating up your biggest fans is not going to win you new fans.  daniel_k is obviously a huge supporter of Creative products.  He must own them, and to put in his own time and effort to contribute to the Creative community takes the kind of effort that only the most hardcore of fans would be willing to put forth.
  4. Why not contact daniel_k directly (see item #1) and collaborate with him to make his driver releases at least unofficial and unsupported?  Creative looks like a hero for finally getting Vista drivers to market, and scores points for “getting it.”  If it was just a matter of the little (optional) donation button daniel_k had on his site, that seems like an easy thing to solve in a phone call or an email.

The rules are different now.  If not, we must at least acknowledge that they are changing.  I think Consumerist summed it up nicely:

Rule of thumb for bad news in the mainstream media: release it Friday so it’s buried over the weekend. Rule of thumb for the web: don’t infuriate thousands of your customers right before you decide to tune out for 48 hours.

  • Rick Melbourne

    I agree, not the best approach. At the same time, Creative seems to be in a catch 22 with their IP and those of others when someone is distributing it freely and asking for donations. As for their customers, I’d be ashamed of myself given the mob scene rampage they have conducted. Many are real low lifes, posting threats at company officials, threats to anyone who shows a balanced point of view, using vulgar language and posting disgusting pictures on Creative’s forums and other forums on the web. A really sad commentary on “Internet Democracy” all around.

  • http://www.ckwebb.com Chris

    Rick,

    Can’t disagree with you, and I was not trying to excuse the behavior of some of Creative’s customers postings.

    I also agree with your point about daniel_k’s donations, but that seems a really minor point to me. A different company might have done some of the things I suggested and avoided the storm this created.