Sony Ericsson gets drunk on the web 2.0 cool aid after everybody else has left the party

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Can good old fashioned User-Generated Content help shift handsets? Sony Ericsson apparently thinks so.

The handset maker has announced a new web service called Creations, its “vision for the future of mobile entertainment”, based on something the company is calling ‘co-creation’.

Basically, it’s a content sharing site – sorry, a “movement” (I kid you not) – in which users can upload, “remix” and publish content to and from their mobile phones and the desktop, all distributed under a Creative Commons license.

It’s an idea that might have seemed credible a few years ago but in 2010 it appears as if Sony Ericsson has got a little too drunk on the web 2.0 cool aid after just about everybody else has left the party. Either that or the company’s leadership have turned to the scriptures of Lawrence Lessig in the hope of clawing back marketshare.

It’s also eerily reminiscent of aspects of MOSH, rival handset maker Nokia’s own attempt to jump on the UGC bandwagon. Which is quite apt since Sony Ericsson is at least eating its own dog food by re-mixing an old idea. And while the two aren’t exactly the same – MOSH enabled applications as well as multimedia content to be shared and emphasised crowd-sourcing over remixing – the free-for-all nature of Creations will likely see it face many of the same challenges that eventually led to MOSH being deadpooled.

First up is the thorny issue of copyright infringement. For the most part, users of Creations will be asked to police themselves by agreeing to the site’s terms and conditions which include not using material for which they don’t hold rights. That’s fine and dandy in theory but we all know how it works out in practice. Worst still, since all content uploaded is then distributed under a Creative Commons Share-alike license, examples of copyright infringement will inevitably be duplicated.

Sony Ericsson will of course implement a DMCA-type take down notice system in which copyright holders can request that content be removed but this cat-and-mouse game doesn’t guarantee service providers stay out of the courts or aren’t threatened by legal action. Just ask Nokia.

MOSH was heavily criticised by Warner Music for being a hotbed of piracy, straining relations between the two companies. And just last week, video sharing site Veoh entered the deadpool after being crippled by a lengthy law suit filed by UMG.

Creations will initially focus content on mobile phone wallpapers and themes, with ringtones reportedly up next. Three ingredients perfectly suited to copyright infringement.

Then there’s the issue of revenue. While tight integration with Creations could, arguably, add value to Sony Ericsson handsets in the eyes of consumers, there’s unlikely to be much revenue generated from the service through selling advertising. UGC is by far the hardest type of content to sell ads against, especially in a free-for-all scenario. Just ask YouTube, which over the years has been steadily moving towards more professionally-produced content.

And that leads us to third-party developers, which Sony Ericsson hopes will write apps that support Creations. Why would they bother? Without an obvious way to monetize those apps and with Creations’ longevity – based on the track record of similar efforts – far from guaranteed, it’s hard to see how the developer community will be persuaded to jump on-board.

That said, I can’t entirely blame Sony Ericsson from trying something – anything – to distinguish itself from the wares of other handset makers. It doesn’t have a smartphone platform of its own, piggybacking Windows Mobile, Symbian and Android, and it’s so-far weak on the services side.

But in 2010 is UGC really the answer?

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