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Publishing platform Tumblr's twenty-something CEO is fast learning that running a fast-growing company can be a tough job.

Last month, after telling AdAge that an advertising business model would be a "a complete last resort", David Karp, perhaps pressured by investors, announced that his company would begin selling ads.

That could be good news as the company begins to monetize its impressive audience, but keeping some of the money it earns might be difficult if adult publisher Perfect 10 has its way.

The company, which made a name for itself in the tech community by engaging in a high-profile battle with Google over the use of thumbnails of its photographs in the search engine's index, filed a lawsuit against Tumblr on Friday alleging copyright infringment.

According to Perfect 10, the company ignored its DMCA requests to remove user-posted photographs Perfect 10 claims are its property. paidContent quotes Perfect 10 CEO Norm Zada as suggesting that Tumblr is essentially asleep at wheel.

I’m not sure anyone’s checking that email. Twenty-five other Internet Service Providers have taken down material that Perfect 10 has identified in our DMCA notices, Tumblr did not.

As paidContent's Jeff John Roberts notes, Perfect 10's lawsuit against Tumblr could be an interesting one. While copyright infringement lawsuits are nothing new (just look at Viacom's landmark YouTube lawsuit which continues to drag on), the action here is one of the first targeting the latest generation of image-centric services, which include Tumblr and Pinterest.

Tumblr's defense will almost certainly be that it's protected under the DMCA, and we do know that it has responded to trademark infringement requests in the past, albeit in a fashion that may have been too generous to the trademark holder in question.

But Perfect 10 isn't just claiming that Tumblr has failed to adequately deal with its takedown notices, it's arguing that Tumblr employees actually posted Perfect 10 content themselves "to help start the business." If Perfect 10 is able to prove this claim, Tumblr could lose the protections the DMCA affords service providers.

Obviously, it's far too early to jump to conclusions, and you can be sure that Tumblr's side of the story will differ from Perfect 10's. But this lawsuit is a good reminder that contentious, long-standing issues around copyright infringement still remain, and some of the original players in bringing them to the forefront are still as willing as ever to take action when they think they've been wronged.

There are no easy answers here, but savvy startups will probably decide that a proactive stance is appropriate. Case in point: Pinterest, which has come under scrutiny itself, is attempting to address legal concerns in a fashion that doesn't completely destroy its service. Whether that works or not only time will tell, and Perfect 10's Tumblr lawsuit could have a big impact on some of today's hottest startups if the matter isn't settled amicably.

Patricio Robles

Published 7 May, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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