Of (P)Interest

Those following Pinterest — whether from inside as an active user, or outside via press – will no doubt be aware of its growing reputation as one of the largest generators of orphaned works outside of Google. The overall growth of the social media site is staggering, and for good reason. It’s extremely simple to use, with great design, and exploits successful aspects of Facebook’s media sharing features and Fickr, among other photo sharing sites. Pinterest’s exploitation doesn’t stop at good design and execution, however.


Any current (and historical) successful social media destination gained their success on the backs of good content. In order to pull in a crowd, you require compelling and familiar content. Youtube scaled their business on the backs of the entertainment industry, just as Napster scaled theirs on the music industry. While both of these examples are very different in models and outcome, both had leveraged the DMCA’s safe harbor and both have leaned heavily on the base proposition of an individual user publishing protected content to a wide audience via a third party platform.


With Pinterest, this is a shared supposition with prior successful models, but the map of content infringement unfurls much wider beyond a single industry that controls publishing rights:


  • Pinterest makes no attempt to properly link an image to its source.  This is the primary issue with Pinterest’s impact to orphaned works. Pinterest already generates more referral traffic to the blogosphere than Twitter. Generally, the blogosphere is a minefield of stolen imagery with little to no attribution. This severely impacts the ability of content owners to monetize works, when base attribution and linking becomes moot.


  • Pinterest scrubs embedded/exif metadata from images on their platform. In random testing I performed, I pulled both images from Pinterest and the same image from the linked to site (by following Pinterest’s link back to the site of ‘origin’) and found that the embedded data from the site of origin had been scrubbed by Pinterest. The exif data was null, so Pinterest had not re-embedded their own metadata, but nonetheless it entirely removed any embedded metadata.


  • Pinterest generates affiliate ad sales (opaquely). Any high traffic volume destination will seek to leverage affiliate ad revenue, but Pinterest inserts itself into an existing equation by imposing its own affiliate links behind product pins, essentially swapping affiliate links, so that Pinterest generates affiliate ad money other than the site of origin.


  • Pinterest’s terms and conditions are draconian. Broad rights to anything uploaded onto Pinterest are asserted in Pinterest’s favor, including a “worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free license, with the right to sublicense, to use, copy, adapt, modify, distribute, license, sell, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, stream, broadcast, access, view, and otherwise exploit [content]”. A Pinterest user also acknowledges that they are the copyright owner of any image uploaded to the site, which exposes the user to liability while protecting Pinterest. Obviously, the gap (chasm?) in practice and theory is wide. Pinterest makes it extremely easy to pin anything found on the web, but uploading your own imagery to the site is, comparatively, quite onerous. (This asymmetry is also found within the efficacy in take down notifications/posting images across all ISPs.)

With the entrance of Pinterest, the front for the war in piracy has just now extended many miles in both directions. ISPs and social sites that build their business on the backs of copyright holders without any attempt to share in revenue (whether affiliate, licensing, or otherwise) directly challenges the freedom for rights holders to monetize their works. Businesses like Pinterest are singing an old song out of the DMCA songbook, but when exploitation of copyrighted works is easier than pursuing revenue models that help preserve and accelerate creative works, why change the tune?

And to extend the music analogy, what new songs are there to be sung that ensures mutual benefit between rights owners and content publishers like Pinterest? Suing infringers is not a model that can be scaled, nor is it entirely effective in changing behaviors, but the lack of effective regulation around piracy doesn’t leave much incentive for businesses that exploit content to change their paths and it leaves rights owners with little recourse. How about establishing a shared revenue pool generated from ad revenue, in exchange for the rights to publish content on their platform? What of sharing in commercial infringement revenue that Pinterest helps indentify? And to extend a music analogy further, who is going to build the ASCAP and BMI for visual artists/rights holders, so that we can have a sustainable ecosystem?

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