As Pinterest Popularity Explodes, Site Cleverly Dodges Copyright-Hawks
February 21, 2012

As Pinterest Popularity Explodes, Site Cleverly Dodges Copyright-Hawks

Jedidiah Becker for RedOrbit

Racking up somewhere between 10 and 13 million new users in just 10 months, the online pinboard Pinterest has taken the world of social media by storm. Yet wary of seeing its dazzling success curbed by legal controversy, the California-based startup is already taking preemptive measures to avoid entanglement in potential copyright controversies.

Adding some 11 million unique visitors in January alone to its statistics – up from an already impressive 4.9 million in November – Pinterest´s most recent surge in popularity has largely been a result of its integration with Facebook´s Open Graph early last month.

Launched in April 2010, the Facebook platform gives independent websites a new set of programming tools for more closely integrating their pages into the world´s most popular social network.

And the popular pinboard´s move has been rewarded with even more explosive growth. Since adopting the Open Graph platform, Pinterest has seen its day-over-day visits increase at a stunning rate of 60%.

Yet, as is to be expected under the current IP paradigm, Pinterest´s stunning success has also placed it squarely in the crosshairs of a number of trigger-happy copyright hounds.

Emerging in the wake of Pinterest´s prodigious popularity is a predictable chorus of peeved web publishers crying “foul” and alleging that the digital pinboard has made itself a facilitator of mass copyright infringement.

While the website urges its users to follow “Pinterest Etiquette” – which includes crediting all original sources – and specifically addresses issues of copyright infringement in its Terms of Service, it concedes that it does not enforce these policies. To monitor and cross-check all user content would be a herculean endeavor that would likely require a prohibitive amount of resources.

As a result, the popular social media blogger Josh Davis at has noted that roughly 99% of Pinterest users´ pins violate the company´s Terms of Service, which require that users either be the exclusive owner of pinned content or that they have explicit permission to re-publish it.

In turn, the allegations have also sparked a growing host of news sites to question the legal legitimacy and long-term viability of Pinterest´s model.

Throwing a proverbial bone to the websites antagonists, Pinterest co-founder Ben Silberman wrote in a blog post on Monday that: “We care about respecting the rights of copyright holders. We work hard to follow the DMCA procedure for acting quickly when we receive notices of claimed copyright infringement.”

“We understand and respect that sometimes site owners do not want any of their material pinned.”

Well aware that conciliatory words are not likely to stymie legal retaliation from aggrieved copyright holders, Pinterest has taken matters into its own hands.

In a bid to nip copyright concerns in the bud, the popular site is now offering its potential plaintiffs a way to take charge of enforcing their copyright claims.

Using a so-called ℠metatag´ function, Pinterest has adroitly shifted the responsibility for enforcing digital piracy to the owners of copyright-holding websites.

According to Pinterest, websites concerned about users infringing their copyrights can now simply add this code to the head of their webpages:

< meta name=“pinterest” content=“nopin” / >

Any user who then attempts to pin content from a pin-protected website will get the following message: “This site doesn´t allow pinning to Pinterest. Please contact the owner with any questions. Thanks for visiting!”

Following an interview with Pinterest´s Silberman in his February 19 blog post, Davis noted of the new Pinterest opt-out option that: “This code still doesn´t prevent users from downloading copies of images and then uploading them “¦ [or] from pinning images that were stolen and published on another site. That said, it is a good first step.”

Bada-bing! Problem solved, right?

Even if Pinterest´s new pin-blocking code were iron-clad to unwanted pinning, it remains unclear exactly what the logic is behind the cost-benefit analysis of web publishers who opt to armor their site´s content against ℠pirate´ pinning. After all, as hundreds of lucky websites have already discovered, being cross-linked on the hot digital pinboard can generate a tremendous amount of new traffic for their own sites.

And turning the issue 180 degrees to view it from the perspective of the consumer sheds light on another potential risk for dogmatic copyright holders. You don´t have to a Zuckerberg to realize that many of today´s copy-and-paste-loving, SOPA-opposing web users would be more than a little piqued at having their perceived web-freedom thus curtailed, likely leading them to simply avoid visiting such sites, preferring instead the pages of publishers who are savvy enough to see the benefits of ditching archaic copyright laws and embracing the New Web Order.

But if owners of original content want to shoot themselves in the collective foot...well, I suppose that´s their ℠right´.


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