The bane of innovators and most muddled aspect of technology for all, copyright infringement interrogations now land on the plate of those behind Pinterest. A popular social network allowing users to create and manage theme-based image collections, it’s become all the rage online with its general constituency, yet not as much with content owners who have been out of the loop as to the extent of the rights they signed over. Now forced to address the issue, Pinterest is giving content owners blocking power, but isn’t that just as good as DMCA safe harbors?

Backlash Over Copyright Clarity

Like the real world, it’s every man for himself in the digital diaspora, and Pinterest is no different. The network, created to be a virtual corkboard, encourages users to share a bunch of photos or ideas on a topic, along with other forms of media found across the web.The site quickly grew in popularity since its launch in 2009, and was even ranked one of 2011’s Best Websites by Time magazine.

In recent news and in a more vocal complaint by the Boston Business Journal, it appears the platform has also been a little sketchy when it comes to ownership of that media. Evidently, Pinterest covered its own tracks, but not everyone else’s. It’s in the fine print no one reads, but basically, if you upload an image to share on the board, you’re granting the network rights to sell or do whatever they want with that image, even if it’s not yours. Thus, if the content owners come looking for royalties, you’re on the line.

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Of course, this has begun to generate much public outcry. If Pinterest started the whole thing, logic would lead people to believe the company would be at fault for copyright infringement, not its more than 10 million users. Furthermore, why aren’t they linking to the originator’s work to circumvent such disputes?

Well, Pinterest is speaking out. In response to the discord, CEO Ben Silbermann told, the company will now offer a code so that publishers of original content can opt out of sharing their work on the social network. Users who try to pin from sites using the code will see a message telling them "This site doesn't allow pinning to Pinterest. Please contact the owner with any questions. Thanks for visiting!"

Additionally, the startup has revealed their business model to users, explaining potential monetization efforts, and placed a characters limit on the captions of pins.

Learning Opportunities

A Fancy Way of Doing Nothing?

At first thought, the code sounds like a viable option except that it doesn’t prevent users from downloading copies of images and then uploading them, nor does it stop users from pinning images that were stolen and published on another site. Even a not-so-sophisticated web pirate can find his a way around it.

Plus, like the DMCA, the burden mostly falls on the content owner to do additional work protecting its own product, rather than those wishing to borrow or benefit off it. The reasoning behind the policy, then, is escaping most of the public.

As user Sean Locke comments on ReadWriteWeb,

If Pinterest is wildly popular, as stated on the Pinterest blog, there should be no issue having sites opt in, instead of forcing them to opt out. A meta tag claiming “pin” instead of “nopin”, as well as the embedded “pin” button should be seen as implicit permission to copy. Why is the infringer being protected here, and not the creator? Also, how does this protect artists who showcase their work on sites they have no access to the backend? It doesn’t.

Sounds like the same gripe we’ve heard over and over again with sites like YouTube and GrooveShark. Regardless, Pinterest continues to be the buzz of the social media world, so if additional steps should be made, best to speak up now.