Pinterest has just hit its first major roadblock. On Friday, photo-sharing giant Flickr confirmed with VentureBeat that it has blocked Pinterest users from “pinning” copyrighted photos on its site to Pinterest. The blockage is achieved using a do-not pin code released by Pinterest last Monday after allegations that the popular startup promoted wide-spread copyright infringement.
According to a Flickr representative, “only content that is ‘safe,’ ‘public’ and has the sharing button enabled can be pinned to Pinterest.” All other content — that which is copyright protected and does not allow sharing — is officially un-pinable.
For those of you who haven’t yet been hit with Pinterest fever: Pinterest allows users to “pin” (i.e. repost) photos from around the Web to their Pinterest “boards” using a bookmarklet installed in their browser. Other users can then re-pin that content to their own boards. While some argue that this is tantamount to copyright infringement, some experts assert that Pinterest is within the bounds of fair use. By releasing the no-pinning code, which can be installed on any Website by an administrator, Pinterest is further protecting itself against those who do not want their content shared on the site.
Unfortunately, Pinterest’s Terms of Service contain a troubling passage that should give any user pause. It reads:
By making available any Member Content through the Site, Application or Services, you hereby grant to Cold Brew Labs [Pinterest's parent company] 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 such Member Content only on, through or by means of the Site, Application or Services.
In plain English, that means any content posted to Pinterest (and thus uploaded to the Pinterest servers — in full-resolution, no less) essentially becomes the property of Pinterest, and can be reused however Pinterest sees fit. If that leads to a copyright infringement lawsuit, it is the user who posted the content — not Pinterest — who holds ultimate responsibility in the eyes of the court.
That said, the release of the no-pin code is evidence that Pinterest is taking the complaints seriously. Unfortunately, there’s only so much copyright protection Pinterest can offer. For example, a determined user is persistent can still grab copyright-protected content from Flickr by taking a screen shot – a simple task on Macs and PCs — and uploading that file directly to Pinterest.
As we reported earlier, not all content owners mind having their content pinned. Still an invite-only social network, Pinterest has already become the one of the fastest growing sites on the Web, having reached the 10 million unique monthly visitor mark sooner than any other site in history, according to comScore. This offers artists, retailers, and other content owners a fruitful level of free advertising.
Regardless of the potential benefits of Pinterest, the fact remains that content owners have the right to not have their work redistributed without consent. Pinterest’s no-pin code is a step in the right direction, and Flickr’s use of it proves a need exists for such tools. It will be interesting to see who, if anyone, employs the code next. Pinterest’s future may depend on it.