What’s Really Behind The New Pinterest Attributions

Check out that awesome K icon! It’s attributable!

Friday is always an interesting day for news.  It’s the day you release a story that you’re pretty sure will have negative coverage (politics) or if you just aren’t sure how the media is going to treat it (everything else).  This is true for social media as well. We’ve seen privacy policies updated, major new features, or unpopular news announced on Fridays.  Even Pinterest released the last revision to their terms and services on a Friday–perhaps the email announcing the change had typos from the rush to get out the door on Friday.  Even in our world of 24/7 news and data, most people who do in-depth reporting like to take the weekend off or might be distracted by their weekend plans.  So I see this pattern continuing.

And, look what we have here on another Friday in social media–Pinterest lets its users know via the Pinterest Weekly email that they’ve increased their attribution program by adding Etsy, Kickstarter, and a few other sites to the program.

Their what now?

Yes, this has been a new feature to Pinterest since it was announced in a May 1 blog post.  But outside of the blog post they didn’t talk about it much.  Then, on Wednesday, Pinterest posted an entry to their blog about some new partners to the attribution program.  That news, like the original post, was met with thunderous silence.  Until today when Pinterest included the story in their weekly email to users.  Suddenly there are dozens of articles about the program expanding.

So what’s behind this attribution program?  If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth checking out the picture I’ve put into this post.  I just went to the page showing all Kickstarter pins so you could easily see the small K icon for Kickstarter at the bottom of the pin content window.  That’s the attribution.  It’s a very minor thing in the scheme of things, especially since clicking on the pin itself will typically lead you to the source.  But I find the announcement and general program to be fascinating.

First, the announcement’s inclusion in the weekly email was probably just an innocent inclusion.  I don’t think they were intentionally trying to bury the story.  But there is the possibility.  Maybe that’s just how the Pinterest team works–they roll out their big announcements/changes via emails on Friday.   But we can’t discount the possibility that it’s an intentional effort to send the story out and then see how people react.  Maybe this week they didn’t have anything better for the weekly email, or maybe this week they’re just really proud of the expansion; but I do find it odd that after two blog posts (that gained virtually no attention) they decide to put the program front and center.  Either way, we’re paying attention now.

And if you’re in a conspiracy frame of mind, the story itself is also framed perfectly to generate coverage while flying under the radar.  After all, the story is that the attribution program is expanding.  Not a new program–more sites being included in a program you just didn’t know about. On a Friday.  So you don’t need to think about this too much, you should just go have a fun weekend.  Or shape a new tin foil hat.  Either way.

Second, the program itself is incredibly interesting if they’re doing what I think they’re doing.  Pinterest has a lot of copyright issues to resolve and they know that attribution by itself does nothing to solve them.  You don’t get to make a copy of a piece of art and then do whatever you want with it so long as you tell people who owns the original.  So the public-facing side of attribution isn’t addressing those copyright concerns.  And it isn’t really offering much to its users–anyone could click on a pin to go to the original source.  Having the small icon there for the few pins that come from sites in the program doesn’t add much to the platform.

So why would Pinterest add an attribution program that doesn’t help its content issues and doesn’t add much in terms of platform functionality?

I think what’s really going on is that Pinterest is heavily engaged in getting permission to repost content from third party sites.  This is an outstanding move, if true, although it doesn’t come without peril.  Now that they are signing sites up to their attribution program (getting permission to pin content from that site in exchange for the automatic attribution icon) they will also need to look at whether this makes pinned content from sites outside the program even riskier than it is today.  Before, Pinterest could have tried to assert fair use defense, or that they aren’t the ones doing the pinning–your standard social media platform defenses to copyright claims.  But those defenses could be weakened if you have a mixture of content: some authorized, some not.

If Pinterest wants to move to a fully opted-in platform, though, these are the baby steps they need to take to get there.  They can’t just shut everything down while they get the agreements in place for risk of losing their user base.  Instead, they may feel they will take the risk while they transition certain sites–once they have a critical mass of sites in the attribution program then they can tell everyone else “You either join or you can’t be pinned.”  If Pinterest’s referral statistics keep holding up, that will be a compelling demand.

There are other issues to consider as well.  Such as, does the site with the original pinned content have terms that give it the right to sign up to this attribution program (or at least the one I’m imagining they’ve created).  I’m not familiar with the terms for many of these sites, but one of the first sites in the attribution program was Flickr (owned by Yahoo).  The Yahoo! Terms of Service which govern Flickr content contains the following section


Yahoo! does not claim ownership of Content you submit or make available for inclusion on the Yahoo! Services. However, with respect to Content you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Yahoo! Services, you grant Yahoo! the following worldwide, royalty-free and non-exclusive license(s), as applicable:   …

B. With respect to photos, graphics, audio or video you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Yahoo! Services other than Yahoo! Groups, the license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publicly perform and publicly display such Content on the Yahoo! Services solely for the purpose for which such Content was submitted or made available. This license exists only for as long as you elect to continue to include such Content on the Yahoo! Services and will terminate at the time you remove or Yahoo! removes such Content from the Yahoo! Services.

I’ve put in bold the text you can read that relates to this point, but it essentially says that Yahoo has a license to share your public Flickr photos on other sections of Flickr (or Yahoo in general).  It doesn’t give Yahoo/Flickr the right to distribute your photos on Pinterest.

So while signing sites up is a good step, if Pinterest is truly using this program to help bring more content into the licensed world, it will need to work with those sites to get permission put into their terms as well.

And if Pinterest is just using this program to put a nice little icon on pins, well that’s no help at all.



Filed under Copyright, Pinterest, Social Content, Social Media Risks, Terms and Conditions

2 responses to “What’s Really Behind The New Pinterest Attributions

  1. Pingback: Is BuzzFeed Worse Than Pinterest When It Comes To Copyright? | SoMeLaw Thoughts

  2. John

    Since one year I have problem with people posted photos on Pinterest from my website without my permission.
    I have contacted the offending pinterest users, some of them has removed the pins, but the two main offenders are not responding.
    I have send 11 emails to pinterest, and filled in the DMCA take down 6 times. Not a single reply from Pinterest.

    I can only assume they calculate with that “the common man will not sue us” and simply ignores any requests like that.

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