Pinterest Launches Content ID for Images

On Monday, Pinterest announced the launch of its new Content Claiming Portal, which it promotes as a “Brand new tool that enables creators to claim their content and decide if and how it appears on Pinterest.”

The idea itself is fairly straightforward. Rightsholders and creators can fill out the Content Claiming Portal application form (Note: You must have a Pinterest account to access this page and be logged in.). If you are approved, you’ll be able to submit your content via the portal and, once that’s accepted, you’ll be able to choose how it’s used on Pinterest.

To that end, you’ll be given three choices for your content. The actions you can request are:

  1. Mine Only: Pinterest will remove existing and future pins except those from your account.
  2. Website Only: Pinterest will remove existing and future pins except those that link to your website.
  3. Block All: Pinterest will remove all existing and future pins.

Please note that Pinterest says that access to the system will only be granted to a limited number of rightsholders. Those that are declined will be able to reapply in 30 days.

The obvious comparison for this is YouTube’s Content ID system, which YouTube uses to detect potentially infringing material being uploaded by users and then take designated actions directed by rightsholders.

However, the Pinterest system is much more limited than Content ID, providing far fewer options for rightsholders. The system also comes much later as Content ID launched in 2007 and Pinterest’s system is just now coming online.

It’s especially interesting that the system is coming to fruition now considering Pinterest’s early (and very controversial) history that saw it receiving sharp criticism from artists and photographers for its approach to handling images online.

Pinterest’s Divisive Past

Pinterest Nopin

In early 2012, photographers and artists began to criticize Pinterest for the way it operated. Specifically, they disliked how, when users “pin” images from their sites, Pinterest copied the full-size image to their service and hosts it there.

The backlash pushed Pinterest to implement the “nopin” tag, which allowed webmasters to block users from automatically pinning content from their site. While this placated the issue for some, others noted that there was no way to add the tag to social media sites or other presences online.

Other than the nopin tag, Pinterest’s only other copyright tool has been their very ordinary process for filing a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice.

In December 2014, Pinterest was sued for copyright infringement by photographer Christopher Boffoli, but the case was voluntarily dismissed in September 2015 before a trial could take place and it is unclear if a settlement was reached.

Since then, things have been quiet for Pinterest in terms of copyright. Even those that aren’t happy with Pinterest’s practices have grown to accept the status quo. Much of this is likely due to the fact that, though Pinterest is still very popular and successful, it’s not in the period of explosive growth it was in during the early 2010s and remains much smaller and more niche than social media juggernauts like Facebook and YouTube.

So, all of this begs a simple question: Why now? To that end, there’s not much that we can do but speculate.

A Limited Service with Limited Features

Pinterest’s Content Claiming Portal comes some 14 years after Content ID launched and 9 years after Pinterest realized copyright was going to be a pain point for their service. There seems to be little reason to launch such a portal now.

Technology isn’t the issue. Matching audio and video is far more complicated than matching images. Users can easily search for similar images right now on Google Image Search, Tineye and other services.

To make matters worse, the service is extremely limited. Though getting into Content ID is extremely challenging, Pinterest’s warnings that they are “only able to give a limited number of rights holders access to the Content Claiming Portal” indicates that it will be very restrictive as well, especially in the early going.

However, the options provided for those that do get in are severely limited. Content ID offers solutions for monetizing uploaded content, using geo restrictions to prevent it from being seen in countries where it isn’t licensed and so forth. By comparison, Pinterest’s tool is a blunt instrument, either blocking all uploads, only allowing them to a specific account or only allowing those that include linked attribution.

To be clear, some of the more advanced Content ID solutions may not have been practical. Since Pinterest doesn’t offer a revenue share with users, it may not have been able to enable monetization. However, geographic restrictions are still very important to many artists, especially those that license their images regularly and that is not available.

While the responses offered may be the most common ones, this is a tool that they, theoretically, have had nearly a decade to work on. Instead, despite fewer technology challenges, they’ve launched a much less robust system than others have had for many years.

To make matters worse, it’s unclear how well the system will detect modified content. Though Content ID makes an effort to detect such content, all Pinterest promises is to “remove any matching images that we are able to identify” with no indication as to how that applies to altered works (or if that is a serious concern).

Ultimately, Pinterest’s system is about 9 years too late and manages to be about 14 years behind the times. Pinterest could have, and should have, done much more much sooner.

Still, it’s good to see that they at least did something.

Bottom Line

Back in 2012, Pinterest largely ignored or waved away any copyright concerns. Other than the nopin tag, Pinterest showed a pretty callous attitude toward the concerns of rightsholders. Though the controversy died down, Pinterest never really changed course.

This was an opportunity for Pinterest, one to say that they are going to take the concerns of artists more seriously and work to help them control how their work is used on the site. But, while it does show some good effort, the effort is far behind similar services.

While I am happy to see that Pinterest is taking these issues more seriously and is taking steps to work with creators and rightsholders on these matters, this is just a first step. Making this system available to as many as possible, expanding its features and clarifying how it operates have to be immediate goals.

As down as this post seems to be on the new service, I am genuinely glad Pinterest launched it. I’m just concerned that it has come too late and doesn’t represent a real change for the company.

Here’s hoping that they prove me wrong.

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