Pinterest Locked in Stalemate with Image Owners

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Image-sharing site Pinterest has been in negotiations for months with photo service Getty. A breakthrough could dispel some of the copyright questions hanging over the hot startup — but one expert says not to hold your breath.

According to Bill Rosenblatt, an engineer and authority on digital rights issues, the two sides are likely in a logjam over how — or if — Pinterest should use Getty’s image detection software, PicScout. Getty acquired PicScout, which tracks images across the Internet, last year for $20 million.

Rosenblatt speculates that Getty wants Pinterest to license the technology. This would allow Pinterest to take on a role similar to YouTube, a company that responded to copyright criticism by offering rights owners a tool to track and monetize their content:

If you make that analogy, someone like Pinterest, if they feel they’re getting a significant amount of legal threats, it would be reasonable to adopt that technology as a prophylactic against legal action.

The problem is that Pinterest, which is now valued north of $1 billion, might be equally inclined to tell Getty and other image owners to jump in the lake. The site hasclaimed in the past that it is protected by “safe harbor” rules that protect websites from being liable for users’ activities as long as they comply with takedown requests. If the rule holds, Pinterest should be no more responsible for someone posting a copyrighted picture than a search engine should be for listing a file-sharing site in its search results.

Getty could, of course, go to court and try to evict Pinterest from its safe harbor by showing it controlled the user content — maybe by pointing out that Pinterest fiddles with linksattached to the photographs. But that’s not a slam dunk case. Likewise, Getty could try to affect the Pinterest user experience by taking down as many pictures as possible, but, as Rosenblatt notes, Getty isn’t large enough to have that big an impact.

The upshot is a stalemate. Getty and other image owners can huff and puff about infringement, but the reality is they may not have much legal leverage. In the meantime, Pinterest is taking steps to improve its relationship with photographers by, for example, making attribution easier and offering “do not pin” options.

Surely there is a way for the sides to find a viable business model before someone pulls the lawsuit trigger.

For now, Getty would only repeat its claim of four months ago that it’s “discussing it” with Pinterest. The the latter is saying nothing at all.

Republished with permission from paidContent, which writes about the transformation of the media-and-entertainment industries in the digital era, with a focus on emerging-business models and technologies.

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