Thursday, March 29, 2012

Pinterest -- Pulling a YouTube & Building Billions on the Backs of Copyright Owners?

December 17, 2005 -- a landmark date in online video history.  Let's face it -- that's the day that YouTube really became YouTube when a classic NOT-you video exploded on the scene -- i.e., Saturday Night Live's famous "Lazy Sunday" video.

That was no personal "cat" video -- that was copyrighted professionally-produced television video.  The rest is history, of course, as YouTube sold less than one year later on October 9, 2006 for a cool $1.65 billion.   And, less than 6 months later, on March 13, 2007, Viacom sued Google/YouTube for copyright infringement seeking more than $1 billion in damages.  Now -- after Google defeated Viacom in court (which surprised many, especially since that happened pre-trial) -- all are parties are generally "cool" -- and YouTube implemented certain copyright-protecting safeguards, as well as a formal licensing program (i.e., paying cold hard cash to the copyright holders).

Fast forward to 2012 -- and to Pinterest.  Pinterest, of course, is the tech industry's darling right now.  Millions are flocking to it -- and collecting, posting and sharing still images meaningful to them.  The only problem with this is that a significant YouTube-ian copyright issue is lurking.  Specifically, just like the sharing of copyrighted video entertainment programming significantly fueled YouTube's gargantuan rise (let's face it, YouTube's founders knew what was going on), copyrighted still images fuel Pinterest's meteoric rise.  So far, this has not come to a head, since Pinterest to date has not focused on monetizing those gazillions of users.  Rather, it is in YouTube-like gathering -- nay, more like hoarding -- mode.

But, make no mistake -- interested parties are watching -- very very closely.  This is an issue coming soon to Pinterest and others of that ilk.  In the words of Getty Images' co-founder & CEO Jonathan Klein,

"We're comfortable with people using our images to build traffic.  The point in time when they have a business model, they have to have some sort of license."

So, everything old (YouTube copyright issues) becomes new again (Pinterest's issues).  Pinterest -- get ready to rock!

And, it already is.  Just last week, Pinterest significantly modified its terms of use to more clearly publicly distance itself from its customers' usage of still images (such as Getty images) for which they have no licenses -- and, let's face it -- that's a lot of them.  Significantly, Pinterest is also now -- for the first time -- expressly telling its users to pin more of their own personal stuff (which sounds good in theory -- but does that really tackle the core underlying YouTube IP issue?).

Keep watching this picture as it develops ... because it will.  Copyright owners view it this way:  why should they stand back quietly while sites like Pinterest make lots of noise and benefits from value that is created by their content?

You know what?  I understand where they are coming from.  But, how does Pinterest police that?  Can it implement the type of content "scrubbing" used by YouTube?  Or, will complex and costly licensing be essentially the answer after the service begins to monetize effectively (or, more likely, after the service is gobbled up YouTube-style by an industry behemoth)?