Proposal for Website Content Reuse & Sharing

Screenshot of a Pinterest Board about Photography The current proposal to block sharing of content by Pinterest is insufficient in protecting the rights of content creators. An open, standardized, machine readable specification is needed. This specification should declaratively provide structure for the reuse of content in the context of social media “sharing.”

Pinterest, is a hot new startup that according to their site, “lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web.” Pinterest allows users to “pin” or share content to a board. Other users can then follow those pins and even repin the content to their own board. See an example Pinterest board about photography here. Ultimately rights holders are concerned that images are used and viewed without their permission.

To answer this criticism, Pinterest has proactively come up with a solution. By adding a simple HTML tag, site administrators can block the pinning tool from adding the content. Kudos to Pinterest for addressing the problem early.

This is a great simple solution, but is site specific in design. Following this to it’s inevitable conclusion, it would only be a matter of time before a series of tags emerge, each specific to a site. This requires rights holders to 1) monitor how different media outlets use their content and 2) be sufficiently savvy to edit their own HTML.

The solution places an undue burden on site owners and content creators to be aware of how each site uses or re-uses content and then requires them to manage it. The web already has several tools for managing how content is used and shared online which Pineterst could use to reduce burden on site-owners while still respecting their intent. None of these are perfect though.

1) Robots.txt (and related robots headers) –
Used by the larger search engines to determine which URL’s should and should not be crawled.

2) Creative Commons –
A legal structure for the sharing of content in an open way.

3) Open Graph Protocol –
A machine readable methodology for describing content and objects online. Heavily used by Facebook and other social networks to provide “share” like functionality.

Instead, content producers should be able to provide limited rights to distribute the content online by specifying in which circumstances the content can be reused. For example, a photographer could permit re-sharing of an image to any site (for example Pinterest) only if the image provides a direct link to the page where it was sourced from. Pinterest can then decide with their legal team if their implementation meets the criteria of this usage. This could all be done through an extension of the Open Graph Protocol.

The protocol could be extended to include a permissions attribute (or attributes) that provide guidance on how the author intends for this content to be re-used. While this doesn’t remove the need for technical savvy, it does eliminate the need for rights holders to monitor how content is being used by the growing number of social media sites. Some potential permission examples:

  • noshare – Sites are not permitted to store or share this content.
  • opengraph – Sites are required to use content provided (verbatim) in the open-graph tags provided.
  • cc_{license}_{attributes} – Provides machine readable usage restrictions based on the current Creative Common licensing structure. (example: cc_3.0_sa)
  • link – provide page title and link (only)
  • text – permit reuse of words
  • image – permit reuse of images
  • data – permit reuse of data (current temperature, weather etc)

This list is hardly exhaustive and would need to be refined. Using the example of a photographer, they could add the following permissions tag to ensure that only the content they provide in the Open Graph tags they provide is used beyond their site. In this instance, the image might be run through a watermarking script or be shared at a lower quality.

The body best suited to further define this specification is the Open Graph Protocol working group.

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