The Pointless Copyright Freakout Over Pinterest

from the same-old-song dept

I've been debating whether or not it's worth doing this post for a few weeks now, but with so much sudden interest in Pinterest and how it fits in the copyright scheme of things, people keep asking "when," not "if," we were going to write about it, so we might as well tackle it. If you don't know, Pinterest is an insanely popular social network of sorts, built around the concept of "pinning" images you like, creating collections of such images and sharing them with your friends. It's been the buzz of Silicon Valley for quite some time, and hit the mainstream in a big way a few weeks ago. Lots of commentators like to point out that it's widely used by women -- because that's apparently noteworthy in contrast to the typical internet buzzy services that get the usual "early adopters" who tend to be more of the male persuasion. Either way, it's crazy popular. I first heard about it in the context of teenagers sharing "looks" -- creating effective collages of images of clothing/style/accessories and sharing them with friends in a "wouldn't this look nice" kind of way.

But, as Pinterest hit some sort of inflection point right around the Super Bowl (with the help of Facebook integration), a bunch of people started noticing that there were some significant copyright questions involved. After all, the basic way it works is you make use of images you find online and "pin" them into a collection. But if you don't have the rights to use those images, is it infringement? Some are pretty sure that it violates the law in that it wasn't clear it would really qualify for fair use -- and there were also some questions about how thoroughly it complied with DMCA takedown requests. Either way, the issue began to explode with a ton of articles all discussing the copyright questions.

As this suddenly got so much more attention, Pinterest just rolled out a "nopin" meta tag, which allows website owners to basically block images from a site from being easily "pinned" to a Pinterest collection. Depending on who you listen to, this either answered all the copyright questions or merely represented a "small step" towards dealing with them. For angry photographers, I'd bet they're going to claim the latter is more accurate, if they'll even grant that much.

There's also a separate, but related, issue concerning Pinterest's terms of service that includes some boilerplate language that pretty much every online service includes and when someone reads them for the first time, they freak out about how Pinterest is claiming too many rights over the uploaded works. This is an exaggeration -- and we've seen the same thing happen with TwitPic and others, where the terms are there to make sure you're granting the site an effective license to display the works, and not as some nefarious plan to claim ownership of the works.

Either way, the community that's been most vocal about Pinterest and how it's something evil are photographers. While there are plenty of photographers who are quite reasonable on copyright issues, for some reason, it seems like photographers often can be the most extreme on copyright issues, and it's no different here.

However, it seems like (as the music industry did with Napster, and now the movie industry has done with cyberlockers), they're getting the wrong message out of what's happening online: these services are opportunities, not threats. If you want to understand why, I recommend reading (thoroughly) a recent blog post by photographer Trey Ratcliff, who goes into great detail not just about how Pinterest has been really useful for him (including in driving revenue), but that photographers need to stop treating everything as a threat, and start looking at these things as opportunities. Again, you should read the whole thing, but here are a few useful snippets. Ratcliff points out that treating everything as a threat means that you spend all your time trying to angrily shut stuff down, rather than getting your work out there. But there are real advantages to getting your work out there (and he explains why it should be high res, and without watermarks, contrary to the standard way that many photographers do thumbnails with annoying watermarks):
Most people in the world are good people. If they find digital art they want to buy for a print or use in a commercial campaign, they will figure out a way to get you money. 99% of your traffic is truly “window-shoppers.” They will look at your goods, take note, enjoy them and move on. But 1% will want to make a personal or business transaction with you....

[....]

StuckInCustoms.com has healthy traffic that grows every year thanks to good old-fashioned word-of-mouth. We don’t advertise or buy links or any of that stuff. So I depend on the Internet and nice people like you to link back to the site and tell your friends that you find something unique and cool.

Last month, we had 714,143 Pageviews and 234,107 unique visitors. 15% of this traffic came from Pinterest. Amazing! If Pinterest didn’t exist (a reality some photographers would prefer), then our traffic would be 15% less. Choosing to switch-off innovation is a fool’s errand, especially in today’s world. It reminds me of the scene in Anthem where the council of candle-makers becomes rather upset at the invention of the light bulb.

[....]

Someone on Pinterest can make a board called “Feeling a bit blue,” and they can fill it with cool-colored melancholy photos. Isn’t this just another way of making a poem? If I built up this pinboard and sent it to a friend, it’s nothing but a visual poem in a new medium. It’s just as powerful, and, in many ways, more accessible.

Pinterest is simply another way (a newer, evolving way, mind you) for humans to communicate with one another. It is increasingly the job of digital artists to inspire, share and bring more beauty and communication into the world.
There really is a lot more there, and it's worth reading the whole thing. Also, Ratcliff appears to be an absolutely awesome photographer, so I recommend checking out his work too.

Either way, his point is a strong one, and it's really no different than what many people have made to reactionary folks in other parts of the content industry. You can spend all your time trying to kill innovation or stop people from doing what they want to do... or you can bask in the wonderment that people want to do stuff, encourage them to do so, and make it easier for them to help spread your works... all the while making it easy for them to support you. Ratcliff seems to be a perfect example of our discussion on the benefits of being open, human and awesome.

And, in the end, that's the key point. Whether or not Pinterest is a copyright landmine is kind of besides the point. It's a really fascinating innovation that is having massive (unprecedented) success in terms of users. Clearly, it's tapped into a market by providing something that a very large number of people absolutely love. When that happens, there are always opportunities, and smart photographers should be focused on finding and embracing those opportunities.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 22nd, 2012 @ 4:20pm

    "Pinterest is an insanely popular social network of sorts"

    First, this is the first time I've heard of them, so I wouldn't know much about their popularity.
    Second, to quote the Oatmeal: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/websites_stop

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Suja (profile), Feb 22nd, 2012 @ 4:32pm

      Re: "Pinterest is an insanely popular social network of sorts"

      Lol'd at the first one, I'm so sick of "what my friends are doing" sites, I'll ask them if I want to know, thanks.

      I want a site that lets me sift through crap with actual filters based on likes & a search system that works on the same principles instead of by rankings/views.

      Make that double for finding people with the same interests, that's the site I want to see.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        icon
        Suja (profile), Feb 22nd, 2012 @ 4:33pm

        Re: Re: "Pinterest is an insanely popular social network of sorts"

        & no dating sites don't cut it, it's not the same, I don't want to just write some shit and hope someone's close, I want to have filters based on what I write.

        I mean, why have 200 sites like Facefuck to read friend's dribble on if you can't even find 1 friend?

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      TtfnJohn (profile), Feb 22nd, 2012 @ 5:26pm

      Re: "Pinterest is an insanely popular social network of sorts"

      Now that comic's been bookmarked, pirated, spread widely across the world and generally abused by RIAA and MPAA standards just cause it is sooooooooooooooooooooooo true!

      Now that's out of my system I think I'll go peek at the site Mike's writing about just to see what the heck all the fuss is about.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Suja (profile), Feb 22nd, 2012 @ 4:27pm

    That's the problem with the art/idea world today.

    Instead of putting energy on enjoying/improving/creating ideas it is wasted on fear, compliance & worry over copyrights... I mean, censorrights.

    Censorrights are like a vampire gnawing at the neck of creativity, it doesn't give a fuck about anything other than extracting as much blood as possible at the expense of others.


    Yet, people still put it as being more important than the art/idea/whatever itself, that to me is just sad.

    It's like taking your effort & energy and just flushing them down the toilet.

    Sadder still are those who would give in to their demands under the impression that anything less than full servitude would mean utter disaster, in turn they give power to the demon that sucks them dry.

    MAFIAA/censorright don't have any power if we don't give it them, time to wake up people. Stand up for your rights.


    (I'm tempted to make a whole bunch of bad puns involving stakes, garlic & light but I will refrain from doing so...)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Feb 22nd, 2012 @ 6:44pm

      Re:

      Nice use of nasty words and images. But let's fix it up for you:

      "Instead of putting energy on creating ideas and enjoying them, the griftpires gnawing at the neck of creativity, it doesn't give a fuck about anything other than extracting as much blood as possible at the expense of others."

      You almost got it right the first time.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        MrWilson, Feb 22nd, 2012 @ 7:02pm

        Re: Re:

        I don't get the impression that you're an artist.

        Audiences cannot be leeches of creativity. There are three things involved in the creation of art. There's the artist, there's their creativity, and there's the culture into which that artist was born, from which that artist takes elements and reshapes them into his/her own expressions.

        Art is not created expressly for money. If it is, it isn't art. Making money off of it is good. It's great that some artists can make a living off of their art, but it's not guaranteed, even if they're popular. But artists, often known as "starving artists," create because they have something to express. Art is a drive and actual artists would create art even if they weren't getting paid for it. Yes, they might not make as much of it or have access to expensive tools and materials if they don't make much off of it, but they'd still create. Being an artist is a natural characteristic. It's not an occupation.

        Art is also communication. If you don't want to be pirated, don't publish your art. But that also means that your art is just a conversation with yourself if no one sees it. The analogue hole means that if it can be seen, heard, experienced, etc., then it can be copied (for the most part). This isn't to justify piracy. This is just to state the fact that it is physically impossible to stop piracy without destroying the purpose of the art.

        But of course a copyright-mongering industry middleman who doesn't actually create anything other than business deals wouldn't understand art or culture, only profit and exploitation of customers and artists alike.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        •  
          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, Feb 22nd, 2012 @ 9:35pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          You cannot have art without an audience so it does seem rather counterproductive to label your audience as thieves. But hey, nine times out of ten, it ain't the artists who are doing the labeling.

           

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          •  
            identicon
            Anonymous Coward, Feb 23rd, 2012 @ 7:44am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Nobody is labeling the audience as thieves, that a horrible misstatement. What they are saying is that the site itself leads to people doing something they would not do otherwise. Further, the images end up being published as part of that site, out of context. It would appear to be a pure unlicensed content grab.

             

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            •  
              identicon
              Anonymous Coward, Feb 23rd, 2012 @ 8:10am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Unlicensed or not, it was quite nice to immediately find a line art version of a photo I long ago uploaded to a free stock photo site. Photography is not my avocation. However, many years ago I decided that it would be useful to let others have totally free rein with photos I have taken over the course of almost 40 years than to simply have them sitting on a closet shelf gathering dust.

              It is gratifying to know that my decision has been very well received by the user community for both personal and commercial purposes.

               

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            •  
              identicon
              MrWilson, Feb 23rd, 2012 @ 8:59am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              "It would appear to be a pure unlicensed content grab."

              Or, you know, it's the digital equivalent of someone clipping pictures from magazines to put on a wall and then showing it off to other people. This is a form of appreciation.

              Again, if you don't want people to like or see your art, don't publish it. Or else only release really small digital versions with hideous watermarks.

               

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            •  
              identicon
              Anonymous Coward, Feb 23rd, 2012 @ 10:48am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              "What they are saying is that the site itself leads to people doing something they would not do otherwise."

              If "they" are saying that, then they are wrong.

               

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 22nd, 2012 @ 5:03pm

    A good friend of mine recommended Pinterest, she was really excited about it.

    She's a photographer. She's not one by trade, but has been hired to do photography work. She'd rather have someone credit her as the photographer than take it out of their hide for using one of her pictures in a creative effort.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    TtfnJohn (profile), Feb 22nd, 2012 @ 5:39pm

    It's an interesting little place, kind of social networking lol cats and other pictures. If someone put my picture up there I'd be pleased as long as I got credit for it so that if someone likes it they can either buy a copy from me or have me do some work for them.

    The reaction of some photographers does see more fearful than helpful to them though I'd argue that it's more helpful in just getting the work out in a fun and human environment. And makes it more accessible to those who may not see or think of buying a copy of it.

    There are times, you know, when you ignore your copyright for greater profit down the line.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Maximuscatus, Feb 22nd, 2012 @ 6:01pm

    Pinterest

    Wholeheartedly agree with this article and Ratcliffs' post.
    Anything pinned on Pinterest from a website is hyperlinked back to its source page, hence the pins are in effect pictorial hyperlinks back to the original site. If I intend to repin something on Pinterst, I go back to the source page and if it is a picture that is a stock image or has specific copyright or attribution rights I don't repin it or comply with the specifics. I have also pinned my own photos and have seen them constantly reused by others. Just like Ratcliff I have noticed a rise in the visits to my website and blogsite. Thank you Pinterest.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 22nd, 2012 @ 6:27pm

    They hate their fans

    My wife is a huge Pinterest fan, so I showed this to her...

    Her first question was: "Don't they want people pinning their artwork so others can see it?"

    At which point I explained that when it comes to copyright, no logic can explain what some people are thinking.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    EjeG, Feb 22nd, 2012 @ 7:21pm

    Alright

    One thing this article forgets to mention is Trey sure he got some awesome photos and believe in share a like on his pictures and to drive traffic to his site.. Ever wonder why?

    He is selling his HDR tutorial for $86-97, a texture tutorial for $99-$399 (or $119-$419 if you want them on DVD), he got tons of reviews written of things with helpful (commission based) links to sites where you can buy the hardware.

    He is selling a bunch of Iphone / Ipad applications teasers are free but you want the good stuff they are $0.99 to $4.99.

    Also sell a few Android apps as well.

    The "theft" of a image is the cost of doing business to him. He wants you to come to the site and buy his videos and his apps and go buy the gear he reviewed or used to make that cool video so he can get commission for the sale.

    Further he is vocal about things like this because it's great because he can thump his chest and blow the horn and get more people writing about him and going to his site. It's just good business practice. I'm fairly certain he would be pretty upset if someone would float his tutorials for free online on a public location and provide a way to get the applications for free to the Iphone/Ipad/Android devices.

    He made a great name for himself and he is a good photographer but he is even a better marketing machine. Unfortunately most photographers are not as good marketing machines as him or just don't have his insight or the financing/time or maybe just not the drive to create this extra side business but some of this side business only works because he is a "big known name". So absolutely it works for him. Does it work for everyone? Nope, because if all photographers came out with apps and all other stuff he is doing most wouldn't make enough money to stay in business.

    Apps and tutorials is the new way to make money like writing a book used to be (remember those glossy things with pretty pictures that actually came on real paper).

    The referral link stuff is a fairly old thing, one of the reasons most people write reviews (unless they are a magazine, who sell ads - no they don't make money from the subscribers, that $5 for printed mag is to cover distribution/shipping costs, they make their money on the ads and the more subscribers the mag has the more they can charge for their ads). Same thing with the link referral the more referrals and conversions they return the more you will get paid for them so the more reviews the better ;)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      orljustin, Feb 22nd, 2012 @ 7:46pm

      Re: Alright

      Absolutely, absolutely. You can't hold up Ratcliff, because his entire busy revolves around getting eyeballs to his site to buy his accessories, and that isn't what 99% of the rest of photographers are doing. The more noise he makes or attention he gets, the better off.

      Also, to the above "Anything pinned on Pinterest from a website is hyperlinked back to its source page,", we all know that most of the content on twitter is stolen from sources that aren't original, and so, there is no benefit from the linking. It doesn't take long to figure that out.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Call me Al, Feb 23rd, 2012 @ 2:18am

      Re: Alright

      "but some of this side business only works because he is a "big known name"."

      That sounds similar to the music industry "it only works because they are already famous" line.

      The strength of Pinterest here seems to be that it can drive traffic which in turn may drive interest in the original photographer and so help them to become a big known name in time... obviously together with other items.

      Though if that isn't their goal (which is probably quite likely), or their strengths don't lie in the side business side of things then I can see how this would not necessarily be of benefit to them.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Feb 22nd, 2012 @ 7:27pm

    My art is my heart and soul, I toiled so very hard to make it just right. How DARE you come and show more people what it is I spend my time doing without making sure I get something in my pocket for it!
    My art is meant to only be shown after I have gotten enough coins, and worked very hard to be discovered. It is TOTALLY unfair that someone else might get the fame I deserve because some bored housewife, with no art degree, decides their picture is cool and wants to share it with others!
    How DARE YOU let common people decide what they like, and share it with others!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 22nd, 2012 @ 8:17pm

    Not any benefit?

    "Also, to the above "Anything pinned on Pinterest from a website is hyperlinked back to its source page,", we all know that most of the content on twitter is stolen from sources that aren't original, and so, there is no benefit from the linking."

    Okay, I can understand why someone might prefer visitors to view a photo in its original context on the artists page, but isn't it better they should view it secondhand on something like pinterest rather than not view it at all? And I don't understand why you say a hyperlink is not useful -companies compete for link backs, of course they are valuable.

    It seems if someone has put their art up on the web they are inviting people to view it. How is this fundamentally different from a search engine.

    It seems to me that even more value could be added for the artists if the images were tagged with additional metadata (photographer credit for instance) in addition to the hyperlink. Maybe this would assuage some of the naysayers.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Prisoner 201, Feb 23rd, 2012 @ 12:24am

    "Clearly, it's tapped into a market by providing something that a very large number of people absolutely love."

    Yes, yes, but how will it fund my $100M movie?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Michael, Feb 23rd, 2012 @ 5:53am

    Problem solved

    If you, the creative person, are so terrified about your work being disseminated amongst the general public, I have the perfect solution: don't release your work for public consumption. See? That was easy. Now you'll never have to worry about anyone knowing who you are nor what you've created. You can spend the rest of your days as an unknown recluse with peace of mind knowing that your work remains solely in your possession.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Josh King (profile), Feb 23rd, 2012 @ 7:30am

    Fair Use

    Pinterest has a strong fair use defense. It sounds like what they're doing is similar to - if not even more rightsholder-friendly - than what Google does with image searches. And that sort of use has been found to be non-infringing: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=9280547131690965273&q=google+perfect+10&hl=en&am p;as_sdt=2,38

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Erik, Feb 24th, 2012 @ 7:00am

    fffuuuuuuuuuuu

    Being a graphic designer, I thought id throw my 2 cents in.
    If you put your work online, you put it there for people to see it... if more and more people share it and it goes viral be proud.

    problem comes in when blogs DO use others peoples work and do not even take the time to post the link(source) where they got it from.. that is messed up.. not just for the creator but for the user that comes across your site..

    I want more from the person who made this... click!! "wtf is wrong with you why don't you post a link?!?" is usually my question at these bloggers.

    Its all basic knowledge of owning something, if you don't own it simply say who does. E-D-U-C-A-T-E your users!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Melissa Marro, Feb 24th, 2012 @ 10:18pm

    Ignorance

    The ignorance in comments is overwhelming. The BIG issue is that full sized images are downloaded to Pinterest. Google won it's legal case because they only used thumbnails. The use of full sized photographs is clear copyright infringement, particularly when you add the fact that "right click protected" sites can still be pinned as can sites that are labeled "private".

    It is not anyone's job, except the copyright holder's, to determine use. While for many people Pinterest is a great marketing tool & has dramticaly increased business, that doesn't give permission to STEAL someone else's work... Even under the guise that it's helping them out by getting them exposure. Let the owner of the photo determine use.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Josh King (profile), Feb 25th, 2012 @ 8:52am

      Re: Ignorance

      Whether the images are full-size or not is only one part of the fair use analysis. But "let the owner of the photo determine use"? I think not. Nobody need ask permission before using a photo for commentary, criticism, parody, transformative uses, etc.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 1st, 2012 @ 1:42pm

    If I take a bunch of pictures and make a collage I can share them with whoever I want, non-commercially. Since my collage is on the web the company that makes the poster board my collage is on is in violation of copyright law?

    They keep wanting the physical and digital world to have similar laws. But then they want to take all kinds of shit i can do in the physical world and make it illegal online.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 1st, 2012 @ 3:07pm

    Ohh a new analogy to upset the people who hate the buggy whip one so much. "Should we have propped up the candle industry after the lightbulb was invented? Wouldn't we all be better off without these silly job destroying lightbulbs?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This