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february 28 2012

Pinterest - The Wonderful World of Pinning and Infringement

written by: Christian Oth

We’ve had a bit of a frenzy here at the studio over the past 24-hours. It came just after we announced the addition of the Pin It button on our website. Initially, we were excited about the new endeavour as I saw great potentiality in Pinterest and the ability to create visual inspiration boards in just a click of a button. However, it was no sooner that we announced it on Twitter and Facebook that we received some rather eyebrow raising information that has made us take a second look at Pinterest and how it effects the rights of creatives.

To begin with, Pinterest was of great intrigue to me. I loved the easy, seamless way you could create inspiration and mood boards; using it myself for photographic, design and food ideas. I mean, how often do you see something on the Internet and think - “Yes, that!” - but have no physical way of saving that inspiration for future inspection? In the old days, one would have torn the page from a magazine or newspaper to store in a folder or scrapbook, but how do you really scrap digitally?

Enter, Pinterest. In it’s initial form, yes, it’s a great platform and stellar idea. As David Pogue of the New York Times said in his recent Review of the site, Pinterest is “refreshing,” in its ad-free, “pure, uncluttered, non-blinky” layout. It has a steady, non-self-promoting vibe of “Wouldn’t this be great?” that is a new concept for public platforms.

However nearly immediately after the “Pin It” Tweets were posted, I  heard from UK-based photographer, Jeff Ascough. He made me aware of some fine details that have caused him and others great concern. Add a simple Google search and you will see that Pinterest has brought about more than a stir amongst several leading photographers and other creatives. It’s that very item that we have been frightened of since the dawn of Facebook, Flickr, Google Images and the untamed Internet landscape at large. Namely; violation of copyrights.

Now, I appreciate the way the Internet works. You post an image, you make it public and it’s not difficult to cut and paste that image to a blog, website or Facebook. Of course, with this in mind, we have instilled the Watermark that I discussed just a couple weeks ago (see post here). It’s my way of embracing the brevity of the Internet, but at the same time saving that precious credit of my colleague’s and my own work. As a matter of fact, watermarking and publishing low-res files is the only way I know of to protect your work on the Internet and I strongly encourage it.

When one of my photos is posted on a blog, it is generally always done with my specific permission, watermark and is appropriately credited and linked back to my site. Clearly the blogger does not own the rights to the image, and are not able to resell the image, they are simply able to use the photographs for their site. This is where the red flags begin to go up around Pinterest.

In the first instance, the site is based around users who are able to pin whatever images they see fit. In the Terms portion, it is stated that the User is solely responsible to contact the artist to obtain the right to post their images. Of course, the actuality of this happening is less than a regular occurrence and as of now there is no real way of this being monitored, causing more and more images to be used without any permission whatsoever. There is neither a screening process in place, nor a viable way of ensuring work is credited or linked. However these images can be pinned and repinned to the several million user’s own satisfaction. This is creating an entire network of photographers, designers, and other creatives who are seeing their work displayed without their knowledge or consent. Additionally, Pinterest’s statement of Ownership and Copyrights, as outlined here, causes much concern as to the sudden change of hand that takes place when your image is used (without any permission) on their site.

There is also much issue around other aspects of their Terms. One in which states that among other facets, by posting content as a member onto their site, you are giving them non-exclusive rights to use, copy, adapt, license, distribute and most worryingly, to sell on the site (click here to read in depth information). With the use of that one word “sell (not to mention license, distribute, adapt and copy),” the whole concept of creating a place for free-content and community inspiration boards is now not only tarred, but the very line of artist’s rights is severely threatened. It is a confusing statement at best, but it is certainly something to be questioned as to the intention of the site and its owners.

The argument continues in the corner of the artists, as Pinterest very clearly states that they themselves are not held responsible for liability due to copyright infringement, yet have created a platform in which they encourage it. Some people are likening it to the former music file share site, Napster.

And just as Napster ended in a massive landslide of lawsuits, there is some serious talk about the possibilities of lawsuits in the very case of Pinterest and the thousands of copyright violators. Even with their longstanding “hands washed” approach to the responsibility of copyrights, there is still a large potential that they would fall under the scrutiny due to their promotion of using images willy-nilly and their non-existent monitoring process.

But then this raises a resounding question in my mind, when and where will all this end? If the Internet itself has changed the very face of the copyright, can we really afford to object to all web-based facilities? What if, instead of boycotting all sites that cross the boundaries that have been laid out to protect us, we encouraged a public movement where respect was at the helm?

Of course, the part of the mutually respected artist lies in the hands of the artists themselves. Very specifically, although boycotting is usually a grand way to get your point across, there should be a communal effort to prevent such things from happening. There should not be cases of artists misrepresenting other artist’s work as their own as in the famous case of photographer, Dina Douglass vs. Shepard Fairey. We should, in essence set a strong example to the layperson on how to appropriately give credit where credit is due on any and all public online forums - from blogs to Facebook and everywhere in between.

For this reason, and very unfortunately, until Pinterest makes changes in the favor of the artists on their website, I will not be participating as a member or be utilizing the Pin It option on my website. Pinterest has the potential to establish a place where people can not only continue to interact and inspire, but also respect that the very work that is doing the inspiring is something special, unique and quantitative of a person’s intrinsic creativity. As an initial fan of Pinterest and the possibilities it invokes, I truly hope that changes can be made so that this public platform can be used appropriately among the masses.


We have received a great response from all of our readers and colleagues in the creative industry and are happy to be apart of this topic. There has been a very informative article with further information written by the lovely, Rachel Lacour. You can see it here.



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