Monday, February 27, 2012

Pinterest = Internet Thievery, Unfairness, and Ugliness

(Long post but important)

Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should do it.  Morals and ethics is all about this, making choices to do the right thing.  Humans are not just following insticts, we can think, decide, do or not do.  If you can steal something, should you?  If you can make money on someone else's efforts without giving them anything, should you?  If you can live without caring about others, should you?  Pinterest and many of its users do.

OK, I had not heard about Pinterest until a few days ago, and looked it up and fell in love.   Temporarily.  Very temporarily. So, I had a 20 hour love affair with Pinterest, and now we are partly separated (not totally, read on).  I know, this just happened AFTER I wrote that long thing about how we are too addicted to the internet, and I fell right into the addition to Pinterest trap. 

Pinterest is a great way to collect links and thumbnails to all the interesting things you find on the web so you can find them again, or to make pinboards of images for inspiration, education, or useful things. It is exploding on the internet right now.  So far so good, and that is what I loved about it.  So much interesting stuff!!!   

But then I clicked on an image to find out more and it linked back to Google Images, or I got a 404 error, or it linked me to Tumblr's home page, and something was obviously not right.  Where did the image come from?

When I signed up for Pinterest I read the rules for the site, and it says that you have to have the right to pin anything made by you or that you have the copyright for, so you can't pin things copyrighted by others.  But people do, 99% of people in Pinterest do, maybe more, and very few even give credit and source for each image.  A typical pinned image is a photo of a gorgeous room with the note "I love this". No facts on where that image came from.

That can't be right, I thought, obviously this image wasn't taken by whatever house wife in Florida that pinned and loved it.  Then I started googling "Pinterest copyright" and found a large set of recent articles about how Pinterest is avoiding by getting into trouble by making all its users, not themselves, legally liable for any copyright infringement.  (Their own blog shows how upset some people are by this. Other info here, good post here, more, )

Pinterest takes no responsibility at all, and in fact, by using it you agree to give all the images you have pinned (and thereby downloaded to Pinterest as high-resolution photos, mostly illegally in my opinion) to Pinterest for free. Pinterest then have the right to sell these photos and make money of them, even if they are copyrighted by someone that had no idea that you pinned their gorgeous photo or art or craft idea, etc.

So, say that I pin my photos which are under Creative Commons license on Flickr to my board on Pinterest, and as soon as I have done that, I have no longer any control over them.  Pinterest could sell them to Target to use in their advertising and I would get zero dollars, and I would not be asked for permission.  This is so wrong!!!

Similarly, if a user pins an image of a new Porsche, Pinterest now has the right to use that image, even if it is copyrighted by Porsche. Simply put, Pinterest is fooling everybody, and stealing from everybody. And they let their users get away with it, and the users let Pinterest get away with it.  Just like drug addiction... They need each other, the users and the company.

Pinterest's solution is that anybody that finds their copyrighted image pinned onto Pinterest by a user can contact them and have it removed from Pinterest's website.  So it is up to the owner of the image to search the internet and complain. (This is unimaginable hard...)  Imagine this happening with actual items.  Someone comes into your house, robs you, and goes away with some of your stuff.  Now you have to look for your things wide and far, and they are not marked with your name, address or anything.  And if you find your things, then you have to fill out an online form and eventually you can get the stuff back.  And in the end, the stealing doesn't get punished at all.

In fact, Pinterest doesn't care that its users pin lots of copyrighted things, and if there is a problem (say, they get sued by Modern Museum of Art for some art images a user has pinned), then the user will have to pay the legal bills for both herself AND for Pinterest's lawyers.  It is all in the user agreement, and very clear.  How can this be right?  How can this be ethical?  The user could be a company too, so if McDonalds pins a photo of a burger, they could get sued.... but Pinterest wouldn't.  How crazy.

 So, removed my pins and boards and now I am only 'liking' things I see on Pinterest, so I can use the links and cool ideas here on the blog, after getting proper permission and linking to the original source.  I am all for sharing, but it has to be FAIR with PROPER credit.  It is very well explained on the Link with Love website, who made a special pinnable image for Pinterest (see left).  So, this is what I believe and think we should do, all of us.  Link with love, be fair, don't steal, and read more here.

So, what should Pinterest do, to get it right?  Well, only store thumbnails, like Google.  Demand that all photos are tagged with source (url), and source information (name, company, etc.), and mark all photos with the proper copyright license [public work, creative commons, all rights reserved, etc.].  And Pinterest should not have the right to use any of the pinned images by anybody. 

I predict that Pinterest will be hit with a giant lawsuit by some media company like Martha Stewart Magazine, AP, or an art organization on behalf of their members soon, and then it will be in big trouble. The company is doing everything according to US law right now, but only by putting all responsibility and liability on the users, most of which probably have no idea that they are doing something illegal or deeply unethical. As one user said "it is just a picture, who cares?"  This is just seriously wrong. It reminds me of gun manufacturers or cigarette makers that provide deadly weapons and then take no responsibility at all, because 'who could have predicted that someone would shoot with it at another person?", etc. Sigh...


PP said...

First I find it really odd, really really odd that this thing sucked you in. While there is much I get sucked into in the web there is not much like this that attracts me. There is no...content there, its just a bunch of stuff gathered in one place. I don't really spend any time at sites like this, can't people just find their own stuff, why do we have to "share" everything all the time with everyone?

I looked at the site and was immed. put off, its just a bunch of jumbled stuff put in one place. Its like all the scrapbookers in the world dumped the contents of their books in a pile and said : here look at all this cool stuff.

Can you tell I don't get it? ;)

LS said...

See, I got sucked in because I could use Pinterest to organize weblinks into educational groups that would make people excited about something... not just to gather stuff in a place, which is what most people do. I wanted to have it instead of Google's bookmarks, since it is easier to find something based on an image instead of a couple of words... but, as I realized, Pinterest is not useful for that, at least not right now. And if you look at one board for Art Deco for example, you can find all kinds of neat stuff, but it is just stuff.... no words, no thoughts, just stolen images.

And now, now I think that Pinterest is mostly for the big crowd of women that spend their days decorating, lunching, and saying oh-ah etc over things you can buy. Not exactly my crowd :)

Mitt Romney's wife got on Pinterest a week ago and already have 6000 followers or so, but herself she doesn't follow anybody. So once again, something that maybe was a good idea to begin with are now just used for commercial or self-interest purposes. Apparently there is a lot of anorexia-stuff too, but I haven't seen that - women collecting semi-nude suggesting photos as 'skinspiration' to get thinner and thinner.

Sarah said...

I'm so upset, because I love Pinterest and have found it very useful. If I don't credit a source in my comments, I have just figured that linking to the original site was enough. In fact, usually I'm using it for the link and not necessarily the picture (like recipes from I like it because I do better with information that's in front of me and quick to process such as pictures or color-coding, as opposed to links and words.
I guess I did not read the user agreement carefully enough to realize that the user is liable for copyright infringement even though Pinterest provides the service. It would be smart if the copyright automatically appeared in the comments as well as a link to the original source (and these are things that can probably be done with computer magic) so that the user doesn't have to spend time typing a bunch of stuff. Then it would be a useful service that isn't legally/ethically questionable. (Also I wish that it TOLD people that their stuff was pinned.) Thanks for sharing this knowledge; I will be a lot more mindful of my pins from now on!

LS said...

Here is a blog post about the scary implications of using Pinterest:

procrastistamper said...

Thank you for posting this...I know most people don't understand the issue because they see it as "just a picture". But what it really is, is property someone rightfully owns. Considering a pin or repin as "just a picture" is like considering the Deed to a home as "just a piece of paper". Yes, it is a picture or a piece of paper in simple terms--but each are representative of property ownership. So, let's exaggerate this for effect: a picture of your Deed to your house gets pinned and repinned, and splatted all over the internet 93,000+ times, without your knowledge or permission. No harm there, until someone comes to your door to kick you out because they are going to use it as theirs now. That is NOT sharing. That is stealing. Not everyone who "shared" up to that point, stole something from you--but they allowed/facilitated/encouraged/enabled that one person to steal from you. I think that is called an "accessory to a crime". It is not "sharing" to give to others what never belonged to you in the first place. I think that's actually called "fencing stolen goods". That is NOT a nice thing, we're all just allowing ourselves to be thrown off because "share" is generally considered such a nice word. If you really want to "share", send a link in a text or email. You just copy the URL from the address bar, and paste it into your email or text.

By the way, I got sucked into Pinterest for a couple weeks also, as a visual bookmark system. But once I became educated (from articles like this one) on how Pinterest itself asserts rights over anything and everything that's pinned, I deleted my account. I will not be a party to stealing--mine, or anyone else's--stuff. It doesn't matter whether the picture is worth money or not, it matters that it belongs to someone and it should stay that way unless the owner decides otherwise.