In reading comments on other blogs about the Pinterest copyright problem, one of the things that people are taking issue with is poor “pinning etiquette”, one facet of which is not “pinning” to the original source image so that the original artist gets credit and a link.  Again, credit and/or a link is not a way to get around copyright infringement.  If you have the desire to use someone’s image on your blog, you should secure the proper license/permission to do so, not just copy the image for your own usage.  People concerned with poor “pinning etiquette” are people who are likely trying to market themselves, their site or their product and are fine with their image being used, as long as it leads back to them.  I don’t believe the person who created the original image in this case is one of those people, but it serves to illustrate.  Also, I don’t believe the host of the blog in question is doing anything more than Pinterest (unfortunately) encourages a user to do.

An Image Gone Rogue

This morning, I found a link to my original Pinterest blog post in the comment area of a website: athriftymrs.com (edit: looks like the blog post has been removed – sorry.  You can see the pin here.).  I read the full blog post, which was about Pinterest, and things the host had pinned, and it had several large images included (400 x 600) with “credit lines” underneath, so I picked an image and looked at the credit line.

So, this image came from a Pinterest user’s board (iColette) who pinned it from a source (Down and Out Chic).  There’s the credit the creator of the image gets for having the image used on a blog.  I’m going to use the Pinterest “embed” code generator on iColette’s pin of this image so you can see how that would look, below:

Source: downandoutchic.blogspot.com via iColette on Pinterest

Now, this is somewhat different from the credit on the blog posting, so the blog host must have a plugin in her blog to create her link, or she manually did it herself.  I believe it is the former, as the URL of the image itself is unique (not just a hotlink to Pinterest, which is what comes with the embedding generator there), which means the host “owns” a hosted copy somewhere.  Below is the text of this created link:

Found on Pinterest via iColette from a source at Down and Out Chic pinned on my Bathroom board

Where’d it come from?

Now, I had a feeling none of these were the original creators of the image, so I used Google Images to search for the photographer.  After two quick clicks, I found a blog post on designskool.net that was clearly the original post about the image, as it describes the work the person did in the bathroom:

The upstairs bath was not functional when Stephanie and Jessie moved in. Thus it received a total overhaul with new paint (Benjamin Moore’s linen white and Stonington Gray) and historic fixtures. Jonathan built the small shelf which surrounds the entire room, nicely dividing up the tall wall and adding extra storage.

Scrolling to the bottom of the page, I easily found the words “All content copyright Designskool.net” – a reminder that all content is protected unless otherwise stated, and this was no different.

The Credit

Both credit lines give kudos to “iColette” for originally “pinning” this image, and point to a blog “Down and Out Chic” as the source.  So, I went to Down and Out Chic, but unfortunately, the link only led me to the main home page of the blog.  I had to dig for a few minutes to find the actual blog posting with the image.  I did eventually find it: Interiors: Black and White .  The “credits” for the images appear at the bottom of the post:

Our bathroom image, of course, is image #7, which came from here ( a tumblr link), and the source is unknown!  And that’s the end of the trail.  So, not only is the original image now hosted by the tumblr user, Pinterest itself, and the blog host, we don’t even know where it came from originally.  Thank goodness for Google Image Search!  But GIS is not an end all answer.  How is someone who sees the image and does want to license it correctly and compensate the creator supposed to find them if people are randomly pinning and hosting across the net?  Pinterest and others are perpetuating this behavior.

There is a blog online, encouraging Pinterest users to follow some simple rules to, at least, credit the creator correctly: http://lovelife.typepad.com/my_weblog/2012/02/when-to-pull-the-pin.html However, again, a link or credit is not free the end user from a charge of copyright infringement.  That’s something the Boston Business Journal realized and stopped using Pinterest to avoid legal action.

“I hope we’ll find another way to use Pinterest safely. The service shows fascinating potential,” Moore wrote. “But if you operate a business, or have any net worth to speak of, I recommend a careful read of the fine print.”

What Is Bothersome

Part of the problem arises from that the original artist did not seem to embed their information in the meta data of the image.  If they had, perhaps it might have propagated along this path.  That might have helped these other people using their image at least correctly identify the source.

What bothers me, though is that these blogs are clearly commercial, with box after box of advertising (sponsors), yet they fill their content areas with “free” images, partly encouraged by Pinterest.

Now there are two issues.  Copyright infringement of art that people don’t want freely distributed, and improper crediting of those who do wish to distribute their work (via Creative Commons licensing or other terms) to benefit their business.

So, the problems in this example aren’t totally owned by Pinterest, but come more from that idea out there that anything on the internet is free to be used as you see fit.  This is where Pinterest (and similar) could step up and try to educate its users that the content they are hosting (the majority of which is already an infringement) is not a free take what you like buffet of blog content.  They could go further and include warnings or restrictions in the pinning process to protect copyrighted works.  Will they?  Probably not – that would take the “fun” out of it, and their market share might drop.  Of course, in the end, the goal is to build a huge network of users so they can begin their monetization of the collections when the time is right.

The question is, where, financially, is the incentive for content creators to keep expressing themselves and making this art if the entire population feels they can take advantage of it for free?  Why, if you plug “music” or “movies” into this argument, does it suddenly change, and there is no PinMusic site where people can pin their favorite bands freely?

I think “the crowd” is trying to work towards a solution to this issue.  Let’s keep an eye on it.

Two New Articles

Here are links to two new articles about the issue.  The first has a very interesting question and answer session with a lawyer about Pinterest and copyright.  The second is a good overview of the whole thing.

edited: The creator of the bathroom image above has made some comments on her blog: http://designskool.net/cheer-up-mama/#comments

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11 Responses to Pinterest and “Pinning Etiquette”

  1. laurie says:

    Thank you for your post! It spurred me do a quick search to what (if any) of my images were floating around out there and I discovered foter.com. I’d never heard of it but they’ve got all my flickr photos (and tens of thousands of others). They say that their images are free, give no author/creator/photographer credit, and provide a download link for users. The only other info I found online was a press release from Feb 6. Have you heard anything about them?

    • Sean says:

      Haven’t heard about them. Looks to be mining flickr based on Creative Commons licensing and offering them up under the same licenses. But your work seems to be “All Rights Reserved”. Not sure what the rules are for that kind of thing.

  2. Martin Orpen says:

    You should also note that Pinterest strip all metadata from the images and change the original file name when they are copied to their servers.

    If you head over to David Riecks’ Controlled Vocabulary site you’ll see that two of us have tested Pinterest and submitted our findings to the on-line survey. In both cases *all* metadata was stripped from the test image.

    Other services that allow users to upload content, such as Facebook and YouTube, warn you every time you use them that you are not allowed to upload content if you don’t own it or have the owners permission. Pinterest do not do this. Once you have signed up and read their guidance notes you can upload other people’s images in seconds without ever being made aware that this is wrong.

  3. Libby says:

    And I thunk in a previous post you mentioned the possibility of defamatory comments regarding the image content. This is what happens with Pinner Gone Wild I guess. I’ve already seen a few on the service. Things like “wow look at the fat broad” etc on images the user snatched from the web.

  4. Allie says:

    Yes!yes!yes!
    For months my issue has been with proper crediting, but recently I realized that is only the tip of the iceberg. The real issues are those you speak of here: exploitation of “free” images & perpetuating the misinformation that if it is online, it is “free” for any use you deem. It’s gross to see how many people are taking advantage of these popular images for their own commercial gain.

  5. Libby says:

    Sorry about my grievous spelling error in the previous reply. I type too fast for my own good sometimes.

    Here’s a situation for you to ponder…

    I have a hobby blog, not photography centric, but what one would call “girlie hobby stuff”. I do shoot most of my own images there. But on occasion I will buy a stock photo to illustrate a concept due to lack of time or being too lazy to pick up a camera. So a stock image gets posted, usually at about 600 wide. The license to use legally is mine, and unless the image is editorial in nature, I am not obligated to credit the shooter and agency. Now, that image gets “Pinned”. So then what? The Pinner has not scraped my copyrighted image, but one from someone else. I am credited by the Pinheads as the “original source” when in fact I am not.

    With the uproar from a few years ago about Orphan Works I just really am surprised that artists for the most part are not all over these people. They’re bamboozled into believing that the image theft is actually good for them because of increased web traffic. Sure it may send traffic, but my bet is that 90% of it will the Pin Gals will just be looking for more images to scrape. What a racket. Use artists for web ready content and the clueless masses as mules to promote your own business agenda. Priceless.

  6. M Johnson says:

    Perhaps putting “copyright”, ©, your name and web address on all photos – watermark the digital files with this information – would help a bit.

    • Sean says:

      Well, if you’re interested in gaining traffic with your own photos, yes, that would help direct people to you…

  7. Three things about Pinterest.

    1) Pinterest are stripping out the copyright metadata that’s embedded within the images pinned to their site. Pinterest are doing that without the permission of the copyright owner. I have tested this myself as have others – read this report for detail –

    http://artists-bill-of-rights.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=688&catid=23&Itemid=97

    2) Pinterest will know fine well that despite their terms advising people not to pin without permission, that people will pin without permission. To solve this issue Pinterest could provide a ‘Pin permission’ code then website owners can embed that on their website if they are happy for their work to be pinned. Why should everyone in the world who doesn’t want their work to be pinned have to embed the Pinterest ‘block code’ throughout their website?

    It is not up to people to have to block copying of their work. The law does not work that way, the law requires people to get permission before copying. Either Pinterest don’t understand the law, or have decided not to enforce its requirements and put the onus on everyone else. If Pinterest would release a ‘Pin Permission’ code for website owners who want to be pinned that would get rid of some of the criticism.

    3) Pinterest claim the right to sell whatever is pinned on their website. Frankly this is astonishing and it is clearly unacceptable.

  8. […] are false assumptions.   For one (not that a link or credit frees a user from legal charges) the majority of pins do not link back to the original site, so even if the owner was fine with their work being pinned in return for […]

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