Pinterest, sharing and the rest of it …

I set things up on Pinterest a month or so ago, and it’s a brilliant curation tool for all sorts of stuff.

According to Mashable, it’s become more effective than Google+ in driving traffic to retailers (though I don’t particularly use it for that).

Unfortunately, as a number of people have pointed out, there are a few legal glitches to be ironed out. There’s a good entry at DDK Portraits site, and the Business Insider site is also following this topic. Pinterest themselves haven’t actually figured this one out yet.

To summarise … Pinterest uses image thumbnails, which is (technically) a breach of copyright. But their TOS means that you – the user – are responsible for these. And for any of Pinterest’s legal costs.
This touches on soooo many other discussions going on at the moment.

Credit where it’s due …

Pinterest does seem to want to do the right thing. It asks pinners to “Credit Your Sources“.
But it also has a business model to support.

The key points for me are that they only store thumbnails, and that these link to the original site (although there are stories that they can hijack affiliations … I don’t mind that – I’m not monetising here).

So by pinning a thumbnail, you’re effectively endorsing and promoting a site. Most websites want traffic, so – you’d think – that’s a good thing. And Google Images does it …
But irrespective of the size of the image, it’s still potentially* a breach of copyright. I feel rather uncomfortable with that.
*depending on the image’s licence

Well, I wouldn’t start from here …

Of course, if we were starting up a whole new copyright law from scratch with the tech we now have available, then we probably wouldn’t spontaneously dream up the one we’ve got.

But we do have a legacy legal system, and there’s no sign of it being unwound in the near future. On the contrary – the furore over SOPA and ACTA show that corporate copyright holders in particular are looking to become even more restrictive.

This is rather asymmetric, however, and many individual creators value sites that allow their work to be shared, as social sharing brings quality referrals. deviantART is only one of a whole bunch of other sites that use this as a model (although this is a more creator-based community).

However, this is completely outweighed by the interests of the corporate copyright holders – who tend to dominate copyright legislation (worldwide) through their bigger lobbying budgets (most recently over SOPA and ACTA).

And I believe that their anti-piracy message is rather misleading. Why?
Well, one of the biggest threats to the big meia businesses isn’t actually piracy; the real fear must be that an infrastructure evolves that renders their input irrelevant.
What do I mean by that? Well, at the moment, the royalties they pay to artists have (the companies’) promotion costs (including overheads) deducted.
Downloads already mean that artists don’t need the manufacturing plants, or the physical distribution networks (which is why the labels have resisted downloads – legal and pirate).
But if artists’s fans are doing the promotion work for them, then why would they need the labels at all?

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As I write this, Mashable has posted an article describing how major labels are grabbing their artists’ social media identities

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Also while writing – SROC has posted a report that Mark Mulligan of Music Industry Blog is claiming certain content types – such as hi-def movies – should be assumed illegal unless shown otherwise

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It’s not just limited to the music industry, of course. Alex Cox, creator of the excellent Repo Man, interviewed in The Quietus says (inter alia) “Now they want to have longer copyright periods because they say the young artists are relying on this money. The young artists never see any money because they sign away that money to big media corporations, like Universal and Viacom.

Fair Use / Fair Dealing

Also … bear in mind that many countries outside the US don’t have a “fair use” provision, although here in the UK we have regulations on “fair dealing”. Bear in mind that I’m not a lawyer, so this is just how I read things. And the way things are at the moment, the jurisdiction is certain to be a complete mess.

According to Wikipedia, this gives exemptions for “purposes of non-commercial research or study, criticism or review”. It also has to be “fair” and give credit to the originator. “Fairness” is quite loosely defined (as is “criticism”) and the courts will take into account (for the purposes of judging this) the motives of the infringer and the consequences to them of the infringement.

I’m mainly using my Pinterest boards as research for my College work, and they aren’t running on a “for profit” basis. But Pinterest itself is a commercial operation, which may affect that perspective.

Sharing as a Business Model

Some enlightened (IMHO) creators think that sharing their work – certainly as a sample – leads to a better relationship with their fans. The incredibly talented Neil Gaiman compares it to lending a favourite book to a friend. This is creates the “word of mouth” that promotional hype and viral marketing can only impersonate.

From his (author’s) perspective letting people sample read the first chapter can hook them. Letting people read the whole book means they’ll buy other books.

Coming from photographer context, HDR guru Trey Ratcliff has taken a similar view, opening his photos under the Creative Commons licence. Other photographers – such as Scott Bourne – are dipping their toes in this pond as well.
Of course, as a photographer, it’s going to depend on the market you’re operating in. If you’re selling images to commercial operations on commission, your client really want the exposure for their products. That’s a good thing, and positive comments mean they’ll probably use you again. But you (the photographer) probably won’t have licenced the image to Pinterest, so it’s a copyright breach ….
If you’re producing art or landscape images on spec, then you may get a bit upset about the unlicensed use, but people are never going to pay you just to say “I think your photo is cool” (I know I wouldn’t). So you’re not losing income.
From a personal perspective, if the work is attributed and linked, then I wouldn’t mind thumbnails being shared or liked. That could lead to print sales or commissions. Free advertising.
At the very least, Google likes your site if there are more links into it – so Pins should move you up the page rankings. And it’s cheaper than an SEO consultant.
I’d be upset if the full-sized images were used commercially without licence. But I accept that other creators may have different views.

To summarise, trying to make rules (for a site like Pinterest) that cover all the bases is gonna get tricky. For this to happen, images are going to have to carry metadata to check licence status (possible, but there are already huge numbers of images on the web without this data populated). And that status would need to be a standard (machine processable) format.

F***wit litigiousness

There’s another trend underway, however, following in the wake of the US DMCA. This allows copyright takedown notices for pirated content. And there’s a suggestion that there are third-party companies trying to build a rep by issuing dodgy takedown notices.

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The comedian Dave Gorman has highlighted an example of this on his blog. A company called Degban apparently issued a takedown notice on one of his (owned) Flickr photos. Degban claim they were hacked (if they issued the notice negligently, then they would be liable to perjury charges). Flickr are unable to make a decision to restore the image and its comments in the same location (so lots of internet links are broken).
Anyone who’s seen Dave’s Googlewhack Adventure might suspect that we haven’t heard the last of this one…
(See what I’ve done there, by the way?)

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Edit 22/3/2012

I’ve just been watching Kirby Ferguson’s excellent series of videos “Everything is a Remix“.
Take a look …

The net effect is that copyright holders aren’t issuing takedown notices. They’re outsourcing to f***wits who don’t know – or really care – whether they’re valid or not. There’s a system to be gamed – and it’s just like getting your eBay feedback rating up.
This has parallels with the ACS:Law debacle in the UK, in 2010-11.
And as the sites become absorbed into larger organisations, the admin tasks (including customer interactions) get “managed” into a process using staff at the lowest possible pay rate. And – as with all processes – if it means making a human decision, then it isn’t going to happen.


But this doesn’t get around the problem that by pinning an image, I could be opening myself up to a liability – as the original DDK article pointed out. This despite the Pinterest etiquette advice to Avoid Self-Promotion.

So I’m potentially going to get some troll suing me. And if that happens, I’ll have to pick up Pinterest’s legal tab as well.

I’ll be watching this one closely. If the takedown notices start flying, then I’ll be shutting down my Pinterest boards. But with a great deal of regret.

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