Pinterest, Copyright, and Your Fishing and Tackle Images
by Dr. Todd E.A. Larson
The latest social media platform is called Pinterest. It's a quick and simple way to "pin" images you find of interest on the internet to a virtual bulletin board. Users create Pinterest Boards on every subject known to man, and then while browsing the web "pin" images, often with a short comment, to their boards. Other Pinterest users can peruse and even "re-pin" your pins on their own boards. Beneath every Pinterest pin is a link to the original source.
What you end up with are endlessly scrolling boards filled with material of interest to you and (hopefully) a group of others, who can comment, like, and re-pin your pins. Pinterest is very easy to use, can be informative, and by all accounts is massively addictive. Many large web sites--including eBay and Amazon--make it easy to "pin" their images on Pinterest boards. Ebay even recently added a Pinterest pin directly to every eBay page.
But dig a little deeper and you'll discover something is amiss -- a very Pinterest-ing problem, to use a bad pun.
It has to do with copyright. For you see, Pinterest does NOT hotlink to an image off of an outside web site. It actually COPIES the images used in every pin over to the Pinterest servers. And not only does it copy it, but it searches for the highest resolution copy available and then copies THAT image over.
I decided to do a test over the past couple of days and set up a few Pinterest boards just to see exactly what was going on. The first board I set up was one called "Vintage Fishing Tackle." I spent a couple of hours pinning tackle from a number of popular web sites, including forums like Joe's Board, ORCA's Reel Talk, the Classic Fly Rod Forum, and Fiberglass Fly Rodders, as well as some popular blogs like my own Fishing for History.
I discovered something very interesting, and quite scary. Even when you delete your original images, as I did with several test photos, since Pinterest copies the images over to its own servers, their copy still exists. The problem with this is that Pinterest claims ownership of any and all images used on Pinterest web sites..
Isn't this the exact same thing that Google Images does? Well, not exactly. As the GreekGeek web site notes, "Say you remove a photo from your own site in order to sell it. Or say you find a copy of your art posted illegally on someone else's website and ask them to remove it. Once the image is removed, Google automatically drops it from search results, but Pinterest's full-sized copy of the image remains."
This creates a full-size image, which you have no control over, that will compete with your image in search engines, and perhaps, erode the traffic to (and value of) your web site.
Most Web Sites subscribe to the Creative Commons licensing, which allows other sites to utilize your material as long as they credit it and provide a full link back to the original site. Say someone links to an article or post you've made. Wonderful news! Now, interested parties who might never have found your site can be exposed to your material. But what if someone pins a photo from the "linked" post instead of your original? You guessed it. The person who linked your content gets the click back and not the original poster. Add to this the fact that Pinterest makes it incredibly easy to re-blog the Pin instead of the original content, and basically you've lost all control over ownership of your work.
I can imagine a day in the future when large spambots troll the internet for any images, create massive Pinterest boards, and get the resulting traffic as money generating clicks.
The biggest problem for today, however, is that Pinterest makes a claim of ownership on anything posted to a Pinterest board. Here is their licensing verbatim:
By making available any Member Content through the Site, Application or Services, you hereby grant to Cold Brew Labs a worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free license, with the right to sublicense, to use, copy, adapt, modify, distribute, license, sell, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, stream, broadcast, access, view, and otherwise exploit such Member Content only on, through or by means of the Site, Application or Services.
Under fire from a number of major web sources, Pinterest has created an Opt Out Code for web sites who do not want their material pinned on a Pinterest board. I would strongly suggest anyone interested in protecting their images take advantage of this and choose the "opt out" option. This will NOT entirely solve the problem, as someone can download and then upload to a different host and then pin it, but it will make it more difficult for people -- the vast majority of whom have no ill intentions -- to unwittingly violate your copyright.
I will, of course, delete any images from the "Vintage Fishing Tackle" board that I feel violate copyright. It was done only to show how easy it is to do this.
I created two other Pinterest boards which I hope will show how to responsibly use Pinterest. The first is one called "Vintage Fishing Advertisement and Art" and contains images of classic fishing ephemera which no one owns the copyright to. The second is called "Vintage Fishing Photos" and contains images that were knowingly uploaded to public boards or have no known copyright owner.
If anyone ever thought that the images they uploaded to eBay were their intellectual property, this whole incident should make this issue clear. They are not. Ebay has agreed to allow all eBay auctions to be potentially pinned on Pinterest, meaning that between these two companies, any images you use to sell your products can be used by either company as a revenue source. Ebay has long sold your images, without most people's knowledge, to WorthPoint -- and now has allowed Pinterest access to its incredible wealth of images. For good or bad, eBay images are now for all intents and purposes, public domain.
So how do you protect your web site and your images? The easiest way is to watermark them. This won't stop people from pinning and reusing them, but at least the copyright ownership will be clear. To make it difficult (but not impossible) for people to pin images, utilize the opt out code for Pinterest on your web site.
The bottom line is probably this: the only way to truly avoid these problems is to not upload high resolution images to the internet in the first place that you do not want to see copied and used elsewhere. Why put up a 2000 x 1600 image when an 800 x 600 will suffice?
For further reading, check out GreekGeek's thorough analysis and Josh Davis' explanation on how to Opt Out of sharing images with Pinterest.
I believe that Pinterest can be a useful, fun, and even informative tool if used correctly and with some forethought. But it can and does violate copyright on a regular basis, and if it is important to you, you will have to be proactive and take steps to protect yourself.
-- Dr. Todd