Pinterest Is Still Enabling Piracy

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In response to cries of copyright abuse, Pinterest announced a “fix” for the copyright concerns. “To thwart any lawsuits in the making, the much talked-about startup is giving disgruntled site-owners a way to stop piracy before it starts by blocking their images from showing up on Pinterest,” Jennifer Van Grove wrote on VentureBeat.

The headline? “Pinterest not a pirate anymore, helps site owners disable pins.” Their solution was to provide a snippet of code to your site that disables sharing of photos to Pinterest. The code can be found in the help menu under. “What if I don’t want images from my site to be pinned?” This is not the problem. Giving site owners the ability to disable pins misses the entire point. There is an advantage to the original source to pinning with attribution.

The problem is the pinning from secondary sources. And the one most abused is’s image search. Just take a look at the volume of images being pinned from Google image search. These images have no attribution and result in no links to the original source, which is one of the major benefits being touted by Pinterest proponents. In fact, clicking through from a Google image search pin takes you to a blank search. It doesn’t even take you to the image search result. As Stuart Whitmore says in the comments, “Pinterest should disable pinning from Google Images or any other image search, since it’s clearly not the valid source.” And I agree. Completely.

No, Pinterest is still a pirate. 

Let’s NOT put the burden for copyright on the site owners. Pinterest is the enabler. I can easily pin things that are clearly not the correct source. And I can even more easily repin an item without ever looking at the original source. Pinterest’s own language is in their ettiquette section is tepid on this subject. “Finding the original source is always preferable to a secondary source such as Google Image Search or a blog entry.” I’d say it’s quite a bit more than preferable.

What can you do if you love Pinterest? 

  • Seek The Source. First, do your best to seek out the original source of the image you’re pinning, or at least make sure the blog that includes the image has the correct attribution.
  • Repin with thought. It’s so easy to see a tantilizing photo in your Pinterest stream and simply repin it to one of your boards without ever clicking into the detail on the pin or visiting the source. I know, because I’ve done it myself. No more.  One of the benefits of being pinned is that it drives traffic to the originator’s site. So, before you repin, go visit the source. If you can’t find it, don’t repin it. Find the original and then do what Pinterest suggests in their etiquette, “If you notice that a pin is not sourced correctly, leave a comment so the original pinner can update the source.”
  • Protect Copyright. On your own blog, be sure you’re giving proper attribution and have secured the rights to post any photograph you use. I’ve been a huge fan and participant of Creative Commons. Flickr has a vibrant and active Creative Commons community. Use it and use it correctly.

Are we raising a generation of thieves?

Last week I helped my son, a seventh grader, with a homework assignment that involved finding images online to illustrate different physical conditioning models. The instructions were explicit; go to Google and find the images. Download them to your hard drive and include them along with a description of why the photo demonstrates the conditioning model you’re illustrating. There was no mention of giving attribution. None.

He actually fought with me as I taught him how to give proper attribution by clicking through to the source of the image, copying the URL and site name and including that in the copy of his description. He said, “Nobody does this, Dad. It’s not required for the assignment.” I told him his teacher was wrong and that what she was teaching him was how to steal people’s intellectual property. Perhaps I was being overly dramatic, for effect, but I meant what I said.

Pinterest is a wonderfully executed site that millions enjoy using each day. But it can and should do more to protect the copyright of content creators that are fueling it’s growth. Your thought are welcomed.

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Image Source: Mine

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  1. says

    I think since Pinterest is essentially building (some saying copying) on Tumblr’s model of content sharing and “resharing” for it’s users, that it should also like Tumblr have multiple build-in native ways for users to be responsible with annotations, source, and linking to original work.

    • Jeff Turner says

      Ryan, I agree. Obviously, there is a responsibility that is squarely on the user. Still, the platform makes it too easy to abuse copyright. My behavior will be changing accordingly.

  2. says

    I’m stunned that your son’s teacher didn’t require attribution or proper citation. I remember cringing every time I found a source I didn’t know how to organize in to APA citation format.

    I think Pinterest’s solution won’t do anything to stave off copyright suits. Requiring the addition of non-web-standards code to prevent sharing is the equivalent of having to lock your car every night and then rolling out a sign and placing it on the hood that says “Please don’t steal this.” They’re assuming that they’re in the right the gross majority of the time, and that’s backwards. Instead, photos that people want to be “pinned” should be uniquely identified.

    If you’re a professional creator, I think there’s never been a more important time to invest in a quality watermark and learn about adding your information via photo meta data.

    • Jeff Turner says

      Dave, I was shocked as well. I had to bite my tongue to not bad mouth his teacher. But I think I made it clear to him what “best practices” are in any situation like this. “They’re assuming that they’re in the right the gross majority of the time, and that’s backwards.” Yes, it is.

  3. says

    I had just joined when the concerns about copyright started to become widely circulated. I hesitated to put anything on my boards. Now, I am quite sure that this is not going to be an activity in which I’m going to participate. I don’t have time to check every pic I see, and I won’t post without attribution. Plus, I’m thinking that my dreams are my dreams and I’m not big on some way being found to market to me using what I like on a web board (yes, FB marketing is more than creepy enough). Gluestick and posterboard vision boards are looking better to me. But can I download a pic for personal use to glue on my board? This just got really complicated. At least the pics in my head are mine mine mine :)

    • Jeff Turner says

      Well, doing it “right” will certainly take more time. But, like you, I’m simply not willing to continue to do it wrong.

  4. says

    I know this post is about Pinterest, but I am shocked (like Dave) that your son’s teacher either isn’t concerned with attribution/citation or (more likely) is confused/uncertain about how to teach it with the rapidly growing sources and types of sources with which we are faced today. I like Dave’s comment: “I remember cringing every time I found a source I didn’t know how to organize in to APA citation format.” That and, as a former English teacher, having to teach it…and come up with a solution when a student found a source that I was unsure of how to cite.

    The Pinterest issue aside, this definitely points to a larger issue in educating not just our children but the masses on the importance of proper attribution – a daunting task, for certain.

    • says

      Heh… Glad the teacher was in the same boat as the students! I remember one time I had to cite some journal article that had like 18 authors. The citation alone took half a page.

      So yes, I believe Jeff’s children should also be subject to these same punishments. Err… Best practices. =)

  5. says

    Hadn’t really thought into it as much but as a former musician I can appreciate the copyright issues. However, doesn’t the problem really lie with the distributor of the images (i.e. Google) and not necessarily the user? For example, would it be my fault listening to a radio station that played a song that I requested, and the artist didn’t get attribution (how many songs a day do you hear that the artists, let alone writers aren’t referenced ), let alone get paid? We trust in the broadcast media (distributor) to do what is right. To me, Google is wrong. Yes, I said that. And Jay Thompson probably can do something to manipulate the Google. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. 😉

    • Jeff Turner says

      Google actually does give attribution, though. They link to the source, it’s their entire purpose. The pin on Pinterest breaks that connection. It doesn’t have to. That is a choice.

      • says

        So shouldn’t Pinterest carry over that “connection code” then? Why is that so hard? Because I don’t see most consumers taking the time to think about it… even if we should. (I’m not justifying it. Simply stating what most people will or will not do.) I bet Jay could certainly manipulate the Pinterest too. 😀

        • Jeff Turner says

          I’m sure Jay can manipulate anything. :) There are lots of solutions, but creating a snippet of code that puts the responsibility for action on the side of the site owner is not one of them. As Dave Cole said in an earlier comment, “Requiring the addition of non-web-standards code to prevent sharing is the equivalent of having to lock your car every night and then rolling out a sign and placing it on the hood that says “Please don’t steal this.” They’re assuming that they’re in the right the gross majority of the time, and that’s backwards.”

  6. says

    I’m sure your son would be mortified (as my daughters were several times) but I would make an appointment with the teacher and explain to her that what she is doing is wrong, and she should not be teaching wrong!

  7. says

    Agree with you Jeff.

    One of the largest problems with the web right now is that Google (and several dozen other search engines) along with Facebook (and several dozen other social sites) pushed the mass population online.

    Unfortunately a majority of the population is giving no thought to some long-standing legal issues around privacy and copyright. A good percentage are completely oblivious to the concept of breaking the law by hitting ‘pin it’

    I believe that Pinterest should actually have a required field for attribution and/or a manual field for claiming the right to publish it.

    I would throw out there: if you think that attribution is important on Pinterest… take a look at all the other aggregation and social submittal sites to see all sorts of other content being infringed daily.

    • Jeff Turner says

      Barry, I guess part of my issue is that it’s not just Pinterest. Pinterest is the current lightning rod issue, but it’s way broader, as you mention. As Chris points out, copyright is broken, or perhaps under attack. These are not issues that are easily resolved in the broad context, but there are some better fixes from the Pinterest standpoint than what the delivered.

  8. says

    These are interesting times. Although I agree with your overall position about citing source, it seems impractical today to expect people to source every piece of content they’re sharing. The pace is way too fast. There is this overall sense of ‘public knowledge’ once you publish something on the net….like you’re giving it away. As Lori said…the music industry has had to do some serious reconfiguring to adapt and I expect the rest of us will as well. The model has changed and although if I were writing a research paper or business white paper I would most certainly want to site my sources ~ it would seem its for credibility and legitimacy. Google images ‘feel’ free to me…why do you suppose that is? (because technically you’re absolutely right – its stealing.)

    • Jeff Turner says

      Teri, while I agree that the times are changing, pace, in this case, is set by Pinterest. They can, quite easily, disable the major offense of non-attribution. Regardless of how they “feel,” Google images do not come with a right to publish at will.

  9. says

    Copyright as we see it is an obsolete idea.

    I don’t know what the answer is, but pinning an image without attribution isn’t a huge thing. The images aren’t valuable without context.

    Nobody’s going to mistake PineTrest fan sites for the official word from Disney.

    • says

      Images can be very valuable “without context.” That is the very basis of stock photography, which can be lucrative enough for talented & productive stock photographers to live comfortably off nothing but that. When a stock photo is “pinned” on Pinterest with no credit for or link to the photographer it may not be physical theft, but it financially damages the photographer anyway.

      As for copyright being obsolete, it’s just as obsolete as paying workers for their time. It’s just as obsolete as money. Are those really obsolete?

  10. says

    I think there is a big grey area, and a big misconception, between “sharing”, “pirating”, and “infringing on copyright”.

    Pirating assumes that you’re consuming a license/product without paying for it.

    Infringing copyright assumes republishing a body of work without proper attribution and/or for unlicensed profit.

    Sharing is simply re-transmitting something to someone else that might find it interesting.

    I think to label people as pirates for sharing isn’t very accurate. However I think your synopsis of people’s behavior being irresponsible IS accurate, but is more “lazy” than “pirate”. For the most part these people aren’t doing anything more than re-transmitting something they like to others. Are the majority of Pinterest users even really “republishing” is the question we need to answer.

    My opinion is:

    * Pinterest needs to improve the ability to attribute
    * Users shouldn’t be put on “trial”
    * Content creators & owners need to understand this new paradigm better (
    I think content owners can take a lesson from The Oatmeal vs. Funnyjunk episode: or any of the recent Associated Press debacles)

    While your example of your son’s research paper has some validity, the nature of Pinterest is largely viral, not a published work. You could easily fit it’s users behavior into the traditional infringement models above, but I think it’s largely a new beast. We need to figure out how we should manage copyright in the age of “sharing”, if we even should at all.

    With all that said, I’m not completely decided. Largely because I don’t know what methods Pinterest could employ to encourage or require correct attribution. It should be interesting how this plays out, or if it just dies down (like every other similar flareup). Because it could have ramifications for a large part of the web. Ultimately I think we’ll see a multi-pronged approach that puts the burden of attribution on BOTH copyright-holders and sharers.

    • Jeff Turner says

      Jon, I appreciate your comment. Thank you. “We need to figure out how we should manage copyright in the age of “sharing”, if we even should at all.” For me, this simply ties back to the issue of attribution. I obviously think Pinterest needs to improve the ability to attribute. For me, this does start with eliminating obvious cases where attribution is difficult or impossible. My use of the word “pirate” was in direct response to the VentureBeat article this morning, so I certainly agree with your assessment of definitions. And your question, “Are the majority of Pinterest users even really “republishing?” is an interesting one. In the moment, I would say they are. When I stop to give it more thought, I’m not sure it’s true. But that, for me, brings attribution front and center again, which is the point of this post, really. Pinterest is largely a new beast? I’m not sure. It’s a form of bookmarking site as far as I’m concerned. It’s user interface is different, but it’s still bookmarking.

      • says

        You’re absolutely right Pinterest is just a new form of sharing, like reddit, digg, and partially fb & twitter. Which is not something NEW, but I think society is finally latching on to it a lot more than they did even just two years ago. Which I think is mostly because the tools have matured so much.

        So to mix the pot even further, what content is really the valuable one worth protecting? Just the actual material (photo, recipe, etc.), or does the act of curating a set of bookmarks that relate to a specific topic create a whole new product that has value in of itself. So what is more valuable? The egg, or the chicken that laid it. That’s definitely a flawed analogy, but still makes you think.

        I love the root of this conversation btw, totally relates back to a debate regarding an entirely different body of copyrighted material we all know and love.

    • says

      I don’t think there’s any legal support at all for the “differences” you try to define between piracy, sharing (without permission), and copyright infringement. I recommend spending some time on to help eliminate your misconceptions, because the notions that copyright infringement is related to attribution, or profit motive, is just a commonly-told myth.

      If I were to visit your house, find a poem you wrote but never published, take a photo of it with the camera in my phone, and then post that photo online with your name on it to “share” it with the world because I think it’s so wonderful, I’d still be infringing on your copyright. Despite not making any profit, and despite the fact that I credited you.

      Copyright is the right to control copying; while the details of copyright law are very complex, the basic concept is not.

      • says

        I think you missed my points. I have no misconception about how their actions relate to our laws. In many cases it’s a clear violation of current law. I think many people miss that very thing when talking about this subject.

        What I’m saying is that copyright holders need to figure out how to make money when they can’t always control where their content goes.

        We can’t have a free and open internet without the risk of copyright being broken. So there needs to be a paradigm shift in the way copyright is managed. That or we need to say goodbye to a free and open internet. That’s the long and short of it.

        • Jeff Turner says

          Jon, the shift that needs to take place in this case is a simple acknowledgement by Pinterest that there are clear examples where they could proactively act in the interest of copyright, but have chosen not to. Google image search is a clear example of that, in my mind. This does nothing to damage the free and open Internet. That’s just a company acting in good faith.

  11. says

    Another wonderful post Jeff. I bet you have many great photos to share on your trip to Africa. I think Pinterest will be a great site for showing off our communities. I’ve been playing with it some and enjoy the concept.

  12. says

    As I stated on AGBeat earlier, I think it would have been much better if Pinterest had made the ability to pin from someone’s site opt-in instead of opt-out. The code snippet they’re passing out is an opt-out mechanism, plain and simple. What they should have done is establish a procedure for sites and IP owner to agree to having their IP shared on Pinterest before they went live, but in today’s world it’s far easier to ask forgiveness than get permission.

    • Jeff Turner says

      I’m less concerned with that than I am the massive indifference to clearly unattributable content being pinned from second and third party sites.

  13. says

    there are photographers out there (I won’t call them ‘professional’ photographers) that take thousands of images and purposefully post them to the Internet with the hopes that some naive, unsuspecting dweeb will swipe the image off Google, and the next thing you know, you’re getting a letter from their legal counsel, demanding reparation. And it’s not cheap! This is happening more and more, and is becoming a HUGE cash cow for ambulance chasers!

  14. Kim Wood says

    Education, Education, Education.
    I appreciate you continuing to share as people seem to “not get it”. Every presentation I do on Google reminds people not to steal. Pintrest does make it easy not to source, and although I’m always careful, I need to go back and check some early pins I posted assuming they helped ensure credit was given.

    I’m not sure Pintrest giving sites an option not to have their items pinned is reasonable, seems like it should be the other way around, but I agree, the responsibility is on the pinner.

    On another note, my poor homeschooler got caught not giving attribution, let’s just say his hand was very tired after his “punishment” assignment. You don’t want to mess with me on that one 😉

    • Jeff Turner says

      Kim, I went back and removed three pins that were not clearly coming from the source of the pin. None were from google, but three were from sources that were not the real source of the content. Frankly, I’m still not feeling Pinterest in general, but for those who do… using it in a way that honors creators makes a ton of sense to me.

  15. says

    I can see the new mantra: “I pin, therefore I am”!

    Found the comments as rich as the article, especially Jon Mabe’s comment about finding a new paradigm for content creators to make money knowing content could go viral without attribution.

    Thanks for stimulating my creative brain here as a I gear up for my upcoming food blog where I shoot all my own pictures. Creative Commons….here I come!


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