Yes, I have a bug up my butt about Pinterest and copyright.
Sorry. We all have our issues. This one is mine right now. I really do try to ignore it, but I’m attracted to it like a moth to flame. Or maybe it’s the other way around.
Yesterday, I was minding my own business when my wife posted this link to a Pinterest post about an indoor slide from Zillow‘s Pinterest account on my Facebook wall. My wife said she wanted one. I said go for it. So, what did I do next? I decided I wanted to go read about it on the source. Seems like a reasonable action on my part.
Finding the original source should be easy, right?
I mean, Pinterest terms of service clearly state that if you’re pinning something you must have the right to do so. So, theoretically I should be able to click on the image and go read more about this amazing slide I just saw. Much to my surprise, this was not the case. Ok. That’s a lie. I really didn’t expect to to be taken directly to the source. I also didn’t expect the rabbit hole of search I was about to enter. Over 25 painful minutes later, I finally found the original source. Today I retraced my steps in this video. Trust me, it was even more painful the second time.
Searching For The Original Source Of A Pinterest Post from Jeff Turner on Vimeo.
The Rabbit Hole That Took Me To The Original Copyright Owner
So here’s the trail: Zillow’s Pinterest post >> Tumblr blog home page >> Tumblr post >> another Tumblr blog home page >> another Tumblr post >> another Tumblr post >> a deleted post >> back to the other Tumblr post >> another tumblr post >> the MyModernMet.com post >> Design-Milk.com >> failed searches on Design-Milk.com >> back to MyModernMet.com post >> to HomeDSGN.com home page >> several failed searches on the architect and keywords found in MyModernMet.com post >> search result for “condo slide on HomeDSGN.com >> HomeDSGN.com post >> Arhcitizer.com & Travis Dubreuil >> No luck finding original posts on Architizer. Like I said, it was painful. By the time I got that far, I was way past having the desire to find the original photos on Travis’ site.
It appears HomeDSGN.com initiated all of the original Pinterest and Tumblr love. I suppose they should feel good about getting the ball rolling, but in the end, neither they nor the original sources of the content got all of this link traffic that Tumblr and Pinterest generated. Someone else did.
And this leaves me scratching my head. When the person at Zillow repinned Alex Bohnet’s Pinterest post, did they give any thought at all to copyright? I doubt it, even though the Pinterest terms of service on clear on this subject:
“You acknowledge and agree that you are solely responsible for all Member Content that you make available through the Site, Application and Services. Accordingly, you represent and warrant that: (i) you either are the sole and exclusive owner of all Member Content that you make available through the Site, Application and Services or you have all rights, licenses, consents and releases that are necessary to grant to Cold Brew Labs the rights in such Member Content, as contemplated under these Terms; and (ii) neither the Member Content nor your posting, uploading, publication, submission or transmittal of the Member Content or Cold Brew Labs’ use of the Member Content (or any portion thereof) on, through or by means of the Site, Application and the Services will infringe, misappropriate or violate a third party’s patent, copyright, trademark, trade secret, moral rights or other proprietary or intellectual property rights, or rights of publicity or privacy, or result in the violation of any applicable law or regulation.”
Who’s Going To Be The First To Challenge A Pinterest Or Tumblr User In Court?
I’m not an attorney, nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, so I’m delving into complete conjecture territory here. I just know how pissed I am when someone uses my Creative Commons licensed photos on Flickr without respecting the simple to follow, free copyright. And I know what the legal definition of copyright infringement is. “As a general matter, copyright infringement occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner.”
I have no idea what photo permissions Travis Dubreuil extended to Archetizer.com. I only know that it appears the copyright starts with him, the owner. If so, only he, through a written agreement, can assign those rights to others. I also have no idea if Zillow did the research I did, though I assume if they had, they would have gone as close to the source as possible and pinned the HomeDSGN.com post.
I have way more questions than answers. Here are a few of my questions: Would Travis Dubreuil win a copyright infringement case against Zillow? Or Pinterest? Or any of the Tumblr bloggers? Is there even a case? Maybe. Maybe not. Again, I’m not an expert on copyright law. But these are questions I’d probably want to have answers for if I’m Zillow, or any other corporation allowing it’s employees to post on Pinterest.
And there’s one final question I have. Does Travis even care that his photos are travelling around creating traffic and value for other people without his knowledge, permission, reward or recognition? I’m hoping Travis will find his way here and give me his thoughts as well. His opinion may be the most important.
Connor MacIvor says
Very interesting Jeff. Within real estate, agents take a lot of photos of sellers houses. If that agent and their seller ok the syndication use of the listing and accompanying photos would that equate to permission being given for the images on sites like Pinterest? I’m going to have to wrap my mind around this one. I’m just not sure if my mind is big enough 😉
Chris Lema says
Just reading up on this and actually, the MLS where it was uploaded most likely took the copyright…whether the agent (and/or photographer) knew it or not. So then, what role does the MLS have in this? Crazy stuff!
Stuart Whitmore says
The way I understand the terms at Pinterest, even if Travis prevailed in a legal case against Pinterest they might not actually lose anything because they’re indemnified by the person doing the “pinning.” This is part of why I removed my (short-lived) account on Pinterest, I don’t want to be even remotely connected to that legal minefield.
Jeff Turner says
That’s why I titled the post the way I did. It appears the legal case would be against Zillow and other users, if indeed there was one.
Ira Serkes says
I, for one, plan to practice only safe pinning.
Pinning only photos I took myself.
I think partaking in unsafe pinning has a very high probability of unleashing the dogs of war … the legal beagles who cut their teeth on Napster … or who currently work as patent trolls.
I don’t even seen it in shades of gray … I see it as black and white issue … perhaps even in stripes.
Drew Meyers says
Guess it’s a good thing I haven’t starting pinning everything i see on the web. In fact..since i’m not a photographer, there’s really no reason for me to use pinterest unless i want to get sued 🙂
Kris Shaull says
But wait, doesn’t Pinterest also say not to use their service to self-promote? So, if you can’t pin your own images (i.e., self-promote), and you can’t pin any images you don’t own or have permission to use, what is everybody pinning?
Kelly Mitchell says
Interesting perspective Jeff. I need to give my own pinning methods a better look. In the meantime we’ll probably seem some aggressive plays when the implications are more widely realized. It will be interetesting to see how it unfolds.
By the way, I appreciate you researching the source . I’ve just added the slide to my must have in my next home. Totally cool. The wife has amazing taste!
Grant Hammond says
I read the Pinterest terms of service and they literally say in their TOS that one you pin something to Pinterest, that information becomes the copyrighted material of Pinterest and you give them permission to use that information in any way under the sun including, “exploiting” the photos and or content. I think it is time we stop pinning.
Kerry Melcher says
I was in pain watching that and rooting for it to be found – thanks for the 800% speed up. I love Pinterest when I get to the original link (blog meat) but I would not have had your patience to keep going – all said, interesting legal questions and what a tedious task. What screen-casting application were you using?
happy saturday jeff
Hey Jeff, Great article, great questions to consider. These are the exact reasons I removed everything from my Pinterest account and stopped using it. Being a photographer and someone who cares a great deal about where/how my images are being used I started looking around at the images I was pinning and finding the same issue of “where’s the actual source?” – often not finding it or even any credit to who created it I started getting concerned. Then after reading the terms on Pinterest and seeing you must 1) have the rights to “pin” images (which most don’t unless you actually took it or went to trouble to get permission) and 2) you sign away to Pinterest the right to use, sell, distribute, etc whatever you “pin” (no thank you, not interested in this for my own work). For now, I just kept my user name in case they change the terms in the future. I’m not Travis – but I can speak for my own self as a photographer – it is no fun having work out there with no credit. I definitely think there will be lots of issues at some point unless Pinterest makes some big changes. Thanks for the great article and for going through the process of how deep you often have to dig to get accurate info. 🙂
Mike Parker says
Well Jeff you open my eyes again, you have a way of doing that. I am most likely like the normal person, I just started pinning n to be honest did nt loat my boat.
Now what Grant since he Read the TOS kinda scares me n if I do what Ira said post my own pictures but I give up my copyright on them by posting on Pinterest, nah that don’t excitement n makes me want to close account.
I see some uses for Real Estate but is the cost too high if you want to own your own stuff.
It seems all these new websites want everything to be out in the cloud n nobody owns it, just come to their site to view everything for they can charge advertising dollars to vendors n agents.
These times there are moving fast, never a second to rest!
Thank You Jeff for keeping us inform for we can make our own decisions !
Pinterest has worried me for a while now. I recently deleted all the boards I had started except for the one of my own stuff (not anything I am worried about copyright on…craft project mostly) and a board for sites that ask for items to be pinned (for drawings or contest entries, I will probably delete those pins after the “event”).
I am surprised at the number of photographers who flip straight out over other infringements spending a time and effort in pinning others work and ideas…
Thanks for expressing the concern!
Matt Gosselin says
You’re getting too carried away too quickly on this one Jeff. Pinterest is still a start-up site and they will soon enough work out their copyright issues so they can be larger than they are today. While you right to acknowledge they have an obligation to protect copyright, the fact is, this little start up will get their time to correct issues like this but maybe not soon enough for you. Let’s leave this out of the courts until they have some more time. Until then, it is your position to figure out ways that they can use this FOR real estate instead of identifying ways in which Pinterest is not relavant to R.E. today. You have the voice and real estate is relying on you for this.
Jeff Turner says
Matt, I’ve written about how I think RE can use Pinterest over at RETSO.com here: http://retso.com/pinterest-for-real-estate-in-three-easy-steps/ I think real estate agents should make their content worthy of being pinned and make it easy for people who find their content to pin till the cows come home, and if they are going to pin, make sure they understand both Pinterest’s terms of service and copyright law. I think it’s sound advice that doesn’t send real estate professionals off on a wild goose chase.
Pinterest has been in operation since December of 2009, beta since March of 2010. They’ve had two years to “work out their copyright issues.” Perhaps you’re right and I’m getting carried away too quickly, and I could say the same for those jumping blindly on the Pinterest for real estate bandwagon. I’m hoping my voice on this subject represents a balance against the, “don’t worry about the copryright issue” voices already dominating the real estate conversation.
And this specific post is not really about real estate… it just so happened Zillow was who pinned the post my wife sent me on Facebook. This post is about copyright and whether a photographer’s copyright has been violated. And what the potential legal ramifications are for business.
Thanks for your comment, Matt. I appreciate it. I’d also love to know what your stand is on the copyright issue. What is your advice to real estate agents, or any business wishing to pin other people’s content?
Ira Serkes says
I have a feeling that if someone compared the TOS of Facebook or Twitter, it would look a lot like Pinterest.
Jeff Turner says
I don’t think it changes the copyright implications.
Ira Serkes says
Another basic question … why are real estate agents so easily seduced by the next new-new thing?
Jeff Turner says
When you figure that out, let me know. 🙂
Max Guedy says
I read your article with great interest, and as some of the previous commentors have mentioned (as well as you in your story about your kid’s school assignment), it appears to me that most of the tech giants’ empires were built with complete disregard to copyright laws.
– Twitter (although wether a tweet is copyrightable remains a debate, but in the case of jokes, haiku, clever thoughts or images, my answer as someone with good knowledge of © is yes!)
– Even google!
Pinterest seems to follow a successful pattern: build critical mass and buzz, disregard international laws, make the founders and VC’s very rich, and then worry about whether your business is legal.
With my young startup, we try to educate people about the value of copyright, why attribution is important but not a freepass, why infringing on someone’s IP can harm them, why it’s not OK to use something you found on Google… etc
If you don’t mind me plugging a link, I wrote an article about copyright here: http://blog.wixelhq.com/copyright-protection-for-those-who-didnt-attend-law-school/ – it’s in very plain english and I believe is a good primer. Feel free to delete it if it’s inappropriate.
Jeff Turner says
May, thank you. I don’t mind the link at all. The context is perfect. Thanks for the post and I’ve signed up for your free service. I’ll give it a test shortly.
Your comment, “Pinterest seems to follow a successful pattern: build critical mass and buzz, disregard international laws, make the founders and VC’s very rich, and then worry about whether your business is legal.” Is really what bugs me. My reaction to their copyright “fix” is here: http://www.jeffturner.info/pinterest-still-pirate/ Their fix is tantamount to a burglar saying, “if you don’t want me to steal from you any longer, put this sign up in your window.” There are just certain areas that they should be blocking, like Google Image Search, which are clear copyright violations.
I actually like Pinterest, but they really need to get the copyright issue worked out.
Scott G. Guay says
Right now I would not touch/post on Pinterest with a ten foot Pin.
Dave Cole says
If I were a professional (or even ranked amateur) photographer, now would be a good time to invest figuring out a watermarking solution. A lot of them are free…
There are WordPress plugins (search “watermark” in the plugin repo), there are online solutions (like PicMarkr http://picmarkr.com/), and desktop solutions (like Impression for iPhoto http://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/32215/impression-for-iphoto). Of course pro-photo tools like Photoshop make Watermarking easy through macros (and built-in watermark export features).
Regardless of the technical solution a photographer chooses, in this age of rampant online image piracy, a watermark will at least provide some sort of demonstration regarding your desire to exert your copyrights.
The real question… Will this be the next RIAA-style lawsuit front like the post-Napster / bit torrent days? Will 70 year old grandmothers get served cease & desist letters from Getty Images and Shutterstock because they were pinning idea boards? Or will companies like Zillow – who have enough cash to make things interesting – get hit with some legal action in the near future?
Ken Cook says
I used your rabbit hole/rabbit chase story in a short class I’m doing on Pinterest. While I was revisiting it I could imagine you sitting there going through bottles of water and saying “ha” and “shoot” a lot.