To most people on the internet, copyright isn't an issue they've ever considered. A lot of people don't know what copyright means, or don't care. They think that if something has been placed on the internet, it is free for them to take. And a lot of it is. But a lot of it isn't either. I'll admit, after first getting online fourteen years ago, I didn't give it a lot of thought. If I typed "Free clipart" or free anything into a search engine, I didn't check to see if the website offering it really owned it. I just saved it onto my computer and used it whenever I wanted on the forums I frequented. Everyone else did so it was okay, right? Yes, I was a lemming.
But then I had a personal experience with copyright theft. About ten years ago, I created a genealogy website at geocities. Remember geocities? It was free, and free was the only thing I could afford back then. I put my entire family tree on it, with photos of me, my husband, kids, everyone in the family for whom I had photos. I really never thought of anyone searching out any of the names in my tree, or ever seeing my website. Search engines weren't as good then and geocities itself was hard to search. But one day I was searching for more information on my great grandmother, and I came across my entire tree and a lot of the photos of my ancestors and living relatives. To say it freaked me out would be an understatement. I did get my photos removed from that site, and I removed all my family photos from my website. What I didn't know is that while the person removed my photos from their personal website, they kept the photos on their computer, and they pop up from time to time on Ancestry trees which can be copied over and over so many times that no one knows where the photo originally came from. It took several years to get the photos of my living relatives off Ancestry, and I'll never know if they are gone forever, or just for now. Eventually, it won't matter as I have few living relatives left, and I will never put my photo on the internet again.
So when I started blogging, I was fairly careful of the photos I posted. Most were my own, and I made sure all the others were in the public domain. But I didn't know that attribution was necessary even for those photos, so I have taken off all those too since I don't remember where I got them. And through the years, I've noticed that my blog photos have sometimes been copied to other blogs and to facebook.
And that brings me to Pinterest. I first heard about it almost two years ago, but didn't really understand what it was, or why it mattered. If I wanted inspiration, I just searched google images. If I found an image that interested me, I clicked it, went to the website and bookmarked it. The bad thing about bookmarks is that you have to open every one to find the right one, or the links get broken, or the images get removed, or as I experienced, the computer crashes and it's all lost. Then I started a blog just for projects I liked so they could be easily found with a link back to the original post for all the details. But that took a lot of time because I only featured projects after getting written permission from the author, and a lot of people I ask never respond. I don't know if my request went to their spam folder or what.
So I looked at Pinterest again, signed up, and pinned a few things. Then, I saw a segment on our local tv station about Pinterest violating copyright law. You can watch the video here. It bothered me to the point that I took most of my photos off Pinterest. If I couldn't find the original source of the photo and see written consent on the website to pin the photo, I took it off. That left me with two photos. Well really one legal photo as I couldn't find the source of one photo. It had been pinned so many times that it's source was unknown and I couldn't find it through an image search either. It's an important photo to me and I'll share why in a future post. I have it on there in hopes the owner will one day find me through it. I've since added two more photos that had written consent of the owner. But locating the source and written permission is time consuming, and most people don't care enough to do that.
I get enough hits off pinterest that I know some of my photos are pinned and repinned regularly. Yet, up until now, my posted policy has been that all rights are reserved and I have never had someone ask to pin or copy any of my photos. I spent thirty minutes one day searching for just one of my photos and found it pinned on hundreds of boards. One board, owned by a home improvement store (who should certainly know about copyright infringement), had the photo pinned with over a thousand repins. Some pins had a link to my blog, and others had links to google, to another blog, or it would say "uploaded by user" which I think means that the user saved it to their computer and then loaded it to Pinterest. So much for my policy.
I began making a mental list of pros and cons, watching other blogs to see what they did, and reading articles online to find out the legalities and why so many were so against it. Most are either similar to the tv news segment I linked, or so emotionally charged that it was hard to see any logical reasoning behind it. There was one extremely well written and easy to read article by Anile of Girlfriday on the Ethics of Pinterest that explains every salient point against Pinterest. I encourage you to go ahead and click on the link, it is placed here with her permission. It will come up in a new window so you can read it now or come back to it when you finish this.
Both Anile and the tv news story I linked say that Pinterest discourages self-promotion, or pinning your own stuff while at the same time saying you can only pin things to which you own copyright or have obtained permission. However, soon after that article was written, Pinterest changed the policy on self promotion, and also removed a clause about selling pinned items. You can read that in this BizJournal article and here in Pinterest's current Terms of Service. While I was poking around Pinterest, I noticed that Disney and Mackenzie's Child boards do pin their own items. I haven't been a fan of Disney in recent years, but I was impressed to see that in all their boards checked, they had not pinned anything that didn't belong to them. Well done, Disney!
I also corresponded with several well-known bloggers I follow, to see how they regarded pinning of their projects. Some thought it hurt their sales because pinners pinned off other boards instead of coming to their blog, some said they didn't care as long as there was a link back to their blog. One told me she thought pinning helped them through the number of hits she received every month from Pinterest because her advertisers paid her by the number of blog hits as well as the number of clicks to the advertisers website. I wonder about that last statement though. I average 500 hits a month from Pinterest according to Google Analytics. Those are just the ones who are curious enough about my projects to want more information. I would guess there are three times as many who just repin and go on. I can't see that those Pinterest hits have helped or hindered my blog. I don't think it has resulted in more comments or more followers. Most of the Pinterest referrals stay on my website for a minute or less, and don't visit other pages. But I doubt it would be any different if they came from a google search except it might take a little more time to pin the photo.
One blogger I corresponded with said that one of her photos had been taken off her blog and used on another site where it went viral. You can read her story here She was upset that a) someone was claiming the photo was hers, and b) she was losing out on the income generated by those hits. She acknowledged that photo theft is common on the internet and takes precautions now, but this was a photo posted before she started watermarking. This happened to me also. I found my headboard bench photo on another blog. I tried to contact the blog owner through the comments but I don't think it worked and their contact information is not available on their blog. My only alternative was to post a comment on their facebook page asking them to remove it, and they removed my comment. I was not contacted for permission to repost my pictures or my content. Very frustrating. I finally resorted to contacting the owner of the web host and they contacted the web owner and got it removed.
And speaking of watermarking, I used to just put my name or the name of my blog on my photos, but now I put the blog url so if my photo is posted anywhere else, people will know where it came from. It's a shame that we have to do that. It's a shame that people can't respect the property of others, whether it is jewelry locked inside your home, your car parked in a parking lot, or intellectual property posted on your own website.
In some of the articles I read, the writers complain that Pinterest loads a full size photo of the item rather than a snap shot like Google. That may have been true about Google at the time they wrote the articles, but now an image search on Google results in the page of snapshots, and clicking on a snapshot brings up the full size photo. Someone can save the picture right there, or with another click, go on to the website. I agree with those writers that it would benefit Pinterest, Google, and bloggers if Pinterest and Google only loaded a snapshot which, when clicked, brought the user to the blog of the original photo. It would leave little doubt where the photo originated, give all parties a chance to make money from the clicks, and encourage the pinner to read the copyright policy of the photo owner.
Pinterest does seem to be making some positive changes since I joined a year ago. At that time, when I pinned from someone's board, there was no attribution information, and now that comes with the repin. And it comes with the original pin too. Since I haven't made any pins directly from a website because I never downloaded the pin grabber, I don't know if it's always been that way or not. As a test, I found a couple of my pinned photos linked to google instead of my blog. I emailed Pinterest and asked them to take the photos down, citing the link on my blog, the fact that the pinned photo had my blog name on it, and gave them my name and my blog name. Within thirty minutes I had a response from Pinterest. Unfortunately, they wanted a lot more information from me before they would remove the photos. Another blogger told me that when she finds her photo pinned without a link back to her blog, she pins a comment to the pinned photo giving the correct link. As another test, I pinned a comment to one of my pinned photos, and while that will work to notify anyone seeing the comment, it will not follow if the photo is repinned, nor does it notify the original pinner, so in my opinion, it does little good. I think if you want your photos to be linked to you, you need to contact Pinterest when you find one that is not linked correctly. You'll find everything you need for that here at their Copyright Policy page. They do act on the requests quickly when all the required information is sent. Indulgy, however, tends to ignore the requests entirely when sent by email.
So for me, these questions remain: what decision do I make about pinning and will it adversely affect anyone else? 1 Corinthians 8:9 says "Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak."
The verse is talking about eating food that was sacrificed to idols, which the Christian knows is not a true sacrifice, but a new Christian would not understand that difference. In the same way, my freedom to allow people to ignore my right to own my photo may cause them to ignore the rights of others who do want to remain sole owners of their photo. That is my moral dilemma.
I can revise my policy and ask that people link back as other blogs do, though if they didn't read it before, they're not going to read it now. I can add a Pin it button to each photo to make it easy for people to copy the photo to their Pinterest and increasing the odds that photos will be linked back. Or I can add code to my blog to disable the Pinterest image grabber.
The choice that seems right for me is to add a Pin it button to photos with a prominent copyright notice. At this time, I don't make any money from visits to my blog and probably never will. Like I said before, I did put the photos on my blog to show people, and it is flattering when people like them. If I have something that I would like to use for my own profit, I simply won't post it to my blog. I'm sorry if that is a disappointment to people who are fighting against copyright infringement and I do wish you well. I'm just too busy and too tired to tilt at windmills. The best I can do is report the pins which aren't linked back and put a strike against the pinner.
If you are going to pin, pin responsibly:
- Pin from the source
- Pin with permission
- Respect the rights of the copyright owner
If you don't want to be pinned, or don't want your photo linked to another's blog, beware:
Some big name bloggers feature other bloggers and put a pin under the other blogger's photo, which means the pinned photo is then linked to the big name blogger's blog. (Yes, I tested them to see what happened)
Some linky parties have a notice to the effect that whoever links agrees to allow their photo to be pinned by others. (I didn't check those to see whose blog they linked.)
Other links you might be interested in:
How to add code to add to your website to keep your images from being pinned.
How to add a Pin It button to your blog.
Edited March 18, 2013 to add: I just added a pin button to my headboard bench and was shocked to see that it has been pinned 64,000 times, four times the hits I am getting from Pinterest from all my pinned projects. So, yes, I do think pin sites are hurting more than helping.