I've joined the ranks of the Pinners.
After watching the blogosphere obsess over Pinterest for a couple months, and including a Pinterest share button on the bottom of all my posts, I figured I should give it a shot.
To be honest, I was a little disenchanted with the registration process. First of all, you cannot create an account without linking it to either a Twitter or a Facebook account. Secondly, they're still doing this "false scarcity" thing where registering is actually signing up for an "invitation," which you get a few days later. There is no valid technical reason why they would enforce this, beyond poor system design, so I can only assume it's done to breed a sense of exclusivity in their userbase.
I'm not a fan of overt psychological tactics.
But, after the initial ickiness that was the registration process, I've been enjoying my experience. Pinterest is kind of like an image-only Tumblr, except instead of managing multiple tumbleblogs or an awkward tagging system, you get individual "boards" that you can "pin" images to. Pinterest is also more community-oriented than Tumblr is, because all pins are made under a category, in addition to being put on a board, and these categories are publicly browsable.
The whole thing is a masterpiece in user interface design. The UI is beautiful, intuitive and simple. There is a great balance of content and structure. They've clearly worked hard to make it a visually engaging experience.
But, already, there's a dark side.
Since Pinterest hit mainstream, they've begun struggling with copyright issues. In late February of this year, a blog post about Pinterest by lawyer and photographer Kirsten of DDKPortraits went viral (Well, as viral as blog posts can go). In it, she detailed why she removed her inspiration boards from Pinterest over concerns about the legality of pinning images without the express permission of the copyright holder.
This is a tricky situation in law right now, because no one actually knows for sure if this kind of sharing is legal, without battling it in court. By most definitions, it isn't. There are only a handful of resolved cases involving the general legality of reproducing content online, the biggest of which involve thumbnails used by image search engines. But that doesn't apply in this case, as Kirsten writes:
[...]when you upload or “pin” to Pinterest, you are using the entire, full size photograph in the same resolution that was originally posted by the creating photographer. The Supreme Court of the United States has already, in another case, stated that when a commercial use basically duplicates the original so as to essentially operate as a replacement for the original, market harm to the original occurs. [...] With low-resolution thumbnails, the viewer must click through to the original post to view the full work.
This is clearly a problem, and a big one at that. Pinterest has neatly absolved themselves by forcing all users to agree to their terms - that no user will pin anything they aren't licensed to reproduce. They also respect DMCA takedown notices, as most content hosting sites do these days. Lastly, they've a recently introduced meta tag that savvy website owners can apply, which will prevent users from pinning anything on their site. But, none of that will let the users off the hook. While concerned content creators can prevent folks from pinning their images, copyright is not an opt-out system. Even if pinning is not blocked, it could still violate copyright. So, what should the users do? Carefully research all the images they want to pin, and only pin those that are licensed for redistribution by the creator? Only pin images they have created? Only use website-supplied "pin it" buttons? Delete their Pinterest account?
No. No, I think users should keep doing what they're doing, and screw the legality.
Let's face it, our current copyright system is so rotten and broken that it's a wonder anyone still thinks it's applicable. For decades, the copyright struggle has been characterized by rebellious hackers and amoral teens who don't care about the creators they are "stealing" from. Tumblr might have been the poster child for this battle, but maybe it's because Tumblr cleverly disguises itself as a blogging platform that it hasn't gotten the attention that Pinterest has. Maybe it's because Tumblr is too heavily populated with young teens, pornographers and artists. Maybe what we need right now is millions of young, Midwestern housewives to stand up to the copyright czars and tell them to shove it. Maybe, just maybe, Pinterest is the push we need to get the ball rolling on massive copyright reform.
I firmly believe that people have the right to collect and publicly share inspiring images with their peers. I believe that people have the right to share, discuss and save content they enjoy. I also believe that sharing activity like Pinterest does not devalue the original. It's the same old "lost profit" argument that we see in the digital copy arena - that every count of "piracy" is a lost sale. As a Pinterest user, I can say with certainty that every single image I've seen on that site I would not have found on my own. I would never have seen that image in its original context. I would have never been a pageview or an ad impression for the original creator.
With Pinterest, I am. When I see content I like on my Pinterest dashboard, I click through. In the past two weeks alone, I've subscribed to five blogs and read countless others because of an image I found through a site that violates copyright and supposedly threatens the economic viability of the content. Clearly, something, somewhere, is horribly wrong with our conception of how the value of content is increased.
In short, when faced with the legal threat of over-reaching copyright, I think Pinterest users need to give a hearty shout of "BRING IT!" instead of cowering in fear of a delusional copyright system.