Thursday, May 3, 2012

Pinterest is Not For Me

The image bookmarking/sharing social networking site Pinterest has become a thing, a very big thing, very quickly. I got curious and thought I'd take a look. It's a primarily female user-driven site, and the featured content reflects this, a colorful cornucopia of fashion and food and decorating ideas, each represented by a "pinned" image of a new hairstyle or piece of clothing or eye-catching bauble. Many images link to items for sale or tutorials for crafts and other projects, often provoking its creatively inclined users to document their own efforts at using or replicating what they find on the site. There are sections for event planning, redecorating, makeovers, and so forth. Scores of blogs are devoted to Pinterest projects in progress. So, at first blush, Pinterest looks like a nice cross between project-oriented social sites like Ravelry, with a more graphics-oriented interface like Tumblr.

I'm not really the crafty type, but Pinterest's "About" page suggests that the site could be used as a digital scrapbook, a way to collect and organize images I like. Now what images does a media junkie like collecting? Movie posters and promotional material, of course. I'd just been thinking about movie posters, having written up a post on Mondo for this blog that I ultimately decided to scrap. I have a folder full of assorted movie images that has been sitting on my hard drive for years, that I've never really done anything with. Pinterest sounded perfect for organizing them into something coherent. First, however, I had to check to see whether "pinning" copyrighted images was allowed.

Pinterest's Terms of Service make it clear that the images pinned by individual users are afforded no protection, and Pinterest claims the right to do what they like with user-submitted material. That's fairly par for the course these days, but not a significant concern in my case because I'm not putting any of my own images on the site. However, users also assume the risk for pinning any copyrighted offsite content, and from various articles I clicked through on the subject, it's not clear whether pinning is more like the Google Images thumbnails, which are considered Fair Use, or if they amount to traffic diverting appropriation of those images, which is definitely not.

I debated with myself. Surely the movie posters would be all right. They're promotional material, plastered on every entertainment news site like Deadline and Variety, every movie organizing site like Flickchart and Icheckmovies, every database site like IMDB and Rottentomatoes. No movie blogger on the planet thinks twice before adding poster or screenshot images to their reviews, with the appropriate credit of course. A pinnable movie poster image, though larger than the usual preview thumbnails, would still be nowhere near the same dimensions as a full-sized movie poster, like the ones currently hanging on my living room wall. Moreover, the images were the property of giant, faceless media corporations, not some poor photographer who stood to lose significant revenue from the rampant online dissemination of their images.

But that was no excuse and I knew it. Putting up a poster image of "Cabin in the Woods" on Pinterest wouldn't be like adding one to my review of "Cabin in the Woods," because it was the image itself I was sharing, not something used to illustrate my analysis or commentary, which would be allowed under the Fair Use rules. It wouldn't fit the news, education, or information exceptions either, really. Also, putting the image up on a social networking site devoted to sharing images, with the full knowledge that it would probably get "repinned" by others would be going far beyond personal use. Just because everyone else is pinning up copyrighted content, and if you scroll through Pinterest for more than a few seconds you can confirm that for yourself that this is the case, doesn't mean I'm was prepared to take the risk myself.

I'm not saying I agree with the copyright rules, and I've certainly operated in some gray areas before, but this is one of those instances where I feel I need to act with some caution, and I'm glad looked before I leaped. Just because Pinterest happily promotes and facilitates content sharing doesn't mean that they're ready to handle the consequences, or that they're operating in the best interests of their users. One of the reasons that Pinterest has become so popular so fast is because it's so easy to use, and it's so easy to use because it doesn't have the same content safeguards in place as sites like Facebook or Deviantart, where the photos and artwork are all user-generated.

Sp Pinterest looks like a lot of fun, but I think I'll wait until it works out some of these IP issues first, or at least until it's been around long enough to work out some happy medium with the big companies, the way Youtube has, more or less. Better safe than sorry.

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