Pinterest…and the end of Everything

Aurora Borealis, NW Territories, Canada

With staggering regularity, someone comes along with a new idea, a new website, and a new way to channel social media in bold, new directions. One of the latest of these is Pinterest - which allows users to showcase and share things they like. Simple enough- and enormously powerful. Suddenly anything cool can go global with speeds that may even outpace Facebook.  Great stuff, right?

Well, not necessarily so great for a photographer, unless all you care about is having your pictures go viral and in front of as many eyeballs as possible. If you are willing to lose complete control of your images - and no longer even have your name attached to them - Pinterest is the place for you.  If, however, you would like your name to stay attached to your images, and - God forbid - try and make a living from the licensing of your pictures, Pinterest is just another nail in the coffin.

I did a search today on Pinterest for subjects that I have covered and quickly came up with the aurora image above. Someone had pinned it from someone else's website, and it had been repinned over 20 times since then. Not exactly viral, but nowhere is my name attached to the image, no one asked me for permission to post it, and never can I expect that image to generate any income. It is just out there now, traveling freely across the internet, adding to the expectation - becoming very real - that all pictures should be free.

Pinterest has recently amended their policy to require that users pinning a piece of creative work - a drawing, photograph, sculpture, whatever - must have the permission of the creator. But of course, no one does that, right?  Pinterest puts the onus of acknowledging the source on the initial "pinner" but that is quickly lost in the viral propagation built in to the system. For unlike sites like Google Images, which links you to the original source, Pinterest stores the pictures on their servers in full-size, with or without credit.

No, this may not herald the end of Everything, but it may just mark the last breath of effective copyright protection.  If this subject interests - or worries - you, read more here.



    Glad you gave a post on that subject… that made me think a little more about where my pictures are going even if I am just an amateur photographer! Oh. By the way… That picture is unbelievable! You’re making me wanna go up there and shoot!

    Hey Kevin, I just saw something about this on one of the Alamy forums and I believe the photographer did send Pinterest a letter saying the photos were used without his permission and to take them down. I think they may have. Will try to find the link for you. Good shooting!

    Thanks Steve. Yes, you can request an image be removed, and I suggest photographers do that when they encounter their image on the site. But who has time to spend policing every back alley of the Pinterest site looking for your images, only to have new ones appear? Frankly, I don’t know what the real solution is, but I think photographers should be wary of this site and others like it, and aware of how they work.

    Thanks John – yes, that’s a smart move in many cases, but the insidious thing about Pinterest is that it does not simply link to a picture on your page or elsewhere – it captures the content onto their servers – and it can do it from any source, including National Geographic or other legitimate online venues where pictures appear without watermarks.

    Unfortunately, I think you’re taking this entirely the wrong way. The situation is – and always has been – as simple as “if you put it on the internet, someone will use it without asking.” If you want your photos to be absolutely safe, without any chance of someone using them (or sharing them) without your permission, then keep them in a box in your closet. If no one sees them, no one can steal them.

    At the very least, if you’re that worried about people sharing your work to the point that you, as the creator, are forgotten, then put a discrete logo on it. That way, anyone who enjoys it will always be able to trace it back to you.

    Calling this the “last breath of effective copyright protection” isn’t just hyperbole, it’s short-sighted. Photographers who embrace social media and promote their images gain far more than they lose. Want proof? Look at Trey Ratcliff – he’ll tell you time and again how he puts his work out there and then reaps rewards from the sharing.

    Like it or not, social media is here to stay. We can’t stem this tide, even if we wanted to, so the next best alternative is to do whatever we can to turn it to our advantage. Embracing it and making it work for us will get us a lot farther than constantly railing against it.

    Brent I think you missed the point! It would be somewhat acceptable if at least there was a link back to where the picture came from, then there would be some miniscule benenfit to the photographer. This way there is absolutely none, zero, nada…although think the company “pinterest” will end up in hot water because basically they are doing what napster did to music. I have actually found and had images removed. I also read that these guys are heavily invested in, but are have serious trouble being able to turn a profit.

    I had not heard of Pintrest until reading your post. I’ve long been wary of posting my writing online, and posting my photography (though I’m an amateur) was even more difficult. I will use more caution in where and with whom I share my photography after reading your post and the ling to Hubpages as well.

    Just curious, was the Tipi put up just for the photo shoot? I’ve lived in one thru the winter, but no where near the Northern Territories, I can’t imagine the cold. I don’t even see liner on the inside! I’m not picking apart your picture, just wondering if its actually habitable? Spectacular non the less

    I’m glad this has prompted a discussion. I will admit that I am pretty old-school, and though I have made my living from photography for 20+ years, i have been slow to adjust to the massive changes in the business that the Internet has spawned. Brent, I agree that if it’s on the Web it is going to get lifted. My complaint about Pinterest is simply that it was designed in such a way that it strips the credit from images unless the user makes an effort to attach it, which few bother to do.

    I appreciate the mention of Trey Ratcliff and recommend people look at his site if only to see his approach. For example, he seems reconciled with people using his pictures without charge for “personal use” – although that can be said to cover a multitude of sins. (isn’t any monetized website a commercial use?)

    I am a product of the stock photography generation, one that made its income by protecting copyright and licensing usage rights primarily to printed paper end-users. That business model has all but collapsed now, along with the income of many of my colleagues. The people who are making their money from photography now are those who have pivoted successfully into ancillary fields: teaching workshops, selling ebooks, writing, licensing proprietary software, or selling online ad space. Almost no one I know can survive on licensing stock photos alone – the world is awash with great pictures, and too many of them are free.

    Yes, I am a dinosaur – I still find it galling that my pictures are appropriated by people who have never asked me for them, or given me credit (much less paid for them) And yes, I resent new online ventures that facilitate this by building it into their business model. But I am realistic enough to know that this is still only the beginning of the revolution, and as photographers we need to adapt or die.

    Ross – the teepee was set up there, and although people use it in the summer, it was WAY too cold in the winter. The light was from a fire built inside for a nighttime ceremony.

    I totally agree with this article! I’m only 19 and I hope to make a career out of photography. Maybe I was asking for it by posting my pictures on my Facebook, but I have already had people re-post them and not give me any credit. I was so heated when I found out! It’s not very hard to tag me in the picture or leave a comment saying I took it! People should always, always, always be given credit for their hard work! Thank you for sharing this, I definitely will not be posting my pictures on Pinterest now.

    Look at it this way. If you were a furniture maker , would you leave your shop door open with a sign saying , free chairs , help yourself . Anyone making a living at photography has invested considerable time and money creating their product. All of this up front , before a penny is made from any sales. I have been with Getty 18 years and I have a great deal of respect for any photographer that can make a living at this . Getty used to employ considerable staff to combat the use of unlicensed imagery. I get the feeling this is not such a high priorty today. Kevin , I have seen your work . Dont let this take the joy out of showing your images. ps I think I am a dinosaur too.

    The answer is that photographers will have to make sure the image metadata includes the copyright, and that the image has a visible watermark/signature. And then they need to use search programs on a regular basis to chase down infringers.

    Then as more and more infringers are prosecuted, the tide should turn.

    With sites like pinterest, an old fashioned letter to them declaring your images off limits from posting puts you in the position of going after them legally if your images turn up there. If they have it in their data base, they become liable. If enough photographers flood their snail mail, they will have to change their ways!

    Thanks for weighing in, Valerie. I agree that photographers need to be more careful about including identifying metadata and insisting on removal of unauthorized pictures. Unfortunately none of us has time to track down every picture on a site like Pinterest: they can be buried pretty deep!

    Dear Kavin

    I think I have read your article on how to photograph “aurora borealis” somewhere and I couldn’t find where.I thought it was published in OP magazine last but I couldn’t retrieve it.Can you help me find this important article.I live in Thailand for away from Alaska and decided to go for aurora borealis in March 2014.It is a live time experience and I can do it once(so expensive to get there).It will the first time to to photograph at night for me and I need to study “how to “.If you didn’t write this article “how to” can you advise where can I search.Many thanks


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