Pinterest, anyone?

No doubt, you’ve been enjoying all of the Pinterest shitstorm goodness out there. If you’d like to read a great summary, check out the article on The Photo Life.

Here are two more. Christian Oth wrote a thoughtful article on the subject, and Sean Locke’s research was impressive.

Should we be offended by Pinterest? Sure, why not? But insofar as this all applies to wedding photographers, what difference does it really make? Copyright is so yesterday. Sure, it’s everything in the corporate world, where infringement is costly and the ramifications broad. But in the consumer world, it never had any teeth to begin with. Someone rips off this or that. Fine. It happens. It’s a pisser. But that’s the Internet, and it comes with the territory. And if the question is whether Pinterest is going to open an Etsy store to steal our goods as per their ToS, while a public with an insatiable appetite for low-resolution, watermarked images flocks to pay top dollar for our pristine pictures of kissing couples and crying brides, well, I think I can fairly say it ain’t gonna happen.

Look at Napster. Napster didn’t reveal that record companies lacked legitimate copyright. They won that battle. What Napster revealed was that record companies weren’t innovative enough address new technology, once it became apparent that the copyrights weren’t going to save them even after Napster was gone. It didn’t matter when it was a small-time make-a-mix-tape type deal. But when it was everything once it was about file sharing and mass distribution. The companies were so mired in the past, they just couldn’t cross the bridge to the future. You have to be willing to cannibalize yourself. You have to take the hit, or someone else will. They were an old boys club to whom copyright was a God-given right, and they milked it for all it was worth, until the well ran dry. Live by the sword. Die by the sword. The dam didn’t burst. The water flooded and ran right over it.

But remember what it was like when it was all about the negatives? Life was good back then. No copying. No duplicates. Huge print orders. All the money we wanted. Being a wedding photographer meant something back in the day. People respected it. We were flush, right up until everyone started entering the market and everything went digital. Now we have to spend all of our time chasing after people to stop them from violating our copyrights, reselling our images, and sharing their pictures with everyone.

Doesn’t sound very familiar, does it? Because it never happened. Success came as we embraced the Internet ethos. Whether it was because of it or along with it isn’t the question. It’s part and parcel to the way we do business. We opened the floodgates and took the risk long before Pinterest. Wedding photography used to suck. Who wanted to be a wedding photographer in the 80’s? The 90’s? No one. Sure, people didn’t expect to get the negatives and no one could steal our pictures, but so what? If people can live differently, they will live differently. And they are, and there’s nothing we can do to change that.

The real question is whether we use this momentum to our advantage, or we just push back and piss up a tree until the wind doesn’t blow our way. The Pinterest ToS agreement sucks, and some people aren’t to keen on seeing their pictures shared every which way, but we’re looking at a tempest in a teapot. Because this isn’t an issue of loss of rights and erosion of protections. That ship sailed long ago. We posted, we shared, we tagged. We already embraced the risks and turned a blind eye to them when it helped us. And while that doesn’t mean we gave up our rights, it does mean we’ve committed to a direction, and the world is changing.

Business is not about resistance and holding on for dear life. Business is about reading the winds of change, and using it. People want to share. People want to pin. People want to store information about what they find valuable. And it happens that Pinterest is the only game in town. Society has moved forward. We need to get ahead of that. Whether it’s the next big thing or not for wedding photographers, if it is, it’s surely true that it will be for those who use it wholeheartedly and commit to getting it done that make it work. The rest of us are just going to have to wait for the workshops.

Leave a comment


  1. says

    I’ve read a lot of the Pinterest hulabaloo and have been of mixed minds about it I do love Pinterest as a curating, gathering, and image sharing medium. It IS fun and easy and addicting: qualities I admire. And I DO get mad at how easily, and thoughtlessly, people pin and repin without giving full citations. That, I think, is partly the fault of Pinterest because they have yet to build something into the architecture of the site that makes it easy, or even necessary, to pin the proper credits, links, and sources.

    But I am delighted and somewhat relieved to read your take on it. People do love to share, pin, post, link, as they should. They – we – still have to figure out how to do it in an ethical. yet not tedious way. thanks.

    Cheers, Liza=not a wedding photographer.

    • Spencer Lum says

      Liza – Sometimes, as a photographer, it’s hard to gauge how others feel about sharing and crediting, and it’s so nice to hear this from you. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

  2. says

    The real problem isnt just about copyright at all, and it amazes me so many people drone on and on about the issue with such tight blinkers on.

    1) why does Pinterest want to be able to sell the images you place onto anyone pinboard.
    2) why do they strip the metadata off the images.
    3) why doesnt anyone answer these concerns other than the usual snow job, which is the “disguise” of the copyright issue.
    4) while Pinterest build their business model on other people amazing gullability, the masses talk about their love to share – well sure share your own images by all means, just respect the fact that there are people out there who would prefer for you the uploader and supporter of Pinterest, not to give them an image of mine and then autotmatically give them the right to sell it. The business model is absurd. And I’m glad someone mentioned Napster, as the Supreme High Court in the US shut that down and the record companies (the owners of the IP in many cases) were awarded a vast amount of damages.

    • Spencer Lum says

      I’ve gotta confess, I’m having some trouble parsing your statement. It seems like you’re asserting…

      1. People on all sides have been duped by the smokescreen that is copyright and are missing the true point. It’s about image theft, and unauthorized sharing.

      2. Image theft, and unauthorized sharing aren’t copyright issues.

      3. Pinterest’s intentions are likely malicious, as evidenced by their actions cited in questions 1 and 2.

      First, if the real question is why Pinterest is doing these things, then we should ask the question in earnest. Not by couching the questions with language that support the conclusion we want. I don’t think the evidence is there. Looking to the ToS for evidence of intent is like looking to a resume to see how good someone looks. It’s certainly not a smoking gun. The metadata thing is less palatable in my mind, but we need more inquiry, before we assume the most dire of circumstance. But more importantly, we need to take a step back ask why we’re asking why.

      If, for example, the objection is that they don’t like the display of their content without their approval, that’s one thing. I don’t see that Pinterest’s intentions really matter that much in this case. It is the actions that have done the damage. Either you care about the display of your images in unapproved contexts or it doesn’t bother you. And for those it hasn’t bothered in the past, but are reacting now, then we need to ask what makes this the breaking point? What is the threshold crossed here?

      If the objection is that people don’t like the potential commercial abuse of it, that’s another thing. Then it’s a practical issue. Do we think they’ll abuse it? What are the risks and what are the rewards? Nothing they’ve done suggest they’re planning to position themselves as the alternative stock photo library. Reselling would certainly cross the line. But we’re not there. Where are they heading?

      If the objection is simply that Pinterest is sinister, that’s still another issue. Here, asking why they’re doing what they’re doing is the entire issue. But then I’d say, fine, you’re right. But Pinterest’s intention or lack thereof to dominate the world is the least illuminating discussion to have. Because this stuff now – it’s just a start. We’re barely into Web 2.0. And I find it hard to imagine we’re not in store for much bigger changes.

      We need to go further than just a knee-jerk reaction saying “This pisses me off,” or “Pinterest is bad.” And that holds for “It’s neat” and “It’s fun,” as well. As image creators, we need to look at all the aspects involved. At a practical level, we have to ask how we can thrive in the current reality. And second, how does all of this fit in the bigger scope of things?

      Copyright is being stretched thin. It is yesterday. The usage that is part of our everyday life isn’t remotely similar to the circumstance for which the laws were imagined. Everyone is running to keep up. The notions we abide by are all too frequently anchored on similarly distant conditions. We need to figure out tomorrow. Yeah, music companies won with Napster. Didn’t save them. What are the values we currently embrace?

      The question of whether Pinterest violates copyright law, whether they intend to sell our images, or whether they’re just plain bad, aren’t enough. Having society means give and take. It doesn’t mean everyone will be happy with everything. We need to look at fair use, protections, rights, and we need to look at what beliefs we have are pertinent now, and which are relics from a pre-Internet past. Not to assess what Pinterest is doing. But to assess what it means to us. If you think I’m saying everything Pinterest is doing is fine, then that’s not my point. If you think that I’m saying that people’s gut reactions are wrong, that’s also not my the point, either. This is about where we go. Not how to stay.

      What are limits of acceptable use now? Where do we leave off and where does the public begin? What is good and bad for the whole, and how do we balance it with individual need? Expectations or privacy, fair use, protections of copyright, and each person’s level of responsibility change. How? What? Why?

      Pinterest’s massive growth is just evidence. It’s a state of the union address telling us that image use isn’t what it was. We need to look at what’s going on in the world, what our role in it can be, and how to get on top of it. The future is coming at us like a freight train. We either take the ride or get run over. I appreciate that you shared. Honestly, thank you for that. Let’s go further with it all.

  3. says

    Finally! Someone has written what I was thinking. As you say, the ship has sailed. If you don’t want stuff shared/copied/stolen then don’t put it on the internet.

  4. Darren says

    Isn’t that like saying if you don’t want your prints stolen don’t put them in an art gallery ? The only difference is the ease of theft

    • Spencer Lum says

      Actually, it’s not. You’re talking about the mental state of the actor – in this case, the photographer – and the anticipation and significance of theft would vary quite dramatically between the two. To assume that someone who put their work in a gallery would expose themselves to the same vulnerabilities as posting on the Internet is inaccurate and unlikely. You’d have to be living under a rock not to know the implications of posting online. In fact, I think we post online, exactly because of those implications.

      Look at the issue of privacy. If I’m sitting around in my fenced-in backyard sun bathing (not a sight to behold), my expectation of privacy is wholly different than if I do so on the sidewalk or in the middle of Times Square. There is a much higher burden in the latter case to prove that an act violated my expectation of privacy than in the former.

  5. says

    Hi Spencer – I’m with Getty and they like my wedding images – I have an excellent arrangement that works with my wedding clients.
    Was wondering if I can send you a hard drive to load up all your shots and send back to me so I can sell them to Getty too?
    I mean, copyright is so yesterday and anyways Pinterest can do this too right?
    Control – it’s a beautiful word…

    • Spencer Lum says

      Did I not just say its wholly different in the corporate world? That’s commercial use you’re talking about, and stock photography functions wholly differently than consumer photography, and weddings in particular. B2B is not B2C. The analogy only holds if they’re going to resell the images. Maybe you think otherwise, but I just don’t see resale happening.

      • says

        Spencer – did you miss the part about Pinterest’s terms and conditions including the right to sell images that are posted ?

        Seriously you need to take your blinkers off, because the analogy is correct, their terms and conditions ask exactly that. What you “dont see” is limited because you’re not reading what is there in black and white within Pinterests’ terms and conditions.

        You could continue having “trouble parsing my statement” or you could try actually reading it – I thought what I posted was brief and without an specific viewpoints other then to respond to the continuing debate over the copyright issue, which if you’d read my post carefully, I dont think people should be concerned over. You can post essays on all your personal views on why its a lost cause to speak about copyright, because as I’ve referred to already, the Napster experience should have demonstrated that view is a lost cause, and that copyright within music and film is not scattered about the net for free any longer. Again I put a list of 3 questions, and one viewpoint. Nor did I use the word “image theft”? You seem to have some trouble understanding the written word.

        The Facts are quite clearly within the Terms and Conditions of Pinterest. They require you to agree to the sale of the images you share – simple.

        Ask yourself this if you want me to even have an ounce of understanding or compassion to your personal argument – If Pinterest was so interested in simply allowing people to share (what in many cases is not theirs to share – again re Napster, and various other IP issues like Software, Movies etc) then seriously, why do they want the right to SELL the image that you share ? Why wouldnt they be giving that away in the same free spirit you support ?

        That was if you care to actually read what I originally posted, was the 3 main questions I initially raised within this blog.

        Why not have a look at this link:

  6. says

    by the way, asking 3 pertinent questions – specifically something that even you state is “crossing the line” is not IMHO a knee jerk reaction. I actually am surprised you’ve read so much into my 3 questions – and admittedly, and additionally one personal view. Here’s the next question though ? Why hasnt Pinterest answered those 3 questions (which have been asked in many places, and directly)?

    • Spencer Lum says

      Thanks for sharing and supplying the link, William. I think it’s fair to say we’ve probably both gotten our points on the page. I will say one last thing. One thing I have communicated poorly is that my primary point of reference has primarily been towards the issue of pinning our own work and using Pinterest ourselves as a self-promotion tool. In my eyes, it’s a risk worth taking, but that’s me. Either way, it’s honestly not Pinterest I’m interested in defending. I’m interested in photographers finding the most significant role in society they can. There are a lot of struggles, and I want to see all of us come out the other end of it.

    • says

      Thanks Spencer and thanks William for your response too.
      From where I stand I can see the potential benefits of the service for a wedding photographer – if some of the issues raised here weren’t present.
      Now more than ever wedding photographers have to get their marketing smarts on.
      I don’t want Pinterest to vanish, but just adjust how it goes about things.
      Think for a moment if a wedding couple came to you and said “Yes, we are confirming our booking, but we just need to make a slight amendment on the contract allowing us to sell the images – I mean in reality we probably won’t ever do it, but we’d like it on there…”
      Would you book them in?

      • Spencer Lum says

        Well, that’s a fair enough question. And thanks for your reply, as well. Here’s my best guess about what I’d do. I’d probably be very skeptical, because the request sounded suspicious. Then, I’d ask what they had in mind. I assume based on the scenario, they’d say something vague, but they’d assure me they weren’t likely to sell them and that wasn’t their primary interest. I’d probably be too puzzled to answer right away, so I’d ask for some time to go mull it over. After that, I’d break it down and look at three things specifically:

        1. What is the benefit?
        2. What are the possible detrimental outcomes?
        3. How likely do I think those things will happen?

        Then, depending on how I felt about these things, I’d make a decision. I could see rejecting it, and I could see accepting it. That’s pretty much my approach for the Pinterest issue, too. To me, the most important part of #3 is to look at their intentions. I’m guessing from your replies that you feel the use term “sell” in the ToS suggests a strongly reveals their intentions. Which is fine – everyone can make their own conclusions. For me, I really don’t believe it’s likely to happen. Why does it seem less dubious to me than a couple asking for resale rights? Because wedding clients don’t generally ask for this type of thing, so it would set off alarms in my head. But corporations and businesses do this type of thing all of the time to cover themselves. So I see it as a case of business as usual, which means it tells much less of intent. Not to mention, it would be a disaster for Pinterest to start reselling images. If they’re getting this type of heat for playing it fast and lose with copyright, imagine what would happen if they really did resell images. They know that the majority of what’s pinned is not coming from copyright holders. It would be the end of them. Anyway, that’s my take on things, for what it’s worth.

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