Wednesday, February 29, 2012
By: Angela Render
The newest buzz in the marketing community is how to capitalize on Pinterest, a 2-year-old photo sharing social media site. With over 10 million monthly visitors, it’s fast approaching Facebook and Tumblr in terms of a time-sink. With that many consumers passing things around, Pinterest is a prime location for businesses—especially catalog or online retailers—to generate buzz. But, as Business Insider explains in a well-written article, “Pinterest might be the most illegal network to hit the Internet yet. More illegal than Napster. More illegal than Megaupload.” (“Pinterest Might Be Enabling Massive Copyright Theft” Kevin Lincoln, February 17, 2012)
After playing with it, I have to agree. From a usability standpoint, Pinterest is designed to enable copyright theft and they’re probably breathing a big sigh of relief that SOPA didn’t pass. But current copyright laws can be applied effectively in this case as the article mentioned above explains. What I’m concerned about is the down-and-dirty of this new social media in terms of protecting your copyright while still effectively using the media for self-promotion…at least as long as Pinterest is among us.
How Pinterest Enables Copyright Theft
As part of the account set-up process, you install a little “Pin It” button onto your web browser’s button bar. When you go to a page with an image you like, you press that “Pin It” button, tell Pinterest where to file the image within your account, ad a caption, and then click ok. Copyright theft takes only three clicks. You creative types scared yet?
The marketing perspective would ask, “well why wouldn’t you want your images shared around?” It’s a good question. The potential for viral exposure is amazing and could equal a pay-out in sales. The problem is that pressing that button doesn’t create a link to display the image in Pinterest. Unlike Google images, Pinterest doesn’t provide a thumbnail of the image to its users and then have them click through to the original to see the full-sized version. The button actually saves a full-sized copy of the image onto Pinterest’s server and assigns it a unique Pinterest file name. Therein lies the theft.
Add to that, while the initial pin does provide a link to the source, getting there sometimes takes several clicks. In my re-pinning experiments, I found that 3 out of 4 things I decided to re-pin were questionable on the blessing of the copyright holder—at best. (Sorry guys, I took those off of my account ASAP.) For many of the images I sorted through, they had been shared off of blog posts where the original poster was probably not the copyright holder, and therefore it was second or third generation copyright theft. There was even an instance where the original image had been taken down, but the copies on Pinterest remained. I discovered all of these instances in under an hour, which indicates how widespread the abuse – intentional or not – is.
Pinterest has offered up some code for webmasters to put on their sites that will block the “Pin It” button and it works…sort of. Since the button is working through the web browser’s cached copy of the image, all you have to do is right click and view the image in a new window to bypass the no-pin script. Granted, most Pinterest users will see the warning and won’t go to that trouble, but it’s still a security issue.
Large image sharing sites like Flickr have not installed the script so for those photographers and artists who have blocked the direct download ability, if someone pins your image, it can then be downloaded from Pinterest.
Another issue is image size, Pinterest is not interested in small images, and in fact won’t allow you to pin just anything. It’s yet one more level of copyright theft enabling that makes me wonder how much longer the site will be around.
How Pinterest Can Work For Marketing
Ok, scary legal stuff aside, Pinterest does offer some opportunities in the marketing arena and should be taken into consideration whether you want your images passed around or not.
The obvious use is for anyone trying to sell a product. Pictures of the product or the product in use are a great way to expand your exposure among potential customers. It might take several clicks to finally get back to your original image, but if the original person pinning remembers to put a link to it in the caption box, you’ll be in good shape.
More difficult is for people selling a service, or people selling their words. Those things don’t usually include a visual element and that makes pinning them really hard. My recommendation would be to either craft a graphic of your words, maybe a pull-quote, take some pictures, or actually hire an artist to come up with nice looking graphics to illustrate your blog post or article. I am all for anything that causes a hiring spree for my graphics design compadres. Book covers can be pinned as well. Amazon.com hasn’t disabled the pinning and the book cover images are large enough to be picked up.
For photographers and artists, Pinterist presents an amazing quandary. Since your images are your product, allowing them to be passed around can either quickly build you a following that can result in sales, or it can offer free license for people to rip off your work. Probably both.
So for any graphics put up on the web for any purpose, I offer the following advice:
In general, I think Pinterest has already trended and if it does survive the legal storm heading its way, it will continue at a reduced rate. The important lesson here is that in today’s Internet marketing environment, image sharing is one of the fastest ways to expand your reach through social networking and failing to illustrate your articles, products, or services is lost buzz. At the same time, electronic copyright infringement has been around since the start of the Web. Whether Pinterest survives or not, another, more legal, image sharing outlet will eventually take its place and artists should be prepared for it.