Kajsa Hartig

A blog about Cultural Heritage and Digital Communication

Pinterest – the very essence of the social web

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Pinterest board by Kajsa Hartig.

Pinterest board by Kajsa Hartig.

Recently there has been a vivid discussion going on about Pinterest and copyright. The issue is whether or not grabbing photos from a website and pinning it to a virtual board is violation of the copyright law.


So what is Pinterest?

”Pinterest is a pinboard-styled social photo sharing website. The service allows users to create and manage theme-based image collections. The site’s mission statement is to ”connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they find interesting.”

The website is tremedously popular among women, and uniquely not so popular among early adopters. It has appealed to a target group who is not the first to adopt new services or technologies. It’s hitting right on a need for virtual scrap booking.

The very essence of the website is to harvest the internet of images and pinning them onto personal pinning boards. As in the description of the website, it’s goal is to connect people through their interests.

Another aspect, that I find even more interesting, is that the very essence of Pinterest is to go walkabout in the apparent public domain that internet is made up of, collect, pin and share. The images are just there. And curating them suddenly creates new domains of knowledge, experiences and personal opinions that, in my point of view, adds value to the grand resources online.


But then, we have the issue of copyright. Are people violating copyright law when pinning copyrighted images to their pin boards? Yes, when pinning a copyrighted image to which you don’t have copyright, you violate copyright law. Pinterest is in fact a huge file-sharing site. It’s been compared to Napster and Megaupload (Business Insider),

This has made several individuals and even companies react. For example a lawyer who is also a photographer deleted all her Pinterest Boards out of fear. Flickr just stopped pinning of copyrighted images: http://venturebeat.com/2012/02/24/flickr-pinterest-pin/

There are discussions going on Quora (requires login): http://www.quora.com/Are-users-of-social-cataloging-sites-like-Pinterest-violating-copyright

I am not whatsoever an expert in copyright law, but I do understand that there is a grey zone in which the website is operating.

A groundbreaking site

Dispite, or thanks to, the fact that Pinterest is pushing the frontiers ahead when it comes to file sharing. I am absolutely sure there are thousands, if not millions already, pinned photos that are protected by copyright and pinned without permission.

And I am not surprised. First of all the main part of the people using Pinterest probably aren’t familiar with copyright online. Mainly because photographs have no lobbyists like in the music or film industry.

Secondly the huge success of Pinterest indicates that there is a great need to integrate photographs into people’s daily lives online, in a way that matters to the individual.

Photographs are used in an almost language like way. At Imgur.com people post a picture and others reply with images (often animated gif’s!).

Lego Cake, posted at Imgur.com

Image answer to Lego Cake. Posted at Imgur.com.

Image answer to Lego Cake.

Image answer to Lego Cake.Posted at Imgur.com.

Very quickly a photo online is spread in thousands of copies all over the world (see for example The Stolen Scream by Noam Galai). Not used for commercial purpose but as a way for people to express themselves, curate and develop deeper understanding of a subject, amuse, make a statement, etc. etc.

I don’t have to say that copyright law and we, ourselves, need to get compatible with the digital world, there are plenty of advocates for that. This blog post is just an eye opener for culture and social life online, in a way that matters for cultural heritage institutions.

How do people use photos online (nota bene not necessarily photographic collections, they aren’t yet that available)? And how can we change our (museums, archives, libraries) online presence in a way that collections actually become relevant, like in the case of Pinterest? I believe sites like Pinterest will have an impact on the cultural heritage sector, in a very positive way, where we maintain authenticity and origin of photographic collections and still become relevant to our audiences.



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