I was going to post this on my blog as a reply to my original post Pinterest – Seeing Beyond Your Own Nose, but I decided to branch it off into its own post so as to not get lost in my blog.
I have numerous articles posted to my blog as to why companies should have their feet held to the fire when their terms of service are overreaching. I still stand by that. In the bigger picture though I felt it important to remind photographers that it isn’t just about the microcosm of their world when it comes to photography. Yes I will agree Pinterest needs to change how they deal with metadata and they need to tighten up their terms of service, but…
I think photographers need to adapt and adapt quickly to an environment where accessibility to the marketplace is as important as copyright protection. Copyright protection can either be leveraged to keep your photography in a prison cell or given room to run in a massively expansive world. How you manage that is a personal decision in determining what is best for your business.
I just happen to believe that some companies have the right intention and no sound reason for selling shared photos. I base that analysis by the type of business they run, how many people are in the company and how the site is being used by others. Pinterest at its core is a bookmarking services and when they say “sell” I hardly think there is a market for low resolution web images on scale from a book marking site. If that were the case it’d be a high priority and you’d see them sporting a “store” link on their site. I interpret “sell” to be they are going to sell demographic and user data not the content. It’s pretty clear that Google and Facebook have risen to be giants because it’s user data that holds the value for these companies not the hosting and sharing of billions of photos. Think about it. Flickr Pro users pay Yahoo money to host and share their photos while Facebook charges you nothing. Facebook charges you nothing because they make tons of money capturing your every move online and their current pre-IPO valuation of 10′s if not 100 BILLION dollars should clue you into that. You’re giving away what could be your most valuable asset for free. Oh and as of Sept. 2011 Facebook hosts 140 billion photos to Flickrs 6 billion.
So when you read a Terms of Service document and you see sell think in terms of the invisible asset you’re providing to these companies (i.e. your personal info and online user behavior) not your images. Your photos in the big picture are ultimately a red herring issue in this whole debate. Your photos are important to “you”, but not to these sites. Your photos are merely a side show to the real business at hand, capturing info on who you are, what you view, when you view it, what you buy, etc.
I say, “yes” keep on the good fight… preserve metadata, clarify terms of service, etc., but also be informed to how these sites are really making money off your participation.
Should you take part? Thats for you to decide. I say, “yes” yet again. In my case I embed metadata and embed watermarks because I’m paranoid and I want my imagery to be found online while giving people a path to find me if they use my images. The prospect of an “Orphans Work” law being passed is real, but to expect there to be a “holy grail” universal law that dictates how people treat your images online is optimistic at best. Laws are intended to be absolute, but in reality they’re broken all the time. How often do you speed and get away with it? Sure there are penalties, but by and large you get away with breaking the law quite often. Not that I’m proud of it, but I know I do. The same is true online in that user behavior is going to continue to outpace and often outwit laws that are drafted. After having talked to very smart people behind image search engines I’m in agreement, the one thing that will always remain constant online is your image. Whether metadata or a watermarks are present you can search for an image and find it through services like TinEye, Picscout and even Google. Not to discount the important work of others who are leading the charge on metadata standards and fighting an orphan works bill, but the ultimate control of your work lies in your hands. You can either wait for that perfect law (and I’ve yet to see a perfect law in any form) come to being or you can accept that the web is the “wild west” at this point and it is likely to remain that way for sometime.
Personally I think the web is going to continue to be the “wild west” for some time as:
- Lawmakers are not technically savvy
- Lawmakers are slow to adapt existing laws
- Existing Laws will forever be behind the times in this fast moving environment
- Online businesses do their best to meet existing laws
- Online businesses are in it to innovate and by doing so will push boundaries of existing laws
- Existing laws will always be challenged and those legal fights will take years to resolve
Having been in this business for a while now I can tell you I cannot wait years for a legal fight to work its way through the courts to dictate how I behave online. I have to weather the storm day by day and adapt as best as I can. I’m all for pushing businesses to adapt to what I think is the proper interpretation of the law, but I also realize they see the world differently than I do. To be successful in adapting to this “wild west” environment I need to try and see the world as they do… to understand how they actually are making money, to see how they are actually providing an opportunity/risk to me and most importantly to see how I can exploit their service to my advantage versus focusing on how their service is exploiting me.
Pinterest is just the latest site to push the boundaries. We’ll have this discussion soon enough about another site. Stick to your ideals, but also be pragmatic. For me Pinterest is not the threat, not having my work seen or found is the real threat.