Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pinterest is not a Napster; it's curator-powered Google Images

One of the tenets of social media is sharing.  You post something for people to see.  You are not entirely sure who might see the post, but whoever is interested can visit your page and see the post.  While visitors are on your page, they can comment on the post.  They might even decide to share the post with their friends, if they find it interesting enough.  That's what makes social media really powerful.  Without visitors commenting and sharing the post, Joseph Kony becoming public enemy #1 in matter of a week would not have been possible.

If you don't want to share things with public, there is one-to-one communication channels.  Email, IM, group chat, internal collaboration tool like Jive and Yammer can be used to share messages with a limited set of recipients.  You know exactly who are receiving the message that you are sending, and their is tacit social contract between sender and recipient(s) that the message is intended for people included in To and CC list.

Pinterest is not a Napster;
it's more like Google Images search
except that it's powered by millions of curators
There are lot of gray areas between these two spectrum of communication channels, however.  In this ever-expanding universe of gray areas, there is one fast growing site Pinterest.  As most of you would know, Pinterest is a site where users share photos by 'pinning' them on to topical boards.  Users can pin any photo from the internet and that photo can be re-pinned by the followers.  Recent Pinterest stat reports that about 80% of all pinned photos are re-pinned photos by followers.  Pinterest will not be where it is without allowing users to repin freely.

The trouble is that Pinterest users (and other social media users for that matter) don't clearly understand what the social media is intended for.  As a lawyer, photographer and Pinterest user, Kirsten wrote on her blog, she expressed her concerns about repinning photos on Pinterest because she did not have any consent from copyright holder, and that might expose her to potential litigation just like RIAA was suing individuals who were sharing mp3 illegally on Napster (WSJ ran an article comparing Pinterest to Napster today).  While it is true that copyright holder may come after individual Pinterest users if the photo was intended for you only (the photo was sent to you via one-to-one communication channel, for example), it will be different if the photo was on publicly available website without any access restriction such as username and password.

Google Images search does exactly that.  Google spiders the web and indexes all publicly accessible images from websites.  Google caches all the images it spiders on the web, and provides the link to the original site.  Well, that's exactly what Pinterest does.  Only difference is that Google is doing its indexing automatically whereas Pinterest is powered by millions of curators who manually repin the photos of their interest.

As users of social media, we have to understand the nature of medium.  It's meant to be public.  It's meant to be shared.  And we have to be careful of what we post just like we are mindful of how we act in public.  In fact danger of misbehaving on social media is so much greater because it can be shared millions of times in matter of hours.  We have to remember that we are on TV.  Don't post if you would be shamed to see your own post on the cover of Washington Post the next day.

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