This is an open letter to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google and Tumblr.

My new watermark. Do you like it? I hope it doesn’t detract from the photo at all.

Dear Internet,

I love Pinterest.  I love the concept, the pinning, the inspiration, the sharing, and above all, the beautiful photography.  However, recently I’ve become aware of the fact that many professional photographers are quite angry that Pinterst is essentially using their images without permission.  At first I thought, “Wait, what’s the difference between Pinterest and Google Image Search, Facebook sharing, Twitter preview, Google +, Tumblr or any number of other sites that grab images based on user shares?”

The answer: Not much.

Now, there may be some legal technical blahblahblah that protects you as long as no photographer wins the lottery and decides to spend several years in court suing your ass off.  Since most photographers don’t win the lottery, and they don’t have the deep pockets of the film, publishing or music industry, there is a virutal free-for-all when it comes to the illicit use of photography online.

Think about it this way, what if instead of Google Images, there was Google Music and it just let you search every piece of music ever posted online?

The music industry would shut that down immediately.  

What if every book was scanned and placed online for free?

The publishing industry wouldn’t allow that.

What about film?

Wait, Youtube already pulls illegal clips of TV and film that their users upload.

What about photographers then?

Under the law, photographers have the same legal rights as musicians, writers or filmmakers regarding copyright, but they don’t have the deep pockets to protect their rights.

That kind of sucks.

The good news is that there is a really simple solution.  Let photographers (or anyone else) opt out of being shared.  Just like you can prevent Google spiders from scanning your site and indexing your content by placing a small line of code on your website (invisible to users), social media and sharing sites could let individual websites opt-out.  When a user tries to share from that site, it would be automatically blocked.

So simple.

What would this do?  

  • Drop the illegal sharing of copyright protected photography significantly.
  • Protect artists who don’t have the financial resources to pursue litigation.
  • Make the internet more awesome.

Some users would find work arounds, but this will be a much smaller number and those accounts can be addressed individually.  For Pinterest especially, most people are sharing from their friend’s share pools.  Removing the source means that someone would have to maliciously go find that content and pin it, subversely, not something that I think the average Pinterest user is interested in or motived to do.

What happens if we don’t do something?

  • Startups will struggle with growing legal consequences of user generated content <– so small companies can’t make new sites, only the big boys can, swinging even more online power to Facebook and Google.
  • Content creators will create more and more barriers to their content or go dark, taking their work offline.  <– Bad for everyone.
  • Internet killing bills like SOPA have more justification.
  • Paywalls, watermarks, crazy javascript codes to prevent theft and other bad stuff will start showing up more <–  Yuck.
  • Photographers and artists who are financially hurt by online theft will STOP MAKING COOL ART!  In other words, the internet will be officially evil.

Now, we just need the developers at Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google and Tumblr to listen.

Are you listening?

Love XOXO,


(Just one little blogger who likes the internet too much).

P.S. By the way, I like it when people share my photos, but then again, I get free traffic for it and it’s not like I’m licensing my photos for thousands of dollars.  However, I don’t think that just because I am okay with it that it’s okay for more traditional artists to have their rights ignored.  For the polar opposite point of view, see Trey Ratcliff’s recent article here.

Update: Pinterest just added new code (looks like in the last 24 hours, but I’m not sure if anyone is reporting on it, however it is in their help section) that allows you to block people from pinning from your site. The problem, however, ISN’T that people are going to download your photos and reupload. Sure that might happen, but really the problem is Tumblr, which is often the source for these images and THEY don’t let people opt out. I was looking through my pins and a surprising number (maybe 30-40%) are from Tumblr blogs, not the original source. Maybe Pinterest should look at blocking Tumblr wholesale as it’s basically no better than The Pirate Bay when it comes to copyright infringement.

The score card:

Facebook – no
Twitter – no
Pinterest – yes (see the code in the help section)
Google+ – no
Tumblr – no