When did it become OK to take someone’s stuff without asking?


When did it become OK to take someone's stuff without asking?

Pinterest has suddenly become the tech talking point of the month – not only because it threatens to become the next big social network, but also because of its laissez faire attitude to copyright infringement.

Pinterest bills itself as a virtual pinboard, a “place to share and organise the things you love” – even if those things belong to someone else. So if you find a photo of a laptop, smartphone or adorable basketful of puppies that you like on another website, you can post it for the world to see on your Pinterest account.

Yes, Pinterest provides a small text link back to the originating site: but it also creates a decent-sized copy of the image, which it hosts on its own servers and displays to Pinterest visitors. Unless you’ve got any desire to see the photo at its full resolution or want to find out more about a particular link, there’s no great incentive to look any further. Pinterest gets the credit and the traffic for other people’s content – although I don’t doubt some websites do benefit from Pinterest referrals.


The site claims that it “respects the intellectual property rights of others and expects its users to do the same” – which is, in my opinion, entirely disingenuous, given that its uploader allows you to simply enter another site’s URL, pick the photo you want to display, and upload a copy to Pinterest with no questions asked.

Pinterest says it will take down copyrighted content, but only if the owner goes through the list of steps on its site, for every piece of content they want removed. Following the recent brouhaha about its attitude to copyright infringement, the company also last week released a tool for webmasters that allows them to add a snippet of code to their websites to prevent Pinterest from pinching their content.

In Pinterest’s eyes, the onus is on the website owners to prevent Pinterest from taking their content, not the other way around.  It’s like a burglar claiming that it was perfectly legitimate to run off with your television set, because there wasn’t a sign on your front door saying you didn’t want him – specifically – to ransack your house.

Common practice

Pinterest is far from the only company that’s making hay with other people’s content. One of my favourite iPad/iPhone applications is Zite, a service which monitors your reading habits to deliver personalised news to your device.

Naturally, one of the news sources Zite thinks I’m most interested in is PCPro.co.uk, and this is how it presents our stories on the iPad:


You’ll notice there are no adverts or other site furniture, just our words and photography (or in this case, Nokia’s officially authorised press photography) on the page. To the best of my knowledge, Zite hasn’t sought our permission to use our content in this way – it’s just scraped it from our website, and presented it within its own application. There is a link to the originating web page at the top, but why on Earth would anyone bother visiting our website when the whole story is presented within Zite?

In effect, Zite has ripped up the unwritten contract that exists between website owners and their visitors: that we provide you with free, high quality content in exchange for viewing (and potentially clicking on) advertisements on our site.  It has, without any prior agreement or financial compensation, deprived PC Pro of the chance to earn revenue from that reader.

As the editor of PC Pro, I’m torn.  I like Zite’s personalised news feed and the way it presents stories. But I also like being paid and being able to pay my staff at the end of each month.

Taking content until someone objects has become common practice among social web applications. So I ask again: when did it become acceptable to take people’s stuff without asking?

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