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SXSW 2012

Why I love Pinterest, but just deleted my account: Pinterest CEO, Ben Silbermann at SXSW

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Ben Silbermann and Chris Dixon Photo by Jessica Pages
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Austin Photo Set: News_Jessica Pages_ben silbermann_pinterest_march 2012
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I’ve been ripping photos out of magazines since I was really young and have countless binders, journals and folders filled with inspiring photographs. I credit those journals to igniting my passion for photography and those images to learning about lighting, composition and style.

Once I purchased a Mac, I moved onto screen grabbing and building desktop folders to keep my files organized. So when I found out about Pinterest I thought "Finally! Someone created a program that is speaking my language!"

But for a couple of months now, my Pinterest has sat untouched. Truthfully, I began feeling a little weird about pinning. Somehow it seemed fine when it was just me, but now that most of my Facebook friends are on, it feels different.

There have been countless articles out on the copyright terms concerning Pinterest, so hoping to get answers, I sat in on a SXSW Q&A panel with Pinterest CEO and Co-founder Ben Silbermann and Huntch Co-founder Chris Dixon.

Ben Silbermann is a soft-spoken young guy who hasn’t given many interviews. It’s apparent that he’s much more comfortable in front of a computer coding than on a SXSW panel in a room of 300 people.  He spoke a little about his career before Pinterest, deciding to ditch pre-med to make his way out to Silicon Valley where he “cajoled his way into working at Google.” Silbermann worked on iPhone apps, but knew he eventually wanted to make his own start-up.

Silbermann’s initial inspiration for Pinterest came from his passion for collecting: He collected everything from bugs to stamps. “The things you collect say so much about who you are,” he says.  For Silbermann, what people keep in their homes, the art on their walls and the books on their shelves are all collections. He wanted to create a project where the world could share things about themselves through these collections.

Pinterest was started in November 2009. A lot of initial time was spent on the site's design. Silbermann wanted a beautiful product, simple and symmetrical: a site that was as easy to navigate, as it was enjoyable to look at.  “The average consumer has high expectations, if you don’t give them something that’s worth their time people won’t use it,” he says.

Today, Pinerest sees over 10 million monthly uniques in the U.S., making it one of the fastest growing websites of all time. But with this great power comes a great responsibility. There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding Pinterest’s Terms of Use, but the bigger issue is dealing with copyright laws. When a site is based on pinning (republishing) photos that do not belong to you, that site can turn into a copyright free for all.

Pinterest in of itself is a contradiction; under the "What is Pinterest" tab on the site you will find this answer: “Pinterest lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web.” But go a little further to the "Legal and Copyright" tab and you see this: “You agree not to do any of the following: Post, upload, publish, submit, provide access to or transmit any Content that: (i) infringes, misappropriates or violates a third party’s patent, copyright, trademark, trade secret, moral rights or other intellectual property rights, or rights of publicity or privacy.”

How can you share what you find on the web if you do not own it?

When asked about copyright during the panel Silbermann said “Copyright is really important to us, as a company we care a lot.” He went on to talk about Pinterest's new No Pin Tool and how they are very active at taking down pins that have been flagged. That was as much of an answer as was given, other than a statement that they are "working on it."

The copyright holder might not care that their copyright is being infringed upon or republished without permission, but it reinforces the copyright ambiguity on the internet: the thought that everything on the internet is free for public use.

Photographers aren’t solely concerned with their photos being republished on Pinterest, but more about the eroding adherence to copyright law on the web.

There’s a value in Pinterest and I’m sure it will be very successful, but seeing the inherent conflict in their terms of use and what is actually making the site such a success made me think twice about using it. For the time being, my account will remain inactive.

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