Polyvore-ingenius or infringement

Stolen (pin) by Robin Cruz McGee
Stolen (pin) by Robin Cruz McGee

As an admitted geek,  I admire the basic concepts behind Polyvore.com, as stated on their “About” page:

Polyvore is a free, easy-to-use web-based application for mixing and matching images from anywhere on the web. It is also a vibrant community of creative and stylish people.

Polyvore lets you create sets composed of individual images using an easy to use, drag and drop editor. After you have created a set, you can publish and share it with your friends and the Polyvore community.

But my admiration ends where the copyright issues begin. 

Polyvore: ingenius or infringement?

It was brought to my attention by long-time EBSQer Aja that Polyvore was allowing its members to steal and essentially “mutlilate” images from a number of sites without permission via its proprietary “clipping” tool.  Apparently this was a huge issue with Etsy last year, and it’s become so again. They’ve also been stealing images from Flickr, and we’re not talking about Creative Commons images but ones that are explicitly marked all rights reserved.  A quick search revealed they were doing the same with images from EBSQart, RedBubble, Imagekind, CafePress, DeviantArt, and individual artist’s blogs and personal websites. We’re certain there are other art and photography sources we’ve missed.  Sometimes the images were used with some nod of attribution. We found many cases where they were not.  Also, we discovered that in many cases, the artists’ watermarks, which are generally used to keep others from reusing their work sans permission or proper attribution, were removed using Polyvore’s in-house editing tools.

According to Polyvore’s Terms of Service:

You shall be solely responsible for your own User Submissions and the consequences of posting or publishing them. In connection with User Submissions, you affirm, represent, and/or warrant that you own or have the necessary licenses, rights, consents, and permissions to use and authorize Polyvore to use all patent, trademark, trade secret, copyright or other proprietary rights in and to any and all User Submissions to enable inclusion and use of the User Submissions in the manner contemplated by the Website and these Terms of Service.

and

In connection with User Submissions, you further agree that you will not:

  1. submit material that is copyrighted, protected by trade secret or otherwise subject to third party proprietary rights, including privacy and publicity rights, unless you are the owner of such rights or have permission from their rightful owner to post the material and to grant Polyvore all of the license rights granted herein; (ii) publish falsehoods or misrepresentations that could damage Polyvore or any third party;

When we contacted Polyvore about all of the images derived from the EBSQart website and asked them to remove all source images, derivative images, and block our domain from being “clipped” again, they apologized and said they took care of it. A later search of their site revealed that while the  source images were gone, the derivative items remained fully intact on their site without any attribution to the original artists or works of art  until another complaint was filed. We hope this is the end of the issue as far as the EBSQ website is concerned, but I have my doubts if their ongoing battle with Etsy is indicative of how they do business.

While, according to Polyvore-founder Pasha Sadri, Polyvore is not a sales venue, he also admitted that they do make money when someone clicks through to an affiliated merchant like The Gap and makes a purchase (see the conversation in context at Flickr) There is also some talk of them enabling you to print out your spanking “new” derviative artwork in the future. So yes, they are potentially profitting from your stolen artwork.

What can you do if your work has been used at Polyvore without your consent?

  • Make sure you document every single Polyvore “set” that used your image(s) including screenshots and urls for each infraction
  • Contact info@polyvore.com with your complaint.  Ask them to remove your source images, ALL derivative works created from your originals, and ask them to block your domain from being snipped again if the work was stolen from your personal domain or blog. You can also submit your complaint via their online copyright infraction form.
  • Follow up to make sure your work has actually been removed.  Don’t just take their word for it!

For further reading on this issue:

http://etsynews.com/607/is-polyvore-stealing-your-images/

http://www.redbubble.com/people/crokuslabel/writing/266182-petition-to-stop-copyright-theft-at-polyvore-com

http://www.etsy.com/forums_thread.php?thread_id=5438055&page=1

http://www.etsy.com/forums_thread.php?thread_id=5438619&page=1

http://www.etsy.com/forums_thread.php?thread_id=5982886&page=1

http://etsynews.com/848/is-polyvore-stealing-your-images-part-ii/

http://stellaimhultberg.blogspot.com/2009/01/polyvore-problem.html

http://artandghosts.typepad.com/my_weblog/2009/01/polyvore-copyright-violation-update.html

Finally, EBSQ artist Aja created a petition aimed at stopping Polyvore from allowing these violations to continue. If this is something you are passionate about, she asks that you take a look and consider adding your voice (and name) to the conversation.

In response, some of the users at Polyvore have created a petition of their own.

So, what’s your take on this issue? Is Polyvore simply an interesting space that lets you mashup other people’s images to create something new and fun to share with your friends? Or is the site blatantly encouraging copyright infringement and ignoring artists’ rights?

-Amie Gillingham, co-founder, EBSQ


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