For those of you living under a rock, Imgur is a site that allows users to upload and share images very quickly and easily.
It’s grown massively in popularity over the last 6 months and has left similar services in the dust.
It was created by Reddit user, MrGrim (Alan Scaaf), for other Redditors and this is one of the reasons why it gained popularity so quickly on the site. For a while, Imgur use was actually recommended in the ‘pic’ reddit’s description. However, Imgur’s popularity isn’t limited to reddit; if you’re a social media user, then you will have seen Imgur uploads on the front page of your chosen network many times.
But here’s the problem: the majority of the images uploaded to Imgur are stolen from elsewhere. There is zero policing and all uploads are anonymous, which means that great pictures from across the web are scraped and uploaded as ‘genuine’ content all the time. Sometimes the pictures are even scraped by users after they are submitted to a social site, and then resubmitted and pushed in that same site.
Pretty annoying if your specialty is, for example, photo-blogging or based on images.
Imgur’s inability to police it’s site and stop copyrighted pictures from being uploaded would be a lot less serious if the social media sites didn’t commit the same indiscretion. In fact, the opposite seems to happen. For various reasons listed below, social media sites and their users strongly favor Imgur, often times over the image owner’s site.
So what is it about Imgur that makes social media sites go all warm and fuzzy inside?
– users LOVE it. Why? It’s fast and easy. It also has an authority on social media sites which means an image submitted on Imgur can sometimes go hot faster than an image hosted on another site. For some users, the fact that Imgur strips all meta data in the upload process is also an advantage.
– in reddit’s case, the tunnel goes a little deeper… Imgur was created by a redditor, a site that notoriously ‘looks after its own’. As mentioned, the /pics subreddit at one point requested that you use Imgur to submit images (and, even without the requirement, it’s rare to see a non-imgur picture do well in r/pics). Some users actually link to the info page on Imgur rather than the image directly so that Schaaf gets more ad revenue from the visits.
Edit: Reddit comments to this post can be found here, further expressing the concern I mentioned above – http://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/azhwx/imgur_stolen_content_and_social_medias_double/.
Now, I don’t hate Imgur; in fact, I wish more sites were as user-friendly. Reading this interview with the creator of the site, Alan Schaaf, it seems his intentions were good enough to begin with. However, it’s clear that what started out as a simple tool for Redditors has become a bit of a pest and Imgur, as a middle-man that profits from having more pinched material than original, should be thinking about how to combat the issue.
Even more importantly, the social sites that allow Imgur to run amok over their homepages should think about how heavily they come down on other sites or resources that break the rules of etiquette or TOS. Quite simply, if another site were to do the same they’d be banned in a heartbeat.
“Digg respects the intellectual property of others. It is Digg’s policy to respond expeditiously to claims of copyright and other intellectual property infringement.” –Digg.com
“Service Provider respects the intellectual property of others, and we ask our users to do the same. Service Provider may, in appropriate circumstances and at its discretion, suspend or terminate the access of and take other action against users, subscribers, registrants and account holders who infringe the copyright rights of others.” –Reddit.com
The social sites themselves might point to YouTube and other user driven sites as an example of why they cannot justify banning or taking action against Imgur, but many of those same sites, including YouTube, have mechanisms in place to prevent copyright material from being uploaded and used. Unfortunately Imgur has no mechanism to prevent this type of abuse.
In a nutshell, the situation is frustrating for many content owners and a clear double standard on the social media site’s part.
If I were to scrape and host an image, and then submit it to a social media site, I would be either banned or voted down in a second. However, since Imgur is a site made by a social media user and fellow San Franciscan, then it gets a sort of pass that other sites do not get.
Maybe someone should consider funding Alan Schaaf and Imgur, to help clean it up and get it back to being a positive tool for people to use, instead of the content stealing engine it is today.