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Ellen Million

Pinterest's Prickly Problem

posted by marrael 2012-02-28 00:27:41

If you're familiar with Pinterest, online discussions about Pinterest's copyright issues have been heating up recently, and (I believe) I may have mentioned the site on the Flog before. Pinterest is a website and online tool that lets you "pin" images online onto a virtual pinboard on your Pinterest account, and you can create unlimited boards (and pins), amassing (essentially) galleries of images grouped by theme, media, colour, or subject. It's fantastic for idea-gathering; whether you're working on a room design, party plan, or for that matter, a painting or character design. But lately the argument has come up that the site hurts artists and crafters. I'd like to examine that in today's Flog entry.

When I first started using Pinterest, I mostly pinned photographs of interior decor I liked, public domain paintings by dead artists, interesting photo textures and colour combinations, and catalog photos of dresses and fabric I thought were inspiring. (In fact, on one board, I pinned pictures of kimono fabrics and gowns because I planned on putting a fairy in kimono-inspired costume. The end design was my own.)

I still find Pinterest a fantastic tool for artists--if you play by the copyright rules. That is, that you only pin images that the creator has said are OK to be pinned, and if you are using reference photos, the copyright holders of the photos need to be OK with you copying the photos wholesale (or the figures more or less wholesale, in the case of models modeling for artists). Keeping in mind that expressions of ideas in photography, art and writing are automatically copyrighted (whether or not the fancy © sign appears) by the creator, ideas themselves are free--so this applies to things like mood, "feel", colour combinations, and even style--so if you want to paint modern figures in the method of Alphonse Mucha, go for it! I'll stick to my original guns that Pinterest is a useful tool for gathering inspiration in a very organised and accessible way.

The problem Pinterest poses for artists, crafters and photographers is this: Not everyone who uses Pinterest (or indeed, anyone who uses the Internet) is versed in copyright law, and while it's always been impossible stopping anyone from saving your images on the Internet, now Pinterest is essentially letting them take a picture and republish the image on Pinterest--whether or not your website has a "Pin It" button, and whether or not you allow such distribution and say so explicitly on your website. (Pinterest allows anyone to install a "Pin It" app in their browser.) Now, all pins provide (after a bit of careful looking) a link to the original source of the image. But the ease of "re-pinning" an image already on Pinterest means an image of yours can get a fair amount of distribution and re-distribution on Pinterest without any clicks going to your website, when one of those clicks could become potential revenue. It's like Google Image Search, but without a person having to go to your website at all to view the full-size image and become a potential buyer.

I get this argument. If you're on Etsy, know that Etsy now has a "Pin It" button on every Etsy product page, and the cry from some vendors is that they've found their Etsy product photos on Pinterest, at the same time visits to their actual Etsy store (and their sales) have been going South. "Pin It" definitely does not work to an Etsy seller's benefit the way the Etsy "treasuries" do, in which clicking on an item in a Treasury brings you to the product's buying page. (Pinterest doesn't discourage Etsy sales either, but it does put the purchasing page an extra click away. I don't think that's too much of an impediment for someone who wants something, but can imagine a casual Pinterest user not even bothering to check out the original source.)

And yet, I'm also familiar with the phenomenon of getting lots of views and few buyers--not only on Etsy, but many artist gallery and sale sites like Fine Art America, RedBubble and (so I hear) DeviantArt. Personally, I think someone who's out to buy will not be looking on Pinterest. They'll be shopping on their favourite shopping site. It's the casual browsers, impulse buyers and freeloaders that are potential lost sales, in which case (1) the freeloader will rarely buy anything anyway, and (2) the casual and impulse buyers CAN still be hooked--if the pinned photo makes clear (1) there's a product to be had, and (2) there there's a place to go to buy it.

Copyright text and small print on your website may make clear that you don't want your images on Pinterest, but not every Pinterest user is going to read or heed that small print. So don't let your images out onto the Internet without identifying information or watermarks. (The one place this is difficult to apply, alas, is art gallery and print sites on which you upload the print versions of your images--ie. no watermarks--and the web-view images are displayed online without your preferred copyright text or watermark. I've already found an image of mine like this on Pinterest, yoinked from RedBubble. Time to ask them for help on this!)

If you run your own website for your art/portfolio, know that Pinterest provides a "no pin" code for you to place on your pages so that none of your images can be pinned--remember however, that even with lots of code and protection, any determined art "fan" can still download your art with just a screen capture. But if you're against your images being pinned, use the no-pin code

My best recommendation is to show the copyright information of on all yours images CLEARLY (text on a "screen" or "multiply" layer in Photoshop), making sure your full artist name and website or Etsy store address can be easily read. Who knows? With this info, who knows, having one's images on Pinterest may actually work towards more sales and visits! I predict tutorials for artists and photographers on how to capitalise on Pinterest appearing in the not-too-distant future. If you do run into any of these, send me the link, or maybe just remember you read it here first. ;)

Related Links:
What You Should Know About Pinterest and Copyright
Pinterest's Copyright Problem and How It May Hurt Brands 
How to Use Pinterest and Still Respect Copyrights

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