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Midland, Texas, United States
I write. I make stuff.


Thursday, March 01, 2012

Pinterest, O, Pinterest

Man, I don't even know where to start with this. If you want to get an overview of my recent foray into The World of Pinterest, go to my blog at There are some posts there in which some of my editors share their opinion of Pinterest, and there will be a couple more posts going up next week on Monday and Wednesday. 

It's been a wild ride. Almost everyone I know raves about Pinterest. I've been hearing about it for months, but I hadn't done more than go, see if they had any cool photos of boro-style clothing, and then think, "Gee, when I have some time, I ought to check this out further." Cool stuff, but for me it was just another time suck. There are fabulous photos all over the web, and just because this is a site that lets people pick and choose and put their favorite ones together in one place doesn't mean it's not still a big time suck. Some people love ways to spend leisure time, and this is perfect for them. Others aren't so much about the concept of "leisure time," and this can be bottomless. 

Then this week people started sending me notes about Pinterest and some of their concerns about copyright. I address that in my CMM posts (I'd post links, but they're not up yet and the links generated for scheduled posts can sometimes be kind of iffy), so I'm not doing that here. This is about my own experience. Zom sent me a link to this post, which tells how to see if your images are being re-pinned. Since I don't make stuff to sell, this wasn't a big concern for me, but I was curious, of course.

So I followed the instructions and did that, and I found a few images from my blog including the one below from this blog post back last fall.
This work is by Cathy Rose, at The photo is by Earl Zachery. No one has permission to use this photo for anything at all whatsoever anywhere. Ever.
(This is moot since I've inserted the code to make it impossible to pin.)

It didn't have Cathy's name anywhere, so I started checking. Sure, the pin was linked to my blog, but it was just to, not to a specific post. And if you go to, you'll land on whatever post is current. There's no way you'll know that that image isn't my work, and if you suspect it's Cathy Rose's work because you've seen her work and love it, you'll have no way of finding that unless you do a search of my blog, which will then take you to the post with this photo and with a link to her website. Whew, right?

So exactly how many people do you think are going to take that kind of time? Most people will either look at it, like it, and re-pin it, or click on the link, arrive at my blog, and go, "Huh?" and move on--because we all know what short attention spans we're all supposed to possess, right?

In short, this is wrong, and here's why: while The EGE had Cathy's permission to take the photo and I had permission to use the photo, no one else had permission to use it. Well, Stampington had permission to use it in the profile, if they'd had space--but no one else. Now, I don't mind sharing, and I wouldn't have minded at all if it had been pinned IF it had been identified (artist and photographer) and then linked correctly: not to my blog, but to the specific post, which was linked to Cathy's website. 

As it is, there is no information about whose work this is, and that's the problem with Pinterest. People claim they're linking--they believe they're linking the way they should--but are they, really? Are they linking correctly? Do the links take the viewer to a post or a website or a page where they can get the full information about whose work this really is? What percentage of the time do you think this happens? I don't think that's even on most people's radar. That's not, I suspect, how they think of Pinterest. [I, for example, have spent over an hour trying to track down the source of an image I liked so much it's my current desktop wallpaper. With absolutely no luck: it was pinned from a blog where the woman apparently takes tons of images she finds online and inserts them into blog posts with no links or clues where she got them.]

Given the way most people seem to be using it, I think they think of it as a big old virtual scrapbook. Here's what one blogger, Christine Bartolozzi,  says about Pinterest and its users:

Pinterest caters to an until-now untapped and broad female user base which has a significant interest in crafts, home decorating, wedding planning, food, and home entertaining, along with fashion and beauty. Women tend to flock to topics like these, especially Suzy Homemaker-types.
Not too flattering, is it? Now, I know a lot of really creative people who are using it in other ways, of course. But they don't seem to be in the majority. And I think the majority doesn't really care about properly attributing artwork and photographs. They just want to collect stuff they like and share it with other people. 

And what about the people whose work is being shared? How do you think Cathy might feel? Or, since I have no idea how she would feel, let's take a hypothetical artist in the same situation: they find their work pinned on Pinterest and notice that their name is nowhere involved, and they start following the links back and find themselves on my blog, on some post that has nothing to do with them (because they land on the most recent post), with no mention of the photo or the art or anything. How do you imagine they would feel? Do you think maybe they might be hesitant to allow me and my photographer/husband to come to their studio and take photos next time, even if there's a magazine profile involved? I'm guessing they might feel just the tiniest bit taken advantage of, because here's the deal: this is their WORK. While it may be fun eye candy for all the pinners who are pinning and re-pinning shoes and interior design ideas and luscious photos of cupcakes, this is how these artists MAKE A LIVING. Their work is their livelihood, and to see it pinned with no way of its being traced back to them--what is that? Does it feel just the tiniest bit like being ripped off? And don't you think they might think *I* am the one doing the ripping off? It's linked to my blog but doesn't mention them, so what, exactly, am I up to? If I were the artist, I'd sure wonder.

No, I am not accusing anyone of ripping off anyone else's work. Don't even go there with me. I'm not blaming whoever pinned the photo; they were doing just what everyone else seems to be doing: using Pinterest the way people think they're supposed to use Pinterest. (Did I mention everyone should go here and read the Terms of Use? Just in case you say you don't have time, here's an esp. relevant part that I don't think most people have read:
"You acknowledge and agree that you are solely responsible for all Member Content that you make available through the Site, Application and Services. Accordingly, you represent and warrant that: (i) you either are the sole and exclusive owner of all Member Content that you make available through the Site, Application and Services or you have all rights, licenses, consents and releases that are necessary to grant to Cold Brew Labs the rights in such Member Content, as contemplated under these Terms; and (ii) neither the Member Content nor your posting, uploading, publication, submission or transmittal of the Member Content or Cold Brew Labs’ use of the Member Content (or any portion thereof) on, through or by means of the Site, Application and the Services will infringe, misappropriate or violate a third party’s patent, copyright, trademark, trade secret, moral rights or other proprietary or intellectual property rights, or rights of publicity or privacy, or result in the violation of any applicable law or regulation.")

Anyway, what I'm talking about is how an artist might feel. And I'm not smearing all the pinners who are sharing stuff they love: you can't blame people for using Pinterest the way everyone else is using it. I'm not saying they're deliberately doing wrong. I'm saying they haven't really thought about what it is they're doing.

I want to like Pinterest, I really do. As I said, everyone I know loves it. I've had conversations with people in the last week, some who say they think it's an overreaction to something new that people don't understand, like The Old Guard doesn't get social media and its hip and free-wheeling ways. Bloggers are singing its praises and rushing to join up, scoffing at those of us who urge just a tiny bit of caution. They think we're being Neanderthal; I think they've not yet received a cease-and-desist letter from someone's attorney regarding copyright violation. I have, and I don't want to go there again.

I read a comment last week by some guy who referred to Pinterest as "Napster for your aunt"--not so much Hip & Cutting Edge as Totally Geared to Women Who Love to Shop. The worrisome part of this is likening it to Napster because, if you'll remember, that one didn't end well. I know people who are predicting a similar downfall for Pinterest. Others say it will all blow over and we're just being alarmist. But here's the thing: beyond whether or not it's going to blow up, beyond whether or not anyone's going to get sued, there's this: how do artists feel about having their work online in places they didn't put that work?

And then you know what? As I finished this post and thought about it some more, I wondered, really wondered, what Cathy would think about this. So I called her up and asked her--mea maxima culpa for calling an artist in the studio during the work day (lucky for me it turned out she was on her way somewhere and was happy to talk)--I know better than to do that, I swear! She had no idea her work was pinned all over Pinterest, but she did have something to say about artists' work being shown on the internet, something she's thought about and that is a concern for a lot of artists. 

She said, "The internet takes away part of our identity and exclusivity. It's disturbing to me; it's disturbing to  lot of artists, but I don't know how to control that." Asked about her reaction to people who think an artist should be flattered to have their work posted online by admirers,  she said, "I love being recognized for my work, *when* I have control over that." It's the lack of control that's hard to deal with, and I understand completely. I'm thinking more and more about what I need to do not to be a part of the problem. I've started by deleting all my boards on Pinterest--since what I was doing mostly was re-pinning stuff I liked, there was no way I was getting good links, and that's wrong. Next I need to insert the code to prevent images on my blog from being pinned. [You can find out how to do that here. While you're there, scroll down and follow the links to read what others are saying about Pinterest and copyright.]

And then I need to really think before I show anyone's work here at all. If it's mine, and if The EGE took the photo, great. But if it's something we photographed in someone's studio, then what? Do I write the blog post, send it to them for approval, and then edit and post it? Then *I* would be the one without control. See? There's a lot to think about. I'm not urging people to give up Pinterest; I'm just urging them to really think about what they're doing and make sure that they pay attention to the Terms of Use, to other people's rights, and to that less-tangible thing that Cathy mentioned: the artist's sense of control over their life's work. 

Good intentions are good intentions, but sometimes there has to be more. How do you protect yourself and your work? And how do you make sure you're not part of the problem? I don't know. I'd tell you to check your links thoroughly and make sure you're giving credit, but if you read that part of the Terms that says you agree not to pin anything if you don't 1) own it or 2) have explicit permission to pin it, then what? 

So I'm going to put up a couple of poll questions over there in the sidebar. I'd love for you to take a minute and answer them so we can see what others are thinking. Thanks!


..... J ..... said...

Thanks for your post about this Rice. I left Pinterest a while ago. My reason was more related to privacy and just not needed another social media source to eat up my time. There were people on Facebook that I had blocked for one reason or another that were getting in to my boards on Pinterest and I was not at all pleased. I agree it is too much of a free for all in using other people creations with out their permission or even knowledge.

Linda Ledbetter said...

This is a great post, Rice, and offers a lot to think about. I do use Pinterest and enjoy it, but I agree-- it's could end up being a slippy slope into intellectual property violations. I will be far more careful in the future to take extra steps to correctly attribute anything I pin.

From the other side, as an artist, this is a reminder to ALWAYS embed my name and blog address right onto every photo I post. I've gotten really lazy about that, which is silly since it take about a nanosecond. (Not that I'm getting pinned a whole lot, but still...).

Thanks for the thoughtful essay!


Jeannie said...

Thanks Rice. I have joined Pinterest, but I had my concerns. I don't worry about people stealing from me, but I do worry about others rights being violated. Now, this is where my paranoid self speaks up. In the past, I have seen talented artist's ideas taken and created commercially with no license or nod to the originator. What if we are contributing to this by pinning? Hypothetical: I am a Chinese factory owner. I go to pinterest and see that XYZ has been pinned a gazillion times. Her artwork is fresh and new, but I know I can knock off millions of items that look like hers for $1 and sell in the US for $15.99 at JoAnnes. The artist gets zilch and we have done the marketing work for the factory owner. We have seen this happen so frequently -Kelly Rae Roberts pops to mind. I see things that "look" like hers and then see that it is not. I ethically cannot buy those items, but not everyone knows about Kelly Rae or are ethical. For the above reason, I am going to stop pinning. The factory owners don't need my help.

Leslie Sirag said...

I've dropped pinterest after a brief foray. I don't tweet (& recently noted research stating that 70% of tweets are never even read). I'm considering Tumblr on the recommendation of a friend who says it drives traffic to her etsy shop, but need to check the links.
I have 2 etsy shops, several etsy teams, one blog, one personal & 2 shop FB pages, a CouchSurfing profile,several yahoo groups, and A LIFE that barely has time (and sometimes doesn't!) for all of those. Enough, already!

Corey Johnston said...

Ricë, a long while ago you posted some things about sensory overload and the eye-candy that we expose ourselves to. I had to drop out of Pinterest for that reason--there was just too much stimulation, and I would be completely dazzled and unable to actually do anything of my own! It put my in a state of "sugar shock" that I've had to strictly control simply so I can let my inspirations be my own and not simply a carbon copy redux of someone else's creativity.

I haven't been on it for a long time, but I save all the images I'm interested in onto Evernote now, where I don't have to feel responsible for illegally sharing them. They become a tool for my own creative use, like glue or glitter or a brush.

It's fun to share what one find's inspiring or interesting, but not at the cost of someone else's hard work. That's just rude, right? It's unkind. It's mean. And I realized I didn't want to be that kind of person. So I deleted my boards.

Until Pinterest figures out how to make things work fairly for everyone, I felt I didn't have much of a choice... And I think you hit the nail right on the head by pointing out the "grey area" in your post. Kudos. As you've mentioned, there are lots of ways to be inspired. Using Pinterest doesn't have to be the default way to do it.

Sparkly Heart Studio said...

I agree wholeheartedly with everything you said. Thanks for explaining it so clearly. I am not a member of Pinterest, (though I have peeked just to satisfy my curiosity) but I always had a vague sense of unease about the whole concept that I couldn't quite express. Now I know why.

The Journey said...

I think you have a valid point. It is one thing if I like someones work and copy it practically - add my own twist for my own use. But if I copy and sell it that is awful- it is wrong. I encountered that with friend- I won't say the setting but we were having some sort of function- I reminded her of copyright laws and she said- that's too bad isn't it- like what is out there is fair game- (absolutely NOT!). I was embarrassed. Under some conditions you can use 10% (I think that's the amount) educational purposes. When a person designs something or writes a book - it belongs to them. I deleted all my pinterest too. I unfriended over half of people on my facebook, because of stuff going on. I honest don't want or need to know some stuff, TMI!!

The Journey said...

the journey
- word is use partially.

Ricë said...

I LOVE that the words were "use partially"--makes you think captcha is reading the posts sometimes, doesn't it?

Thank y'all for commenting. I love that people are participating in the poll and I'm hearing what people think. It's good to know what's going on and how others feel about it--

Lisa is Raw on $10 a Day (or less!) said...

I'm an artist and a writer. I like Pinterest. I put a "pin it" button on my blogs, so anyone who wants can pin it to their boards or whatever (I like Pinterest, but have trouble using it!). I personally don't see that it's intellectual copyright infringement any more than is a search engine like Google. (There was actually a woman who sued Google for infringement for showing her images in their search ... she lost).

Anyway, I get at least several hundred visits to just my food blog every day directly from Pinterest. If I want people to see what I'm doing, and that's why I publish a blog, then it's something that works.

What actually concerns me about Pinetrest more than anything is that I think it reflects an ever worsening economy where we're left to virtual collecting. Less consuming is a good thing, but being is dire straits isn't ...

Anyway, interesting post. It's definitely something to think about.

aimee said...

I knew at some point you'd have a great post about Pinterest!

You said it all about Pinterest, just right. Let me add that I think Facebook offends copyright just as equally, if not more. On Pinterest, if someone pins correctly, it will link back to the original post or Etsy shop. On Facebook, someone can nab an image in an instant, save it as their own, and there is no link back. No way to track where/how much it has been shared. So the image is basically lost. A few weeks ago I found out that one "inspirational" page had been using one of my drawings every single day as their daily check-in/mantra. By that point it had been shared thousands of times. It didn't even cross the page owner's mind to make the effort to find out who made the drawing. This image even came back to me on my own news feed, shared by an old high school friend, who had no idea it was my drawing. This has happened with so many of my pieces, and with other artists' work, that I've lost count.

I didn't want to stop posting my work, so finally I did the only thing I could: put big, ugly watermarks on my drawings in my shop, and I now I only show a peep of them on my blog. (Blocking pins from a site doesn't solve the problem entirely -- someone can always do a screen grab or save the image and then pin it.) I resisted the watermark for a long time, because I liked to share and didn't want to put people off with them, but Pinterest has changed all that. Folks are so desensitized to images now that I think the watermark makes them stop and realize that someone put the time and effort into creating it, and that the work belongs to that artist. From there hopefully most folks will do the right thing and credit the artist's work.

Ricë said...

The photographer lost the case against Google images because they use only thumbnails that, when clicked, go to the original source. Pinterest doesn't do that--it uses the entire image.

see you there! said...

Excellent post.

I nearly clicked the "what's pinterest" on your poll since I have never looked at it. I have of course heard of it though. My lack of Pinterest interest is the time it comsumes but now I have other reasons to ignore it.


Deb said...

Rice - thank you so much for starting this discussion, for the links and for all the info.
Before I comment further, I want to vote - but what do you mean by "credited to a fare-thee-well." Does that mean my work would be credited to who pinned it, to someone else? A little confusing to me, that - but then, I am often befuddled, so please forgive me if I seem silly - I don't mean to!


Jenny said...

"Only one thing is impossible for God: To find any sense in any copyright law on the planet." ~ Mark Twain

Ricë said...

I'm sorry, Deb--I was just being cute. What I mean (and I should go in and change that answer) is that you'd like it if it were fully credited and linked to you. XO

Deb said...

Thanks, Rice, for clarifying that question. I voted my 2 cents.

This post is also very timely with all the Google Privacy Frenzy going on right now. Sigh. What a world, what a world.

I knew, even as I became a pinner who was enjoying all the great photos on Pinterest that Copyright issues were bound to come up. And when you accidentally discover a pinned who has shared over 12,000 images that something's gotta give. You KNOW she didn't ask permission to post all of those images! (put leeze ... she would still be sending emails to people until she died!) Then again, I haven't asked permission of everyone either ... perhaps I jumped on that bandwagon way too quickly.

I do hate to admit it, but I like Pinterest much much more than any other social network. One photo says so much - so very much, to me. Even worse, I admit to being addicted to it as a constant source of inspiration. I don't idly stay there - I tend to go to it in spurts every week. Sadly, I don't need another distraction, but I'm already there.

I have used Pinterest mainly as a lifestyle site - yes, I do post artwork (not nearly as often as I post photos of interiors since we remodeled our home & my studio). I am no happy homemaker but have to admit I like finding a member who's pinned a ton of quick & easy cleaning tips - or a tutorial on how to make your own mercury glass (which I am addicted to, by the way).

I am especially fond of discovering new artists and artwork there as well. However, you are so right when you say that a HUGE amount of pinned artwork is not credited to the original source. I try to track it down when I can and make every effort to credit the original artist, designer, manufacturer, blogger, etc. But I admit I haven't always been successful - so I've decided to only pin things so that they are credited correctly. But then, the sad thing is, along comes the next pinner behind me - and she/he more than likely doesn't bother. Looks to me like it would be very easy for Pinterest to have a pop that REQUIRES a link to the original source. But would that be impossible for them to monitor? ACK! It's all insane.

I guess my deal is this ... if we didn't want to be seen, we wouldn't be on the internet. Of course, that does not mean that someone won't try to steal our work or use our ideas (as I understand it, IDEAS cannot be stolen ... only the artist's original interpretation of them.) - but I believe Facebook to be just as dangerous, if not worse, than Pinterest in this regard. Everything is so OUT there now - so darned accessible. And that includes us artists.

I guess I've rambled on, but thank you again for this post and discussion. I've tried to pass it on to other interested parties.

I respect & admire you so much.


Steph said...

I raised my concerns about pintrest on my blog a couple of weeks ago... some ppl take photos from my blog and they don't even bother reading the posts or comment... they just grab the photos... one photo was of a pair of earrings I purchased from a friend... her work is credited as mine.. and the photo of a necklace I made was taken from a friend's blog and credited as hers.. I joined pinterest this week to take the matter in my own hands... will take care of that this weekend...
And I'm also kind of fed up of that mentality of "it's ok to steal ideas from people and not credit them".
Thanks for this post, Ricë...

Mary said...

The TOS on Pinterest are definitely shady and make no sense at all, why is there no option to privatize your pins so that you can be inspired without breaking the law?? Sigh. I am downloading Evernote now based on the comments above and will check it out. Great post!

lynners said...

I loved Pinterest at first and was addicted to it, but I found a friend's photograph of a landscape had been pinned from his website. I know he is very particular about who uses his images and how. It's a difficult question; you want people to see your creations (and perhaps purchase them) but not rip them off. Pinterest violates copyright, there's no doubt in my mind about that.It's a free-for-all. I also made the mistake of commenting that someone's pin looked like soft porn to me. Boy, did I get flamed by liberal bigots, who didn't read the "to me" qualification. Just shows how powerful visuals are.

Deb said...

Hi, Rice.
Just wanted to share a link with you that I discovered today. It's about how to use Pinterest & still respect copyright! Great article.


Deb said...

Rice - so sorry... here's the link:

Ricë said...

Thanks for the link, Deb. I think the guest poster is willfully misunderstanding Section 107 of the Fair Use clause. And I disagree w/this part, too: just because you put something on Etsy doesn't mean you want other people to take that image and post it somewhere else. What it means is that you have the item in that image for *sale*--not that you're sharing images for other people's use. Two things strike me in this whole discussion. One is willful misunderstanding: this is what I want to believe, so this is what's true. The other is that people seem to come down on one of two sides: I want to do what's right, or I want to do what I want to do regardless of what anyone else says is right. In this case, people are still arguing about what's "right," but people's determination to do what they want to do regardless of how it impinges on other people's lives--it continues to baffle me.

estonia said...

The other twist to this is that Pinterest is taking the images and storing them on their own servers. So if an image has been pinned previously, the horse is out of the barn, and the no-pin code won't save it.

patty said...

One solution is to watermark all your images with your contact info or website. If the photos are of someone else's then put their info on the photo.

It is such a compromise between trying to get your stuff "out there" and be seen by a large audience or being secluded in your studio.

I am willing to let a bit of my stuff float around unattributed to me as a compromise for a larger worldwide audience.

phil lack said...

Very well said. I had my doubts about pinterest. I do not think that the folks 'pinning' give anything like a serious thought. Copyright and intellectual property concerns are gerat... why should our work be passed around by ;admirers"? If you like it that much, BUY IT!!

Kathryn Usher said...

Very interesting info. I like the idea of a watermark or a signature line on the photo. I don't do that but I need to start. I'm thinking that way where ever one of my photos ends up I will still be credited and viewers can find their way to me and my work. Just recently I had a local television station rip off one of my photographs and not give me credit. The Internet is the new lawless Wild West. I guess I'm gonna have to be a better gunslinger to protect my work. It's like cattle rustling only with photos...

DWhiteCreations said...

I think it really is a sign of the times. (eventually) Folks will use watermarks more and there will be even more ways to make sure the owner is associated with photos.

Agree with Patty, there are pros and cons and it seems if a person believes that the cons outweigh the pros, they will stop sharing, posting, etc their photos electronically. The internet is not going away; the way we interact virtually will change but wont go away.

Dave said...

Great post!! I share your concerns....and did take my boards down two weeks ago. Now I'll have to look into how to insert the codes I've heard about to prevent repining!

Maggie said...

I had not really been following the Pinterest issue (nor do I use their service) until I read your post, Ricë. Thanks for the alert. I don't ever put a watermark on my images, but now I'm rethinking that policy. I sure hate to have that ugly watermark on them...

Ricë said...

Thanks, Dave--let me know if you need the code (easy to find online, probably). I did it; it works. Of course people can still do a work-around, but at least this way they know how you feel about it.