Is the Pinterest Problem Really a Problem?

Just as guest blogger Beth Hayden and I were going to press with the Pinterest post on Monday, the s**t hit the fan.

This blogger and that blogger have been raising legitimate concerns about Pinterest’s Terms of Service and copyright infringement.

There is enough worry out there that I felt it necessary to follow up.

Note: This is not intended to scare anyone away from using Pinterest. I just want to make sure you hear the concerns about using  Pinterest along with the rosy side we gave you earlier. I don’t consider the case closed with this post. We’re still beginning to understand the situation and will watch how Pinterest evolves.

Read the Terms of Service (TOS)

We’re all guilty of agreeing to stuff without reading it, but you need to understand what you’re getting yourself into before signing on to Pinterest or any other site. Or, if it’s too late, to understand what you’re involved with.

I recall not too long ago that artists were up in arms about Facebook’s TOS – giving Facebook “ownership” of the images. Facebook tweaked their terms and addressed some concerns, but we kept on using Facebook and uploading images. We got past it. Hundreds of millions of images are now shared on Facebook.

Pinterest’s terms seem a little more egregious as they include the word sell. No one sees that they’re going to sell prints of images from their site in the near future, but the inclusion of this word is giving of a lot of people second thoughts about using Pinterest.

The other red flag in the TOS is that you, the pinner, are ultimately held liable for pinning any images that you don’t have permission to share or that aren’t copyright-free. This is scaring a lot of people. Heck, it scares me! I don’t want to pin anyone who doesn’t want to be pinned. Read this PC World article for a more detailed analysis.

Kirsten Kowalski, a lawyer and photographer, outlines her assessment of the legal language Pinterest uses and shares why she “tearfully” deleted all of her boards. UPDATE on March 3: You must read her follow-up to this post after the founder of Pinterest, Ben Silverman, called her to discuss how they might address her concerns.

Protect Your Images While Still Allowing Them to Be Seen and Shared

I’m a firm believer that legitimate sharing of images with due credit and proper linking is good for most artists. (Licensing artists are one exception.) You want  people to love your work enough to share it with others. That’s one reason you post your work online.

The problem with Pinterest (besides the TOS listed above) is that people are pinning images from non-original sources: admirers’ Facebook pages, Google images, third-party articles and blog posts, etc. When this happens, there is often no credit to the artist or link to the artist’s site. If the original source (the artist’s site) isn’t pinned, the artist (the originator) is left out and the image is just another pretty picture on Pinterest.

Note to Pinterest pinners: Please pin from original source sites only and credit the artist in every description.

Don’t bother with adding metadata to your images or making fancy file names just for Pinterest. Pinterest, like Facebook, Flickr and other sites, strips out the metadata when the images are on their site. Incidentally, from what I have read, Google+ does not strip metadata from image uploads.

Read the Artist Bill of Rights account of how they confirmed this practice and why you should care.

This is a big concern for many people, but, as I said, these other sites have been doing it long before Pinterest became the darling of the social media scene. We moved past their transgressions.

Consider these four ways to protect your images.

1. Keep your images at a low resolution (72 ppi) and small-ish size.

I don’t mean thumbnails only. I just mean don’t put an image of your art online that is 2000 pixels wide. If you upload an image 2000 pixels wide, it stays that large on your server – even after you resize it in a blog or website editor.

A large image online (large enough) is probably 400-600 pixels in any direction. If you don’t know how to resize your images before you upload them, you need to learn how to do this pronto! The larger the image size = the slower the loading time = less search engines love for your site.

2. Always always always provide a credit line for your images wherever you share them online.

I’ve been on my soapbox for years about this and many of my artist-readers still aren’t doing this.

Adding your name, copyright info, and details below each image reminds people that they don’t own the rights to use that image.

This means each image should have a credit line like this underneath it and clearly visible:

©2012 Alyson Stanfield, Title of Artwork, medium, size.

Yeah, your name might be at the top of your page, but scroll down a bit. Is your name still visible?

Your name should always be with a © notice, as should a date if you want to be recognized for making the piece at a certain point in time. This is helpful when you’re trying to claim a creation date ahead of someone else.

Add this data in a description on Facebook with each image you share on that site.

There is no excuse for neglecting this step. Doing so is sloppy copyright management. If you want to be given credit for your work by others, you have to give yourself credit first.

3. Watermark your images, which would mean that your © notice would be present on the image wherever it’s used on the Web.

I’m still trying to decide how I feel about watermarking. I’ve always been against it (see pages 80 and 104 of I’d Rather Be in the Studio). But if you’re going to do it, I suggest watermarking (stamping is probably a better word) the lower edge with a © notice and your name. Alternatively, you could use a website URL or all three: the URL, your ©, and your name.

Daniel Sroka, Twig

Daniel Sroka's Untitled Twig #217. Notice how he uses his stop in the lower right corner of his images. It's classy and unobtrusive. ©The Artist

If you’re hyper concerned about people on Pinterest “stealing” your images  . . .

4. Refuse to allow pinning on your site.

Even if you don’t become a Pinterest user, people are still able to pin your images for their boards – unless you disallow this option. I’d hate to see artists do this because I believe a lot of good can come out of people sharing your images from their original source. I’d rather them pin your art from your site than from someone else’s site that doesn’t link back to you.

If you must . . .

Pinterest has created a “No Pin” code that blocks people from pinning images from your site. It looks like this:

<meta name=”pinterest” content=”nopin” />

When someone tries to pin an image, they will get this message:

“This site doesn’t allow pinning to Pinterest. Please contact the owner with any questions. Thanks for visiting!”

This puts the onus on you to opt out rather than to opt in. People aren’t happy about this burden on the originator, but that’s the way it is right now.

If these don’t scare you away from using Pinterest or sharing your images, and I’m not saying they should, . . .

Jump In and Love the Free-Sharing on the Web

If you just want to be happy that people are sharing your images, you’re not alone. Many artists have embraced this.

Successful travel photographer Trey Ratcliff opines Why Photographers Should Stop Complaining About Copyright and Embrace Pinterest (Note that Pinterest accounts for 15% of his site traffic!)

Jim Goldstein asks photographers to “look beyond their noses” when it comes to Pinterest. He says, “For me Pinterest is not the threat,  not having my work seen or found is the real threat.

So . . .

Where do you stand on Pinterest? Are you a pinner?

Do you believe there’s a Pinterest problem? Are you going to add the “No Pin” code to your site? Are you watermarking your images?

Or . . . Is the Pinterest “problem” not a problem at all? Are you a free-sharer?

As I said above, this is only the beginning of the dialogue.

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122 comments to Is the Pinterest Problem Really a Problem?

  • I’ve referenced this blog post in my website Pinterest, Copyright and Spam – for Visual Artists & Photographers. This provides an overview of the legal niceties and the perspectives of all the different people involved with the debate about how Pinterest has been operating.

    This also contains a complete UPDATE on all the changes Pinterest made to its TOS and other ways of working in April and May 2012 – which post dates most of the comments on this blog.

    Bottom line – Pinterest did have to change the way they it was operating! Plus Pinterest members should also have taken note of the changes in the TOS as of 6th April 2012

  • Do Good Work and Share it with People | not-so-secret formula

    […] frequently, I couldn’t help but think of an article I had seen lately regarding the “Pinterest Problem.”  In another article I had read about photogaphers being upset at having their images […]

  • I think this is totally out of control now, I am a painter and decided to sell online and do my best using Pinterest. I am aware many of my artworks are published at hundreds of sites because I have seen it, but… before Pinterest it was similar!, the only change is today this is easier and easier…
    Finally I have decided to add myself a Pin button on my paintings and hoping my website maintains the link back to my site. I surrendered.
    I invite you to see what it looks like now with the Pin button on each picture.


  • Edward M. Fielding

    Probably worse than Pinterest is the general loss of permanency of images. Everyone wants to find or post and image, get some feedback from friends and move on. They want their engagement photos on a disk so they can Facebook them. Its a generation that doesn’t invest in physical imagery that you can hang on a wall. They are too fickle for that. They change tastes by the hour.

  • Lyla Mclean

    For years I worked the major art and craft shows and had people buy my work, copy it and sell it as their own. I got shingles once from rage. Today I feel sad for those who have no imagination and have to copy others and pass it off as theirs. At the same time, we all absorb billions of images and other data. There have been times when two scientists, having no knowledge of each other, come up with the same ideas at the same time. Maybe all the beautiful, wonderful, amazing and fun ideas are all part of Creation rather than creation, a spiritual concept that goes beyond “my” work?

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  • Mary Lehmann

    I have been viewwing “pintrest” for nearly 2 years and now i am blocked I do not share or Repin

  • Wonderful article, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.
    My wife is a cake maker which are sold through the family restaurant, and a lot of her cakes are on the company website.
    Long story shirt I have just discovered another issue with Pinterest in terms of bandwidth (or the amount of data sent/received from a website)

    There is one particular high-res image that is about 2MB on the website, and it has been repinned no LESS than 200+ times on pinterest.

    To put it another way, I have had to readjust the bandwidth allocation for the website no less than FOUR times in the last 3 days, it has now reached 20GB of bandwidth usage and is still climbing.

    I guess the message for your readers (tied into what you said about image size/dpi) is if you do run your images from your web host, for goodness sake ENSURE that you are using 75dpi, save as a JPG format (not PNG) and keep the filesize as small as possible while maintaining image clarity.

    Take care all, I’m off to replace the high-res with a lower-res image AND watermark it 😉


  • Joe Don Baker

    My problem as a Marketing professional is twofold. First, Pinterest does not allow any way to “lock” the description of an image. I was able to set up the code to add the “Pin It” icon to our website, and part of that code is the “description” that will autofill when someone wants to Pin an image. However, the person doing the pinning can simply delete the description or overwrite it. This is unforgiveable.

    The second problem is that when browsing Pinterest by keyword I was able to see a multitude of images belonging to us. When I clicked most of them there was no mention of our company or product (which the pictures is showing). I was able to add my comment to rectify this: up to a point. After about 5 times I got a “Uh-oh, looks like you’ve been overdoing it on the comments” or some such nanny bs. I think Pinterest was not developed with future business practices in mind and that makes it fall well short of being a viable marketing tool.

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