Monday, May 6, 2013

Pinterest Ethics and Legality

 I LOVE pinterest.  As an incredibly visual person, the ability to search through photos in my categories of interest is delightful.  As a hyper organized person to see such photos in neatly, curated boards is even better. However, I'm becoming increasingly aware of ethical issues surrounding the use of the site.  It is important to remember that most pictures that are posted on the internet are not usually just there to be pretty pictures to entertain or inspire you.  They are there to to create business for someone so they can make a living! Pinterest needs to be used ethically and responsibly to ensure the owners of the photos or the work in the photos posted are not losing the ability to make a living.    Two incidents I've personally noticed come to mind.  Since I work as an artist, these incidents relate to my world, but similar incidents are happening in many different areas of creation and business.

The first incident was where one of my own photos was pinned to a board titles "Things I Can Make" which got my blood to boil a bit.  First of all, I didn't give this person permission to use my photo in the first place, secondly I certainly didn't give permission for my work to be copied. (The best part, is this is one of those pieces that would have involved a heck of a lot of skill to re-create and was pretty much a one of a kind. Good luck with that!)  Do I mind usually if people re-pin my work?  Not if they do so respectfully, but to pin it on a "things to make board" is disrespectful and harmful to my brand. It implies that my work is somehow a simple, DIY project. So I dropped a note on the girls board saying "Actually this piece was copyrighted and sold."  You would think that the poster would recognize their mistake and either apologize or remove the pin.  Instead this is the comment I received in return. "It was just for ideas for my high school jewelry class. My teacher asked me to pin different pieces for inspiration"

Does anyone else see the problem here?  First of all, a teacher of art should in NO WAY  be encouraging their students to create boards of work to COPY.  Inspiration boards...maybe, but even there students should first and foremost be taught about copyright law and artists rights before they even pick up tools to create something.

The second incident is when I saw the work of an artist I respect. I noticed one of her photos pop up but realized the pinner didn't correctly attribute the photo to her but assigned credit to another artist.  While both artists are fantastic, I'm sure neither would want work to be incorrectly attributed.
You're going to think I'm quite the meddler here, and really I'm not but to be nice I dropped a note letting the pinner know whose work it really belonged to basically where her work could be found.  (Who knows maybe the pinner was really interested in the work and would love to know the original source in case she wanted to aquire a piece) Giant headsmack however....her response:  "Thanks, I didn't name it, I just pinned it."  For crying out were the original pinner, YOU are responsible for the veracity of it. If you had taken two seconds to click through off the google page you found the photo on you would have found the correct information (first mistake----don't ever take photos off of google since they're not the original source!) Secondly, you have the ability to change the description with the photos you post, so if someone provides you with the correct information--FIX IT! The worst part is, this was another art instructor pinning!!!!

 It seems that people seem to believe that if they find something on the internet then they have every right to use it.  I've seen people use the argument as they pin works to DIY boards that making their own interpretations of someone's work isn't stealing it's art.  WRONG.  You post their photo without the permission, you just stole their work.  The photos themselves ARE someone else's property. Pinning a complete photo of someone else's work doesn't fall under the category of fair use folks. If you are going to pin you seriously, SERIOUSLY need to learn what copyright is.  Artists and creators, if you want to protect your work do check out the pinterest copyright page to find out how you can make a formal complaint if you find your work used or pinned in a way that is unacceptable to you.

Do a lot of artists, manufacturers and other creators of the content like the extra publicity?  Usually they do, but that doesn't mean you can post those photos however you like, tag them incorrectly or categorize them on boards that are detrimental to a brands image.
In addition, be aware that the pinterest terms and conditions you checked when you signed up make YOU legally responsible for the content you post. 

Meaning, if someone takes offense to something you post, whether it is their content and you were not given permission, or you incorrectly attribute work to someone other than the creator, or any other multitude of reasons don't be surprised when they can legally come after you!

Pinterest themselves has a page on pinning etiquette which specifically states: Encourage artists to create great work by linking back to their pages, and leaving polite comments when you see pins that aren't correctly credited.

Am I saying don't post anything at all. No, I'm not.  There are indeed a lot of benefits to pinterest for consumers, businesses, artists and creators alike.  It creates incredible brand awareness and provides wonderful marketing opportunities. However those who participate in pinterest need to respect copyright and pin ethically and responsibly. 

Some things to consider when pinning:
  • Have you credited the proper source?
  • Is the photo watermarked? (If so--don't pin it!!) 
  • Are you linking back to where the photo originated? (Note, things like google images ARE NOT the original source)
  • Is your description of the work correct?
  • Are you categorizing the work on an appropriate board (e.g. not pinning artists work to DIY boards)
  • More importantly, have you been given permission to use this photo? (If it is at all possible that the creator would take offense to your pinning of their work, then DON'T PIN IT!)
  • If you have a DIY board, make sure the pins are truly tutorials. 
  • Don't make excuses for incorrect pins---fix them!

Now, most businesses and artists probably will not pursue legal action if they do not like how you use their photos, however why not be ethical and do the right thing when pinning and either a. only use photos you have rights to or photos the creators have given permission to be used  or b.  at the VERY least properly give credit to the original source of the work by linking back to it and providing the correct description with the pin.

Keep in mind that when you take something off the internet that you did not create and you do not give the correct source or you copy the work without permission for your own use you are guilty of piracy.  You are in fact doing harm to the person who created the original work or photo.
Can you support businesses, artists and creators you love through pinterest and help people make a living...absolutely!  So be sure to pin ethically and responsibly so you do more good than harm.

That being said, you are completely free to repin the graphic of this post to share this idea with others provided you link to the original source! ;)


  1. Great points, Valerie. You touch on the catch-22 of the Internet: it's easy to share our work and ideas but the only way to absolutely safeguard one's work/ideas is to not share online. Almost anything shared online can be easily stolen, often without the originator's knowledge, and repurposed or redistributed. Our society often seems devoid of ethics because such principles are ... inconvenient. Only fellow creators really understand the importance of careful attributions.

    I taught my high school (English) students to credit photos/art they used for projects as well as any ideas (even those that were paraphrased), but it took a lot of time and Internet sleuthing on my part to compare their work side-by-side with the sources they credited as well as to ensure they credited all their sources. With only 8 students, that was entirely possible. I don't have time to do this with my college students, though. I do my best to teach them about ethical use of others' ideas, and I randomly spot-check for inappropriate attributions, but the reality is that with almost 100 students, I'm lucky when I notice issues. Sadly, the stronger students probably have the writing skills to fly under the radar.

    For some reason, a great many students have never been taught that repurposing someone else's idea is unethical and even illegal. There's a general notion that if something is posted online, it's meant to be freely shared/consumed/etc. I'm extremely careful about posting my own ideas and work (or sharing in electronic form) and generally only do so when I'm sure I won't try to formally publish the content down the road.

  2. Thanks for your feedback!
    Jenna, it is so wonderful to hear that a teacher is also teaching students the importance of integrity! Our society is definitely changing as the internet has advanced. I'm sure there will be a lot of continuing ethical debates over this issue. It's nice to see you encouraging your students to think about this further. We're so inundated with images and words nowadays it is so easy to forget they do indeed come from original sources.