Pinterest Comes with Pros and Cons for Photographers

There is no shortage of interest in Pinterest, and photographers seem especially keen to take advantage of this most visual of social media. But, as with most everything shiny and new, there are concerns, and bloggers haven’t been shy about voicing them. Let’s take a look, and stick some pins on both sides of the board.

‘The Place to Be’

“The site is perfect for photographers because its target market user group is women between the ages of 25 and 44, and it’s a visual media form,” according to a Virtual Photography post that goes on to say, “we’re seeing a wide variety of visual businesses use Pinterest on a regular basis, from photographers to graphic designers and other artisans. If you are in a visual field, Pinterest is the place to be.”

As a visual medium, Pinterest has clear value as a vehicle to showcase photography portfolios. Some photographers use it as a place to post inspirations to be shared directly with clients, or even to solicit some. It’s even used to prepare clients for shoots with visual tutorials. There are flyers, brochures, business cards, even coupons. Big fans pin how-to videos and suggestions for clients on displaying photographs.

Suggestions abound for setting yourself apart on Pinterest. Come up with an interesting name. Concentrate on detail photos grouped by theme. Make sure to add descriptions and links. Reward people who pin your stuff with Like on Facebook. A “Pin it” button on your site encourages sharing.

Copyright Questions

Now, the bad news – actually, the news that some say is bad. Pinterest is yet another social medium that allows users to capture images and distribute them without compensation, or even credit.

Dave Copeland explains on how Pinterest avoids copyright violations by publishing information provided by others. He writes, “As long as Pinterest continues to comply with a provision of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act that requires it to remove content when asked by the copyright owner, users are free to continue pinning any images they find on the Internet.”

Sara says on that she used her legal education to pore over the Pinterest Terms and Conditions. She says, “I do have serious concerns about Pinterest hosting full-size images on their server, often without knowledge or permission from the original copyright holder. In doing this, Pinterest removes all references to the the original source. That creates significant issues with copyright (as well as other issues), especially when the copyright holder may not have provided authorization, tacit or otherwise, for the redistribution of the image. Now, the image can easily be redistributed without any determination of whether the image is protected by copyright.”

To avoid infringing on the copyright Sara advise Pinterest users to refer to the original work rather than cutting and pasting it. Rather than “re-pinning,” she says, take a minute to verify the original source. Never copy an image from Pinterest to use on your blog, she says, and don’t perpetuate the wrong owner of an image. Sara goes as far as suggesting watermarking images.

Anyone have other suggestions for keeping Pinterest safe? Anyone run into problems already? Tell us in the comments.

8 Responses to “Pinterest Comes with Pros and Cons for Photographers”

  1. Sara advises Pinterest users - Rather than “re-pinning,” she says, take a minute to verify the original source.

    That's actually pretty funny. What user will do that? Maybe one in 10,000?

    So can open, worms everywhere. If as a photographer your image is perceived as valuable enough to "pin" wouldn't it be appropriate in the business world for you to be compensated for that image? Because, it is at the very end image use for entertainment purposes. What makes it different from your image showing up on a gallery wall without your knowledge or permission? But oh, that's right, this is a housewife free for all so that makes grabbing anything ok I guess. I am sure the handbag companies love it.

    I have also seen images from the stock agencies being "pinned" with full watermarks with no substantiated intention by the "pinner" to use or purchase a license. What makes this ok?

  2. Here's an author (and photographer) who is decidedly against it, with a convincing argument:

  3. Both opinions you cite on the copyright issues are misleading, or at least very incomplete. The DMCA shields services like pinterest that display user content, but that doesn't mean that the users themselves are not in violation, it just means pinterest can't be held liable for the action. Pinterest is pretty disingenuous on this issue—their terms tell people only to post material for which they have permission or rights while knowing perfectly well that the services is designed for and encourages them to post material mostly without permission.

    The quote from Sara is even worse. Whether the image is repinned or pinned from an original source is irrelevant in terms of copyright. Photographers are constantly fighting the impression that giving credit avoids copyright infringement; Blackstar should not be encouraging this myth.

    I like Pinterest, but I don't think that we can brush off the copyright issues because we think the service is cool. The copyright problems are clear: most pinning is taking somebody's work and republishing it without permission. And it's very difficult to make a case for fair use.

  4. The flip side of this argument, is that more often than not, pins carry a link back to the website it was pinned from. And those that were uploaded by the user, says so (and then presumes that the user has the rights to do so). I'm struggling to see how this is any different to a tweet about a cool blog post with a link-back - except that the image itself holds value, which I understand - but surely, with most of the images having a link-trail back to the site source, it's better to look at pinterest as a great medium to advertise yourself. I've noticed bloggers posting the featured image to their posts on pinterest, and thereby driving people to their blogs. I don't really see how this is a bad thing - or any different to google - except in that it's a user generated share mechanism rather than an algorithm which - in reality - is a lot more powerful tool to drive awareness and people to your site/blog, especially if the quality of your stuff is good.

    Or am I missing something?

  5. Clay, thank you for referencing my article. There is one thing in the article that are attributed to me but is a paraphrase which may be somewhat confusing. But, I think if someone wants to know more they'll click over. So, thank you for linking.

    Mark M. - how is my quote 'even worse'? Likely you did not go to my article to read my exact words but instead are relying on a paraphrase of my words. Nonetheless, how is it so terrible to go to the original source rather than just re-pin? True, copyright infringement could exist regardless of pin or re-pin status. However, by going to the original source, rather than just repinning, a person (1) has the opportunity to verify ownership and determine if there is some type of permission granted and (2) if not then consider not pinning. I never said that copyright infringement is avoided by pinning the original.

    My point in urging people to go to the original source is that many are re-pinning images and other copyrighted materials that are linked to non-owners. That is a travesty because it makes it very difficult to police your work when other people appear to be the owner.

  6. Sara,

    You are correct I did not read your original article and my criticism was aimed at the incomplete picture painted by this blog post. I was especially concerned because Black Star is a trusted source committed to mentoring photographers and users of photography.

    I have now read your post and I still have the same criticism.

    You need to understand that if you are a photographer you are very familiar with two pernicious myths about copyright: 1. attribution absolves infringement; 2. Images found on the internet are free game. We fight these ideas almost every day and are constantly bombarded with requests in exchange for credit.

    Your article has a heading that reads: "How can you avoid Copyright Pitfalls on Pinterest?"
    This only requires one bullet underneath it—Only post material which you created or for which you have permission from the copyright holder to republish. (One *might* be able to make a case for fair use but you haven't done that and frankly I think it would be very difficult.)

    But you don't mention any of this. Instead you bring up a lot of points that are irrelevant to copyright law. All of the points might be nice things to do, but none of these help avoid the pitfalls of copyright. The simple fact is that by uploading an image (even with attribution) you are republishing and distributing that image. You might think its great advertising for the photographer, but that's not your choice. You only need to replace pinning photographs with pinning songs or software to see how bad your advice is. Can I upload a Beatle's song if I link back to the iTunes store? A copy of photoshop with a link to Adobe? Why is a photograph different?

  7. It's definitely a slippery slope for all parties. Here is an article from an attorney who outlines the various aspects of Pinterest's Terms and Conditions which of course have an indemnity clause that you as a user agree and accept all the responsibility including paying Pinterest's legal fees in the event of a lawsuit.

  8. While it's a complicated issue that has no cure in site I think one thing should have been mentioned in the article. Pinterest also provides a bit of code you can put in your websites header so that people cannot pin off your site.

    These types of terms of service are pretty common in the social media driven world. Until we get better tech to track where are digital files go and a better way to enforce our copyrights were going to have to just deal with the fact that social media makes it easy for other people to view and share our works without pay. The world is changing and how business is done is changing right along with it. Pinterest has so far proven to be a great marketing tool. People are buying things they find through Pinterest, it's turning out to be a pretty good form of target marketing that is getting results in sales. This very well may be the way were going to need to adjust to reach the average commsumer in the modern world.

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