Yesterday, a colleague shared a sobering post on Pinterest written by kirsten, a lawyer and photographer at DDKPortraits: Why I Tearfully Deleted My Pinterest Inspiration Boards. I highly recommend it. After reading it, I realized I'd only ever thought about the legal gray areas when posting to Pinterest (myself in relation to the law), not whether the folks whose work I was pinning would want their stuff shared there, even with a link and a credit (myself in relation to the artists).
As an individual, I can't say that fear of legal repercussions over posting a photo on Pinterest without seeking and obtaining the creator's written permission (as an institution--a library system, for ex--I'd be more worried) has been much of a deterrent. Whether the law likes it or not, the sharing ship has sailed: things on the web that aren't hidden behind passwords or set to private will be found and shared--rapidly, frequently, frictionlessly, and often illegally. I'm one small pinner among hundreds of thousands; trying to prosecute pinners would or will be an endless unwinnable game of Whack-a-Mole. (This said, I do know of a few stories of well-intentioned bloggers using images on their sites--crediting their creators and linking to the originals--and ending up in legal disputes. It does happen. It just doesn't scare enough to deter). kirsten mentions Napster--and yes, a few small-time, "average" users got prosecuted for using Napster, but I haven't been thinking of Pinterest as Napster's close kin. It's one thing to share a
song that others can download and listen to, with no real loss of
quality, and another to share a small digital image of a poster or painting or
piece. I see a distinction there, anyway--as does this guy, who explains why he posts his full-resolution photos online for people to "steal" and print out if they so choose, while selling limited edition prints from the same site. (His name's Trey Ratcliff, and he also wrote a post called Why Photographers Should Stop Complaining About Copyright and Embrace Pinterest). I've been seeing Pinterest--using Pinterest--as something less like Napster and more like del.icio.us: a place to store
neat things I don't want to forget. I don't think
del.icio.us ever raised any eyebrows when it came to copyright. When I used del.icio.us, I'd post a link to an image I wanted to remember. On Pinterest, I've posted images with links underneath them. They feel like such similar acts, to be so different!
While I may not be worried about the law, I have been committed to giving the artists I pin credit (in my fashion--and respectfully, I thought). I scrupulously track down the "original" of anything I
repin on Pinterest, typing creator names and websites under every image (even when it takes *lots of work*--that is, 4 or 5 clicks). I realize this doesn't make pinning legally pure...but I did think it made it fair and okay, perhaps even positive, karma-wise. Before reading kirsten's post, it honestly hadn't occurred to me that some creators might not want their stuff shared on Pinterest, as long as credit was given. This is the paragraph that made me stop and think:
Even in light of all of the above, what
finally sealed the deal for me as I tried desperately to talk myself
out of deleting my gorgeous inspiration boards, was when I thought of
some of the photographers whose work I had pinned from other websites. Would they want me posting their images? My initial response is
probably the same as most of yours: “why not? I’m giving them credit
and it’s only creating more exposure for them and I LOVE when people pin
my stuff!” But then I realized, I was unilaterally making the decision
FOR that other photographer. And I thought back to the thread on
Facebook where the photographers were complaining about clients posting
photos without their consent and I realized this rationale is no
different than what those clients argue: “why can’t I post them – it’s
just more exposure for you.” Bottom line is that it is not my decision
to make. Not legally and not ethically.
When I've pinned local artists' work, I've done so in the spirit of admiring them and even wanting to "help" them, thinking "I'm giving them more exposure, the exposure they deserve!" I've seen myself as pinning for the artists (voting/promoting with my pins), not against the artists. Who wouldn't want free advertising?
The comments on kirsten's post are worthwhile reading and indicate that many wouldn't. Here's a comment by artist "Valerie G" regarding Etsy and Pinterest:
Fairly recently, Etsy added a “Pin it” button to all of our shop items, without any kind of public announcement or agreement with us. I’m extremely annoyed with that, since there is no way for us to deactivate it, and I do not want my art on Pinterest at all. I have a friend who had her work pinned twice, and both times, some outside person had written a tutorial as to how to recreate her work! Yikes! You might want to check with shop owners on Etsy before pinning their work…
I don't understand "I do not want my art on Pinterest at all," but I do feel I need to (or at least should) respect it. In talking about Pinterest with others, I've heard some ask why on earth an artist would put something on the web that she didn't
want shared, arguing that the whole point of the web is to share, or at least that it's naive to imagine you can post something online and keep it from being shared. I agree: it's naive, but it's not wholly unreasonable. One point of the web is to share, but there are others: to store things and to sell things. I can imagine someone only wanting his work encountered in the context of his digital storefront, where he controls what surrounds it. Context can be really important when it comes to selling things: many will happily pay four times as much for a milk glass vase they see in a carefully-curated boutique store setting than they would in a Salvation Army. Most folks will view a painting on the lawn at a yard sale differently than they will a painting hanging in a gallery, failing to erase the setting and completely focus on the piece itself. So perhaps that's what "I do not want my art on Pinterest at all" means to Valerie G? "I don't want people to encounter my painting next to an lolcat on one side and some tips for repurposing paint chips on the other"?
One of the things I like so much about kirsten's post is that it's clear that she really loves the experience of Pinterest. Pinterest is like being a kid in an eye candy store. Someone on Twitter said that Pinterest is the ultimate enabler of hoarders--it quickly makes hoarders of all of us, hoarders with infinite attic space. Ideally, Pinterest would offer a "private" option, so you could keep and visit all your pins without sharing them, like a (lovelier, brighter, more dazzling) private folder of magazine clippings...though sharing is part of the fun. I'm not sure what I'll do with my boards after reading her post: delete; say Oh, well and keep pinning; or pin far more selectively and write the creators whose work I pin for permission. But I haven't pinned anything new since I read it.
UPDATE: link to a follow-up post by kirsten written after she spoke with Ben Silberman, Pinterest's founder