Designer Dilemma: Pinterest Ethics Grey Area

advertising, branding, business, design, websites

In the wake of buying ourselves a sweet fixer upper, my interest in Pinterest has been revived. This home needs help! I want to collect every idea for budget home decor that I can possibly find and funnel them all into one easy-to-access place. I will log into Pinterest and pin my face off! Oh, you’re getting married/having a baby/throwing a shower/eating a dinner/painting your toenails? I’ll send you my boards on those subjects! Do you Pinterest? Are we using that as a verb yet? I’ll go with it.

The point of this story is twofold. Warning: Prepare for a lot of questions and opinions! I cannot tell you how to behave on the internet, these are merely some thoughts.

Above logo from Pinterest website.

1. Is Pinterest being abused? Is it okay to love it? Is it okay to hate it? Is it okay to feel both ways? (I certainly do!)

There are a lot of issues surrounding copyright for designers and artists whose work is being pinned and re-pinned on the site with each degree getting farther from the original source. The farther from the source a web bit gets, the farther from appropriate credit being given to original artwork and design. Are we going to see a lot of copycats? Are we seeing a lot of folks’ work being credited incorrectly or not at all? I’ve read Pinterest’s user etiquette and terms of use pages, but I’m assuming most users probably haven’t. Read it and then read up on some recent copyright issues and blog posts  (be sure to read the follow ups at the bottom of the DDK blog). Pinterest seems to be taking a genuine interest in protecting both their pinners and their artists while still having fun. We’ll just have to wait and see how this matter turns out.

I am not a lawyer, but I’m of the camp that if a site has a “pin it” button, it’s probably safe to use. (This is based on my personal thought, not fact, so please don’t quote me on that, and definitely use your own discretion or consult your own lawyer!) To me, a “pin it” means that the external site you’re pinning from is comfortable sharing their copyrighted or trademarked material. In the case of a blog that posts the work of others and has a “pin it” button, I’d have to assume that they have gotten permission. But admittedly, I contact very few of the outside site and blog owners I cite material from. I meticulously link everything I use back to their original sites, including images. I also do not reprint entire articles in my posts, but link you over to their original posts or articles. I feel like the information is on the internet, so people must want it publicized and read/seen, but credit is always due where credit is due. That being said, after reading all of these articles, I’ve deleted my “pin it” button from this blog because I don’t want you to think those folks I cite say it’s okay to pin their work. If you have pinned from my cite anything that is not noted as my own work, I would love it if you “un-pinned.” If you’re thinking of pinning, go to the linked sites and see if they have a “pin it” or written permission, and then do as you see fit. And be sure to give credit and links! Always! I will do the same. When I post my own designs, I will be happy to leave a “pin it” for y’all. I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in a law suit somewhere down the road.

When you’re on Pinterest repinning from other people’s boards, please remember that not all pins actually have a link back to the original artist/website. It would be polite to find the original artist/designer and link back to them. Photographers, I would recommend you make sure you have a watermark that shows your website, or at least your full legal company name if you have a “pin it” button on your site. Or even if you don’t. I imagine a lot of small business owners cannot afford to sue someone over pinning un-watermarked that that same owner willingly put on the internet. Do yourself a solid and put a mark on your pieces. Then, if your image gets separated from its link, at least the info is right there on your image. I’m going to do the same with designs and pieces I create from now on – create a jpeg or photograph the work and add a watermark. I’m also adding a disclaimer to the site that people are not to crop out the watermark. That’s not cool and not okay! And don’t even think of finding one of those sites that will edit out a watermark for you to illegally print. That’s just horrible. Artists deserve to be paid too.

These are just tips from one designer to another artist/designer/photographer. Please use your own best judgement or consult a lawyer if you’re confused.

2. What’s the deal with Pinterest if you’re just using it for fun and non-commercial stuff? Like, I want to pin a bunch of paint samples and cute room ideas from Apartment Therapy and Dwell. Did they get permission to use those images? Can I feel okay repinning?

I’m so on the fence here. A lot of folks I know are just deleting anything that might be questionable, thinking that if they were in the other designer’s shoes, would they want their stuff being pinned all over without knowledge? I love love love the ease of use with Pinterest – you can save all the things you admire, take your smart phone to the store and not spend one million dollars on magazine subscriptions or have to look up bookmarks to a hundred websites. This saves time, forgetfulness, money and phone G’s. I love all of these things. And when I’m innocently pinning, I’m not advertising these products to anyone commercially, but I am in fact advertising them online at Pinterest for other people to use any deviant way they might. Do I want to perpetuate that, even if unintentionally? Am I just being paranoid? I have no idea what to do about this dilemma. There’s basically no protecting yourself from what happens after you repin something. As it stands now, the Pinterest code of ethics says you own what you pin and you are responsible for it. Again, please see the etiquette page on Pinterest and refer to the well-written DDK dialogue about the info found there.

Basically, my feeling is that I’m going to skip the “pin it” plug in for my computer so I’m forced to use sites that place their own “pin it” but I’m going to err on the side of caution and be careful what I pin. Blog-based Apartment Therapy, for example, has a “pin it” button everywhere and they are heavily involved in Pinterest. Dwell, a for-profit magazine with legitimate, paying, real-life print/iPad subscribers, is not on Pinterest, as far as I can tell. It also has no “pin it’s” on the articles and home tours portion of its site, but does have “pin it’s” on the shopping area of the site. When in doubt, I’m going to contact the owner or not pin at all. It’s going to be hard to break the habit, but I think it’s good for me until this matter gets sorted out and some hard facts are out there. Ultimately, it’s important to remember that Pinterest’s terms of use are in place to protect them, not us.

Thank you all for listening! I can’t wait to have a little more hard evidence as to what’s right and wrong!


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