Lately I’ve seen blog posts, Facebook posts and even Pinterest infographics that criticize Pinterest for quite ordinary business practices. The authors of these posts are unhappy that Pinterest exempts itself from blame if a controlled image is pinned to a user’s board. They’re also unhappy that they have to give Pinterest the “right” to use their work. If you’ve read any of these essays, they might sound reasonable to you, until you think about what Pinterest really has to do to provide us with a place to share images.
This is such a big subject that I’ve decided to divide my article into four parts. This week I want to make sure everyone understands the difference between “pinning” and “uploading.” The difference between these two activities is very important when you’re talking about the right to use images.
When we use Pinterest, we use the term “pinning” in a very universal way. Pinterst itself gives us the option to “upload a pin.” Nevertheless, there’s a very important difference between using the “pinmarklet” in your browser to “pin” something from a website and uploading an image from your own hard drive.
When you “pin” an item from a website to one of your pinboards, what is actually being displayed is a LINK back to the original website. On Pinterest, this image looks like a photo of a pretty pink cake, but in reality, the image is a link back to the Glorious Treats food blog, where the blogger, Glory, shares her recipe.
You don’t need Glory’s permission to link to her blog. In the same vein, you don’t need permission to link to the website of an online store. Would someone be mad if you repin an item directly from their Etsy shop to your “Fashions I Love” board? No! In fact, you’re probably helping them make a sale. It’s just more free advertising for them. Anyone clicking on the image goes straight back to the original website.
When you UPLOAD an image from your hard drive to one of your pinboards, there is no connection between the image and the original creator. If you’re not the original creator of the image or an item in the image, you have to stop to think, “Do I have permission to send this image to Pinterest, where it will be duplicated and Pinterest will profit commercially from it?”
Will an artist be mad if you download an image her artwork to your hard drive, and then upload it to Pinterest? That depends on a number of things: Are you including her name and a link to her website? Is this an image that she circulates freely for all to share, or is this a photograph that she might be selling? What does her website say about using her work?
If the image you’re uploading is of a person, you have to stop to think, “Do I have permission to upload this person’s image to a public website?”
By now, you may have spotted the grey area here: What about the thousands of images that are “pinned” from those miles-long Tumblr accounts that are entirely disconnected from the original artists? How do they fit into the big picture? Quite frankly, I don’t think anyone really knows what it might mean to you, the Pinterest member. But I do know what it means to Pinterest: In such a case, if an artist did not want her work to be shared, Pinterest is not guilty of copyright violation. Why not? That’s the subject of next week’s installment!
UPDATE! Part Two of this series is out! Click here to read it!
Due to heavy spam, I’ve had to close comments on this series for a while. No, it’s not from people who didn’t like the articles! Just spammers attracted by the word “Pinterest.” I think I’ll be able to open it back up again in a month or so. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to say something about the posts!