Pinterest — friend or foe?

Pinterest is the third largest social network in the world. To use it, you find things you love on the internet, and ‘pin’ them online. But, some users have queried the site’s liability for copyright because it allows images to be copied without giving credit to the creator

A growing number of people and businesses are using Pinterest to advertise their businesses for free, driving sales via the displays, while others see it as a hobby, sharing images and videos online.

To use it, networkers find things they love on the internet, and then “pin” them to their board. They can also follow other users and re-pin their pins. There is an iPhone app for viewing designs and capturing them with a phone’s built-in camera, and converts can either follow users they like or via categories like ‘Home Décor’ or ‘Interior Design.’

Despite its popularity, legal experts have queried the site’s liability for copyright lawsuits because it allows the copying of images that are often copyrighted. While some brands may not mind if it drives sales, photographers and commercial organisations are less than pleased. Designers should be careful when posting their work, as those photos can be reproduced without giving credit to the creator.

Emma Stinson, owner, Studio Em design, said for her, the site is a brilliant one-stop portal for research and her team is using it for all phases of a project, from pre-concept to concept stage and design management.

She said there are so many blogs that showcase different types of projects but very few show a full range of case studies. “In our agency, we are currently working on an eclectic mix of contracts from supermarkets and cinemas to car testing centres and retail units.

“Pinterest is one of the few websites that enables us to search for inspiration under one roof, whereas searching individual blogs would be incredibly time consuming,” said Stinson.

“With Pinterest there seems to be a much larger, or rather, a more concise database of images and most importantly if the search images are categorised properly, then the images are usually put up by other designers such as ourselves, meaning the image carries a lot more relevance.

We haven’t started pinning yet, but once we do start our own boards we will end up putting together an online library and one that we can export to our iPad or phones, which will make it much easier and faster when discussing project details with clients.”

However, Stinson added, as much as Pinterest is a friend from a research point of view it can be a hindrance because even though designers all across the world had discovered the site, so have non-industry professionals, which allows people to throw a few images together and label it as a concept design for a project.

“Where we use images as inspiration and for fragments of the detailing, others look at project images and simply say “I want that” or “I want my restaurant to look exactly like this one”. That is one of the downsides of the web,” she said.

“This problem has always been around but since the rapid growth in popularity of Pinterest it has become a dominant issue. As a designer there is nothing worse than being asked to copy other designers’ work. In fact it is just plain wrong, drawing inspiration and looking at finishes in-situ is very different to copying and this is the downside of the website.”

Laura Bielecki, senior interior designer and blogger GAJ, said Pinterest is the latest and fastest growing social media site in the world that has taken off with extreme power but in recent months the site’s copyright policies have been under scrutiny.

She added the site has now had legal consult and revised its terms including a “no pin” meta tag script for websites which do not want their images/content pinned by Pinterest users. This is important to know if you do not want your online portfolio spread across the site within hours of someone pinning a single image.

“If you are media savvy, you can take advantage of the site’s ability to send you to the source webpage of the original pinned content. This means that if you share your portfolio or blog images directly from your site you will end up with a potentially large quantity of hits back to your website — a fantastic opportunity for ROI,” said Bielecki.

“The site lets each user “curate” themed “boards” (folders) of visual content. People can save images from others boards, upload their own images or pin directly from websites and blogs. Guests can also share pin boards having multiple curators. As a designer, it means I can have boards for hospitality, retail, residential, bathrooms, kitchens, accessories etc. where I can collect a range of images relating to the topic.

It also means as a company, a whole team of designers can contribute to a single or series of boards. By adding likeminded professionals to my profile I can see their updated visuals and pin the ones that interest me to my boards. The greatest feature is that I can write text below each image to classify it and search for it later or remember what I liked about it or what project I wanted it for. However, for the time being, all boards are public.”

Bielecki added when design offices have picked up a swarm of fast-paced projects there typically is no time available for research and conceptual development.

“This means flipping through magazines, websites, personal files, past projects, suppliers catalogs etc. is no longer a fast enough feasible option for pulling inspiration images,” she said.

“But for five to 15 minutes a day, designers can pin image after image onto their boards for current or future projects making them easy to recall when things get tight. I often spend the first 10 minutes of my lunch hour perusing the latest visuals presented to me and filing them away.”

For those that are interested in joining, the site is still by invitation only. The other option is to apply online and wait for Pinterest’s approval of your application. Once accepted, start creating boards that you want to pin visuals to. “Consider starting off with broad topics like Residential and as you learn more, create specific boards like Kitchens, Bathrooms, Foyer’s etc,” added Bielecki.

“Once you have Pinboards ready, you can add some inspiring ‘pinners’. Your best bet is to search for interior design related topics and follow the users who look like they have content you are interested in.

“The site is a fast and efficient visual media sharing tool that connects people to varied inspiration and information. With nearly 12 million users in only a two-year timeframe this site has made a dramatic impact for designers of all avenues (fashion, graphics, interiors architecture etc.), advertisers, bloggers and forward thinking companies with a grasp on how this tool can be used,” she added.

“Its mission is to connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they find interesting.”

Devina Divecha, reporter, Commercial Interior Design, gives her opinion on Pinterest and whether it’s useful or not.

On the surface, Pinterest looks like a really cool online scrapbook, where users are encouraged to ‘organise and share things you love’.

In spite of the website being used by millions of people across the world, I cannot, in good faith, become a Pinterest user until the copyright infringement issues are resolved. As a writer and an amateur photographer, holding copyright of my works is important. As the owner to my creations, I should be allowed to decide how and where to share my work. Posting text or photographs on the internet does not mean I give up my copyright. I still possess it, as do many other artists who use the internet as a means to share their work, and in the way they choose.

Pinterest users aren’t, as a rule, sharing their own work. They’re pinning and sharing other people’s work, who may not be happy for their work to be distributed without their consent. Granted, Pinterest’s Terms of Service does warn users not to post content that infringes other people’s copyright, yet that’s something people generally don’t read anyway.

Another issue with Pinterest is technical — while whatever images shared on its website do link back to the owner, the images are hosted/uploaded on Pinterest’s own server. If ever linked to these hosted images, the original author of the images cannot be credited. When users pin something, it’s giving a third-party website the right to host the image on its server and even the right to sell it.

Users need to realise Pinterest is not just showing us a thumbnail and linking back to the original site — it’s storing the full-sized image. Why then would anyone bother finding the source if you can see the high res image on the inspiration board? This means traffic and hits of the owner’s website suffers in the process.
In this way, users are unknowingly making themselves liable to get into legal trouble, as opposed to Pinterest being held responsible.

A photographer and lawyer, Kirsten Kowalski, has been in the news earlier this year after she looked closely at its terms of service and deleting her inspiration boards (not her account). She found that according to the law, the general public do not have the right to share or reproduce content unless they created it themselves or got consent from the creator to do it. She also found users are completely responsible for the content they pin, so much so that users will have to shell out money for their lawyer, for Pinterest’s lawyer and, in addition to being sued by the artist whose work was infringed upon, can even be sued by the hosting firm for violations.

However, positive changes seem to be on the horizon. As a result of her blog post, Pinterest founder Ben Silberman got in touch and discussed the points of concern and have said changes to the terms of use are in the works.

There are a few ways out for people who think their work’s copyright is being infringed – there exists a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), where if anyone complains under the DMCA, the hosting server is obliged to take the offending content down.

The website itself is trying to provide a temporary fix to those concerned about copyright by providing an “opt out” code for blog and website owners, who can incorporate into their websites preventing people from pinning their work.

Designers, photographers and artists definitely want more exposure, but once a website is lax with protecting rights as a creator of work, faith is something that needs to be restored effectively. Once that’s done, I’ll join Pinterest without hesitation.

If an artist or photographer is happy for their work to be shared by Pinterest, by all means go ahead. I think the website is a great idea to inspire people through visuals, but it needs to address these legitimate concerns first.

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