Founded in 2010, Pinterest has rapidly grown in popularity over the past 18 months. Pinterest is a social network based on image sharing. User “pin” images they like to “boards,” and can comment and follow the collections of images created by other users. Some of the popular uses for the site include collecting ideas for major purchases, event planning, and theme boards (because the internet needs more pictures of kittens!). As Erin mentioned in her post on Pinterest, she found herself using it not only as “a fun way to pass time” but also “to collect ideas for my home office . . . to gather recipes, and as a place to get inspired for various creative DIY projects.”
Many Pinterest users describe their image collections as “inspiration boards” and it’s a useful tool for writers, designers, and teachers to be familiar with. But several concerns have been raised in recent months about Pinterest that are also worth knowing about.
First, it was revealed earlier this year that Pinterest appended affiliate links to some images that link back to items at major retailers. Criticism focused on the site’s lack of transparency around this practice. Today, Pinterest’s FAQ says simply that:
Right now, we are focused on growing Pinterest and making it more valuable. To fund these efforts, we have taken outside investment from entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. In the past, we’ve tested a few different approaches to making money such as affiliate links. We might also try adding advertisements, but we haven’t done this yet.
Even though making money isn’t our top priority right now, it is a long term goal. After all, we want Pinterest to be here to stay!
Of more concern are the copyright questions raised by the image sharing practices encouraged by the site. Kirsten Kowalski, a lawyer, photographer, and avid Pinterest user, began to explore the details of the site’s terms of service, which states that users are liable for legal actions stemming from the act of pinning images that do not belong to them. Of course, a large number of the images pinned and re-pinned by users do not belong to them. Because of the liability involved, Kowalski explained in a frequently-cited blog post that she decided to delete her inspiration boards that contained images by other photographers.
Nancy Sims, a librarian at the University of Minnesota who specializes in copyright issues, points out that Pinterest’s terms of service are not all that different from many other social media sites, but that there’s a lot of fear and uncertainty around the appropriate use of images. She explains that there are problems in how Pinterest and its users have been operating, but suggests that these are not necessarily good reasons to give up using the site altogether.
An important response that has been gaining traction within some of the user groups active on Pinterest is a site called Link With Love, which seeks to encourage good linking and citation practices online:
LINKwithlove is the idea that we, the internet, can teach and learn respect when dealing with intellectual property online. It is our dream that art, music, photography, words, design, ideas, etc – be shared in a way that is ethical, respectful, educated and kind.
LinkWithLove was founded by artist Kal Barteski after she discovered that some of her artwork was “being used inappropriately and for profit after being posted on Tumblr and Pinterest without proper credits or links.” In an interview at ScoutieGirl, she goes on to specify:
And let me be clear, when I say “used inappropriately” I mean they were posted one and a half million unlinked times on Tumblr, and being sold as prints, as t-shirts, as necklaces, as advertising.
LinkWithLove encourages designers and pinners to properly credit the artists and sources of the images they use online. Her site offers a collection of links about copyright and fair use, as well as site badges to display your support of what she says we “all aim to do naturally – to act with respect and kindness.”
Ultimately, users of Pinterest and any social media site should educate themselves about the terms of service they’ve agreed to and about fair use policy. There are, of course, many images that are available for noncommercial re-use, such as Creative Commons licensed images which we frequently use here at ProfHacker, as Jason explains.
Have you considered using Pinterest yourself or with students? Let us know in the comments!
[Creative Commons licensed image by flickr user Russ Neumeier]