I make it a point not to share controversial opinions on this blog for a number of reasons. Number one, I want this to be a happy place for you and for me not a place of arguments and angst. Number two, crochet should be celebrated and enjoyed and most of the time should not be controversial. And number three, I think it’s important for me to present both sides of a story and not just my personal opinion since I know I’m not “right” but just have a particular view. That said, I’m going to veer off my chosen course today and share my personal opinion on the controversial topic of Pinterest pins. I’m doing this because I do have a strong opinion here and it’s one that I’ve seen hugely underrepresented in the recent Pinterest conversation.
Background of the Controversy
I’ve been watching the Pinterest news and opinions with a little bit of interest and then a little bit of horror. Many people are attacking Pinterest and its users primarily over issues of copyright and somewhat over Pinterest profiting off of pins. You can read all about it online in other places but to be fair, here are some of their arguments:
- People are pinning photographs that they don’t have permission to pin.
- People should pin items only with links to the original source.
- People are repinning and liking pins without following the links.
- Pinterest can add affiliate links to some photos and profit off the pin. They shouldn’t.
- Pinterest should bear some responsibility for preventing pinning of copyrighted material. They don’t do enough.
Here’s what I say: poppycock. And I’ll tell you why …
It’s Your Job as a Creative Person to Be Unique Enough to Stand Out
Let me explain …
I think that the whole nature of pinning and liking and quickly responding or reposting to things that you’ve barely even looked at is the way of the Internet right now. People RT links they haven’t actually read. They hit the like button on Facebook shares they’ve barely glanced at. And they like and repin on Pinterest. And I think that’s fine. I think that people online today know what this does and doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that you’ve followed every link and researched to make sure it’s a credible source and that you agree with every single point in the article or like the exact details of the pattern. All it does mean is “hey, I like this, and it was shared by someone I generally find credible so I’m going to share it too”. That’s it.
What does this have to do with being unique? It is my opinion that if you create something truly unique then people who are interested in it are going to take the time to find you as the source. If I really adore a crochet fashion item that I see on Pinterest and want to know more about it, I’ll follow the links to find out the information I want to know. And you know what, if the actual link on Pinterest doesn’t take me to the original source or a credible site that links to the original source, it’s okay because as a web information consumer I know that I have options. I can:
- Google the information. If the item is original and unique, I’m probably going to find it. For example, if someone puts up a Pin to a photo of Patricia Waller‘s Who Killed Bambi? and the pin links to some sketchy or uninformative site, I can just type into Google something like “Bambi crochet blood” and I’ll easily and almost instantly find out that the creator is Patricia Waller even if the Pinner didn’t share that information.
- Put the image into a Google image search. Have you done this yet? You can actually drag an image from the web (from a site like Pinterest) into the Google image search box and the genius web will find where else that same photo and similar photos have been posted. You can easily see which sources are credible and which ones aren’t and find what you’re looking for.
- Ask about the item on your social networks. If you see something unique and cool and you want to know more about it and truly can’t find that information then you can always blog about it, Tweet about it, FB about it, asking your contacts if they know who the creator is. You’re probably going to get an answer. I know that I’ve never failed to get an answer about a crochet item source from going to the experts on social sites.
If you create something that is nice but not unique then it may not be as easy to find your stuff through these channels. And frankly, I think that’s okay. I think it encourages innovation in creation while still offering a place online for people who make mediocre-whatever kind of stuff. People can pin the photo of your normal crochet scarf and a few people can like it and I think it should be considered a nice thing that they like it. So they don’t follow all of the links all the way through to your creation. Maybe it just means that what you’re putting out there isn’t creative enough for a large public buying market to buzz about you.
What’s Your Job as a Creative Businessperson?
I’ve asked myself the hard questions when it comes to this topic. You see, I’m primarily a writer rather than a photographer or a crochet designer and since my work isn’t necessarily visual in that same way, do I have the right to have these strong opinions on Pinterest sharing? And here’s what I’ve concluded: I’d feel the same way about it if I were making my primary income selling crochet patterns or working as a photographer. And here’s why …
I feel that it is my job as a creative businessperson to adapt to changes in the market and changes in technology, not to get the people who use them to adapt to me.
So let’s say that I’ve created a crochet pattern for sale and it’s gotten a lot of buzz on Pinterest but some of the links are going to sites that aren’t mine. While I absolutely don’t think anyone online should be reposting a creator’s full patterns that they offer for sale, I think as a creative businessperson I would focus my efforts on figuring out how I can adapt my business model to offer something so appealing to the market that this little part of it isn’t going to matter so much. Can I teach local or online crochet classes? Can I improve my online presence so that people know undoubtedly that this creative design is mine and can easily find it online? Can I sell this crochet pattern to a magazine … What can I do to take my business to the next level so I succeed regardless of what sketchy people are repinning or RTing or whatever.
Likewise if I were a professional photographer, I wouldn’t care if someone pinned a few photos of mine. I’d consider it my job as a creative business person to be offering photography services, classes, photo tips on a blog, prints of my work, etc. In the end, if I’m creating truly unique photos and people are pinning them, that’s buzz for me regardless of improper linking. People will find me through my creativity and they will arrive at my site and know how to support my work with a creative purchase of goods or services.
Now, before anyone jumps down my throat because I’m not a crochet designer and I’m not a photographer and what do I know … I get it, I really do. I make my living from writing. I do a lot of research. I sit down even when I don’t want to and craft hard to write articles. I work in a kind of isolation that many people can’t handle. I climbed my way through a lot of ladders and hoops to establish my income as a writer. And did you know that pretty much every single day someone steals my content? They literally come in, scrape exactly what I’ve written and publish it online (and I’ve even seen it published offline) without giving me any credit and often under their own names. Or by printing my name as a “guest blogger” or something like that even when they have no permission to steal my content. And yes, I hate it. I think it’s rude and unethical and it irks me a lot that sometimes those sites get my traffic. But over the years I’ve come to accept that bad people are going to do these things. And instead of wasting my time and energy trying to change that, I’ve adapted my business practices to try to stand out as a writer and to broaden my own income streams because I think that’s what’s most important for my career. I genuinely believe that if I put effort into crafting my own business and standing out as a unique individual and offering something that no one else is offering then it’ll pay off for me even when people are stealing my content.
Pinterest Best Practices
Despite my opinion on this, I do think that there are some best practices that people who care about this issue can implement when using a site like Pinterest.
Here are the two rules that I think are imperative and obvious for me:
- Never claim content as your own when it’s not. If you didn’t make the item and you’re the one pinning it for the first time, say in the comment box who did make it. I don’t really care if you link to the original source or not but say the name of the creator. Don’t pretend that you made it.
- Never publish a significant body of someone else’s work. Pin the photo of the cool crochet item. Don’t pin a link to the whole pattern. Pin the stunning awesome photographer’s photo. Don’t pin every photo in their portfolio.
Honestly, those rules are really enough for me. But there are some other best practices that I can understand the reasons that people follow them:
- Try to give a link to the original source. Or at least to a credible source that will help the person find an original source. For example, I might Pin something that’s on CRAFT or Knithacker. That link isn’t to the original photo or tutorial but those sites always link to the original source so I’m okay with that. Someone interested in the item can find the original source.
- Follow boards on Pinterest that are from people you generally find credible. I do this same thing on Twitter. I sometimes RT a crochet related article before I’ve read it because it sounds interesting, I’m telling people I think it sounds appealing and I generally trust the source because I know their work and social activity. Same deal on Pinterest.
My Guilt-Free Pinterest Confessions
Honestly, I think that you bear more responsibility in ethical consumption of material than you do in repinning or sharing work. I engage in plenty of Pinterest practices that some people would say aren’t good practices and that recent articles say I shouldn’t be doing. And I’ll confess them here because I’m personally okay with them:
- I “like” pins without following the links. I do it a lot. All I’m saying is “hey, I like this”. No more, no less.
- I occasionally repin without following the links. Same deal although I do it a lot less. A “repin” to me is something that’s really special. It’s more than a like. So I give it a little more attention.
- I pin links to my own blog rather than the original source and I pin photos without getting express permission. Here’s the deal; I write a lot of articles and every day I look at those articles that have gone live and I pin the best photos that I’ve shared. A lot of times they’re my photos. Sometimes they aren’t. I’m not going to go back and find the original photo and ask the person for permission to share it and wait for permission and link back to that original source. It’s either share the item from my own blog or don’t share it. As a creative person, I’d rather someone shared it. Now I do always try to say who the real creator is on my pin. And I do share the link to the original source in my article that the pin has linked to.
And this is where I think that the issue of a consumer’s responsibility comes in. I don’t think that it’s my job to make sure that something is from a totally legit source before I “like” it on Pinterest. However, if I’m going to write an article about that item and put out fresh information then it IS my job to follow those links and find the original source. If I’m going to create my own version of that crocheted item, it IS my job to find out who the original creator was and to buy the pattern from that legit source.
My Two Cents on Pinterest’s Responsibility
I think Pinterest has received way too many attacks lately and it’s not really justified. They’re a high tech business in a new age of visual social media and they’re still learning the ropes and best practices too. I think it’s about how they respond to issues that come up, not what they do from the get go. And from what I’ve seen, they’re responding. They’ve added some things to their site about good Pinterest etiquette and their commitment to follow up on reported copyright violations.
As for them making a profit off of pinned images using affiliate links … I think that if you don’t add your own affiliate link to the pin then there’s no reason they shouldn’t take advantage of that. I have no problem with sites making money off affiliate links or ads or anything like that. They have to make enough money to be able to respond to what consumers want and I think, personally, that this is a legit way of doing it.
Personally, I’d like to see them add something on the Pinterest site that’s akin to the “report for spam” and “block” options that are available on Twitter. I use those frequently on Twitter when I see bad links, spam stuff and other bad Twitter practices. I would do the same on Pinterest and I think others would too, allowing the Pinterest community to help police the site so that it offers good content.
Okay, so if you agree or okay with my practices and want to follow me on Pinterest, I’m here. If not, have at it in the comments with your own two cents but try to be thoughtful and gentle in your response as I’ve tried to be respectful in sharing my opinion.