How Entrepreneurs Can Combat Pinterest’s Lack of Attribution


The anonymity the Internet lends everyone has allowed many people to become jerks, creeps and thieves. There's Bit Torrent, networks of dubious sites hosting copyrighted material that people happily exploit with a few Google searches and now there's Pinterest to worry about. If you're unfamiliar, Pinterest is a social media platform that basically functions as a vision board for its users: They post photos and give those collections a theme or title like "Stuff I want." Yeah.

It sounds harmless enough, but actually has started to bite entrepreneurs in their wallets. Professional photographers have been especially hurt by this because it has allowed people to swipe their pictures and post them on Pinterest without proper – or any – credit. To explore this issue and how to handle it, I gave Chicago wedding photographer Sarah Postma
a jingle. She explained why a Zen-like approach to a problem you can't really control anyway might be best. You decide.

So how has this problem affected you?

Sarah Postma: I haven't had that problem yet, but I do know that it is a problem. And I'm sure that there's stuff out there that's been pinned that is from my website and isn't getting credit. Of course, I'm not gonna see that right away because where would I look? How would I know how to look for that? You know what I'm saying? Yes, there is a Google search ability where you can upload a photo and then ask Google to look for that photo anywhere else to try and replicate that, but I'm not super worried about that. But I will say that people have gotten more business from Pinterest from people pinning their things

Is this something that you think people should be worried about? Or is it more of a non-issue because you can't really control it anyway?

Sarah Postma: Yeah, it's funny, because my opinion is that yes, it would be a problem. However, it's also a non-problem because it's true, there's just no stopping it. It's the Internet. People can not give credit on other blogs all the time, too.

You know what I heard? That there's a bit of piracy on the Internet. Have you heard this?

Sarah Postma: [Laughs.] Yeah. Exactly. I feel like people who haven't been in the wedding industry for very long or the photography industry for very long – all these people are very worried about their images being stolen. But I've at least been in the business long enough that I know better than to be super worried about that because nobody's out there taking a photo of a bouquet that I shot and then selling it on a billboard. That's really unlikely. It's possible but it's highly unlikely, and I'm probably not going to see that even if it does get sold in some small teeny tiny place or something.

Is there something people can do to assure being credited?

Sarah Postma: Some people will pin their own things, which is actually where it starts. If you can pin your own work and then add your own credit in the title tags or in the caption that's associated with the pin, then it's more likely that it's going to follow it. Most people when they re-pin something on Pinterest aren't going to change the caption that goes along with the picture. So, if you're the first one to pin it and you put your credit in there in the first place, then that's gonna save you as well. Ooh, and I have another idea for you as well. One thing that I've done on my blog is that I've added a plugin, just through Wordpress, that creates a "pin it!" button anytime you hover over an image. If you're signed into Pinterest and you click "pin it!," it's gonna keep my credit with that photo when somebody pins it. So, I know for a fact that as long as they're using that plugin through my blog, then my credit is at least going with it. If they don't use my plugin on my blog and they just copy and paste or do something like that, then I can't help that.

Do you think there are industries where this is more prevalent?

Sarah Postma: I do think it could be a problem if you're looking to keep your credit with the image and somebody else pins it first and they didn't give you credit in the first place and then it becomes extremely popular. There's nothing you can do about it. You're kind of at a loss. So, I would almost advise people to pin their own stuff right away, and if they have a lot of followers on Pinterest to hopefully get a lot of re-pins straight from their pin that was the original one.

If you're going to do that, how transparent should you be? Should you be posing as your No. 1 fan?

Sarah Postma: I actually stopped using Pinterest a little bit this wedding season just because I'm insanely busy, but when I have a chance to do that and someone features work of mine on another wedding blog or something like that, then I will pin the image that they featured on that other blog because somebody else already said, "Hey, this this is an exceptional image." So, I'll re-pin something that is my work but that was already featured on another blog. So, I'm not necessarily just posting from my own work and being my No. 1 fan. I'll mix that up. I'll pin other people's stuff, too. I'm not only pinning my own stuff. What's crazy about Pinterest is I think if you read their user agreement, it actually says that you're not supposed to pin anything from anyone else anyway.

What's the point of it, then?

Sarah Postma: I guess, apparently, if you pin it, you're claiming that you have the rights to pin that in the first place. So, isn't that technically only my own stuff that I have the rights to pin? [Laughs.]

That's like being on the Internet but you can only visit your own website.

Sarah Postma: Right, right. It doesn't make sense. But I think the reason that Pinterest wrote that into their agreement was because they didn't want to be responsible for other people re-pinning things that they didn't have credit for. So, Pinterest is taking themselves out of it and they put all the blame on the user. That was sort of a hub-bub a few months ago where people were talking all about that. I don't know if they've changed it since then, but a few months ago people were all up in arms because they were giving all the blame to the user itself and Pinterest had no responsibility if anybody was pinning things that weren't there.

If you're a photographer, I suppose there's nothing to stop people from Photoshopping out your watermark. Do you think a watermark alone is enough of a deterrent to prevent this kind of problem?

Sarah Postma: I'm a little bit different in this case because I actually stopped watermarking my images about six months ago because I figured it wasn't worth it anyway. If people wanna crop it out, they can. I might as well put it out there and hope that it comes back to me, anyway. Isn't that weird?

No, not at all.

Sarah Postma: The images don't look as good with a watermark on them anyway, so why not just put it out there so people can see my work in its glory? You know what I'm saying?

Well, it's different if you're an established wedding photographer as opposed to a college kid trying to put together their portfolio.

Sarah Postma: Yeah. I think people who are just starting out in the industry are way more worried about getting credit for everything than people who've been in it for a while. I've been doing it for seven years, so I'm not too worried about that.

And I don't know if you wanted to read anything in particular, but there's a photographer in New York [Christian Oth] who wrote a Pinterest article about why he stopped using it and then an update on why he decided still to stop using it. [Laughs.]

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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