03/23/2012 09:45 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Pinterest Interest: Boon or Boondoggle?

I'm late to this game. Didn't even know it was being played. At least not till I noticed "pinning" going on at Facebook or Twitter and had no idea what this Pinterest thing was or why any of us should be paying attention (I tend to be on the slow side of the "new stuff" curve). When I finally stoked up the curiosity to check out the Pinterest site, my initial reaction was: "Oh God...another social media must-have that's gonna to suck up even more of my time!" I wisely eschewed it with the hope that it would go MySpace.

It didn't. At least it hasn't yet. Pinterest persists and in my finger-on-the-pulse effort to stay abreast of new trends for the purpose of marketing and promoting my various projects and platforms, I started the due diligence.

It appears some think it's the wave of the future, poised to be bigger than Facebook or Twitter (don't they all say that?). Some think it is just another social media platform, a passing fad designed to, yes, suck up our time but in a whole new way. Yippee. And some have started ringing alarm bells about copyrights and the fine print of usage and liability issues as they relate to the Pinterest terms of use and the "pinning" of the creative works of others without expressed permission.

Before I could even muster the energy to set up a page, photographer friends posted warnings urging visual artists to be wary of joining because of these issues, suggesting to those who'd already joined to be cautious about what they pin of other artists' work; even the media has been frothing forth various views from users, lawyers and Pinterest spokespeople, slinging around enough pros and cons to completely confuse everyone. And when I discovered I actually had to be "invited" to join, I got a little snitty about the exclusionary taint of having to pass muster, so to speak, even just to leave a comment; not dissimilar to a sorority or condo board (neither of which I've ever actually had any personal experience with). Being too much the democrat to pursue a club one must be invited to join, I put the whole thing aside yet again and went off to tweet, thread and flog everywhere I could completely uninvited.

Then the Pinterest mountain came to me...


There is was, big as day; a photograph of mine, "The Birds & the Beads," originally part of a month-long Los Angeles Times photography exhibit in early 2011. It had been "pinned" on the LA Times page on Pinterest. Yes...they'd properly credited me, I had submitted the photograph to the original project, gave my permission for its use and use it they did. A full page, it's a good photo, it's the Los Angeles Times...OK. Free marketing and something new to promote.

But wait....

Then I saw that the same photo had been "re-pinned" by a private party who'd put it into a gallery on her page titled "California Is Home." name is properly spelled, the rest the gallery is fine, the "pinner" seems like a nice enough woman (there's a picture and stuff on her page), so, really, how do I feel about all this stealthily staged usage?

I posed the question on my Facebook page which elicited a wide range of response, some more magnanimous than others, but it does open the door to an interesting debate about how digitally produced and marketed properties are used online, often without permission or, sometimes, even the knowledge of the artist. A very successful photographer friend of mine wrote that she'd actually discovered that a fellow photographer had set up a Facebook page using an entire album of my friend's work with not a mention of her name. This fellow artist even went so far as to use one of my friend's photos as the profile picture and - it gets worse - submitted that same photo to a local newspaper with her own name affixed. Now that is just blatant thievery at worst, crappy artists' decorum at best, and a rather extreme version of the "it's on the Net, it's FAIR GAME!!" kind of faulty thinking.

But is that much different than what's going on at Pinterest? Though I was credited on the re-pinning woman's page, I noticed none of the other photographers were. Maybe she couldn't find their names...that's not hard to believe. But the images had to come from somewhere and I always believe if you can't find the name of the artist, at least credit the source. That hadn't been done either.

But let's get back to the prompt: is there a difference? I can only look at this through the filter of my own situation and how I approach the peddling of my creativity and this is what I've come up with for me:

My work here at The Huffington Post offers a higher profile than some other things I do, but I also have my blog, Rock+Paper+Music, out there in the world, my photography website does a fair amount of sales traffic with cards and photography prints, and my CD still sells from time to time at Itunes or To keep all those plates anywhere near afloat in terms of traffic, awareness, and actual commerce, I have to spend a fair amount of time, effort and money marketing and promoting in the various creative ways we artists do and, frankly, I appreciate when any "accidental" publicity comes my way. That would be links on other people's pages, credited articles, songs or photographs on websites or used in other creative works. And that would be...Pinterest.

Now, would I appreciate a licensing fee, a royalty, a usage fee, even nominal remunerated appreciation for the use of my work on other people's sites and social media platforms? Certainly. Is the Internet marketplace and social media set up to make that arrangement part of their equation? No.

But in the hyper-saturated world of artists of every ilk online (which includes all of us!), any exposure we get helps pull us out of the pack and that's not something to sneeze at. Exposure can and does lead to other opportunities, often ones that do pay; it leads to a wider audience, a higher profile; a greater awareness of you and your work. In the world of the creative arts, all of that is worth...a lot.

But how do we maximize those publicity perks while keeping the process respectful to each other as artists? We comply with the Usage Decorum Rules (UDR):

1. Always do a search for the artist's name if it's not immediately obvious.
2. Once found, use it...always credit the artist when you can.
3. Make sure you spell the name right.
4. Attach links leading to the artist's website.
5. Find a contact email address, if possible, and pop a note asking permission, or...
6. At the very least, let them know you've used their photograph and credited them.
7. Be prepared to take it down if you hear back and they request it be removed.
8. If you can't find the artist, drag the picture into Google Images and see what comes up.
9. If no luck there, at least credit the source where you found the photograph.
10. Attach links to the source's website, if available.
11. If the unknown artist suddenly appears and wants the image down, take it down.
12. However you do use the photo, present it well.

Bottomline, proper usage on sites like Pinterest promotes and stimulates viral (and free!) marketing. It's a compliment, an acknowledgement that someone found your work interesting and pin-worthy. Social media can be a win/win in these regards: I recently found another photograph of mine, "Backgammon At the Wall," on the site of a young South African poetess named Kerry O'Connor. Though contact hadn't been made prior, she did credit me properly and after a cordial email exchange, added a link to my blog site as well. I returned the gesture by posting her link on my Twitter and Facebook pages, helping drive additional traffic to her site. Nice. Usage Decorum Rules. Win/win.


It's the Wild West out there on the Net and it will be for the rest of time. There's simply no way to rein it in and it's too big and unwieldy to even try. The best we can do as artists is to make our money where we can - and there are plenty of places to do that both on and offline - and stay vigilant to where our work is being used by others. It requires follow-up if the Usage Decorum Rules are flouted, an important step toward keeping the presentation of your work at the bar you've set, and if we're the ones doing the pinning, tweeting or posting, we, too, must be sure to comply with the UDR to keep our own usage respectful.

As for my Pinterest interest, I still haven't joined. I guess I'm not pining to pin. Truthfully, I haven't been invited yet (who do you have to...tweet to get an invitation around here??). Maybe I will be soon. We'll see. If it makes a difference, keep in mind that I play well with others and tend to bring baked goods to invitation-only events.