Social Media Etiquette and Copyright

Pinterest is taking off in a big way. The virtual pin board site lets you visually organize favorite projects, wish lists, tips, recipes, and books. Or pretty pictures like this shot of a gerber daisy that my son recently took. With Pinterest, you can use a special little bookmarklet to add the image to one of your boards. Other people might see the picture on Pinterest and think it’s lovely and RE-pin it to one of their boards. There is some really cool stuff showing up on Pinterest.

The GeekMoms are loving Pinterest. (And yes, of course we have a Downton Abbey board!)

But here’s the rub. While Pinterest allows users to share some great inspirational images, it’s also opening up a can of copyright worms that’s working its way across social media. I noticed several months ago that many of the images on my Pinterest feed were also showing up on Facebook pages that I followed. But instead of sharing the image as a link that would take viewers to the original post or even to the pin board they’d found it on, people were uploading the image directly to their Facebook photo albums. On Pinterest, folks are sharing images without maintaining the link to the original source.

Hello, copyright infringement!

As an author, I’m acutely aware of copyright issues. My work has been plagiarized and turned in as student work, and it’s shown up on websites – copied verbatim – under another person’s byline. Those incidents notwithstanding, most of us were taught in school that it’s not cool to plagiarize the written word. But photos are another matter entirely. Who didn’t cut National Geographic images from magazines to enhance a geography report? While our teachers recognized that using an author’s words as our own was unfair use, utilizing a photographer’s work without proper credit didn’t give them pause.

But those were just simple book reports. Now we have the Internet, where we encounter countless images every day and with a simple cut and paste, can share those great images with our friends and followers. Easy, peasy.

But wait! Don’t you think the photographer who took that great shot of Niagra Falls would want credit for his work? Don’t you think the blogger who took the time to take pictures and write out instructions for how to make Princess Leia cupcakes would want you to visit her site for the details?

Think of it this way. What if you knit a sweater and I took it and gave it to my mom and told her I made it? Even though I suck at knitting? That would be unfair, yes? Or what if you brought your killer vegetarian chili to a potluck at my place and I told everyone that I’d made it? So not cool, right?

This has been a sore spot with me as I watch some really fabulous ideas appear on my Facebook and Pinterest feeds without the artist receiving credit. I’ve mentioned my concerns to some Facebook page owners, but they’re just not getting it. Others are still posting photos to their own albums in what I think is an effort to drive traffic to their pages, adding a cursory link to the original photo. Sure, people can now locate the origin of the photo or idea, but the person who posts in this manner is still giving the impression that the photo is theirs. If you go to my Facebook page and click on ‘photos’ you’ll see this across the top of the page: Attainable Sustainable’s Photos. Does that lead you to believe those photos are mine? And that I have the right to post them? I’m betting so.

It turns out I’m not the only one who’s taking issue with all of this uncredited sharing. Link with Love is working to encourage people to share photos responsibly. While they don’t address the Facebook issue at all (that’s my particular gripe) they’re suggesting a neighborhood watch type plan to protect  intellectual property. Their Dear Pinterest post has some simple suggestions for pinning kindly. Retain links. Post credits. Link with love, they say.

Photographer Sean Locke takes a stronger stand, questioning whether Pinterest itself is actually infringing upon artists’ copyright.

It sure sounds like copying people’s photographs without authorization would be copyright infringment [sic].  Yet, Pinterest seems to be encouraging people to scour the web, pinning (copying to their servers) artwork created by others: “Pinterest lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web.”

In a follow up post, he discusses the idea of fair use. Is it fair use to share a photographer’s “all rights reserved” image from Flickr? I’m going with no. In this case, the photographer has explicitly spelled out the fact that s/he is reserving all rights, right there in black and white.

Here at GeekMom we have this discussion a lot. We like our posts to have great photos. But at the same time, we’ve passed up some really fun stories simply because we didn’t receive a response to our request for permission to use a photo. We can’t just grab an image we love and use it. We use images that are in the public domain, creative commons, or images that we have permission to post.

Being cognizant of the fact that photos on the web are someone’s intellectual property and not a free for all is the first step toward making sure that artists are credited for their work. I’m no lawyer and who knows if Pinterest will face legal issues for copyright infringement down the road, but it seems like there are a few simple steps that pinners can take to reduce the frustration of artists.

1. Always pin from an original source. This way, it’s easy enough for people to get to the original content, which is especially important if there is a recipe or instructions to go with an image.

2. For goodness sake, don’t copy the text of an entire post and share it along with the pinned image. Again with the copyright infringement! Plus, it makes my feed really hard to read.

3. A site or blog that features a “pin it” button welcomes your pinning. Artists websites that feature a portfolio, probably not so much.

4. If you’re an artist or blogger who’s concerned about having your stuff out there on the web sans credit, consider using a watermark on your images as I’ve done with the gerber daisy photo.

Artist Kal Barteski offers even more suggestions. I truly hope you’ll go have a look and join me in making sure that the hard work of artists and bloggers you love is credited to the right person. I also invite you to pin this post, using the gerber daisy image (which, incidentally, my son has given me permission to use) with a note about pinning responsibly.

Daisy photo: Evan Bordessa

Rainbow text: Link with Love, used with permission


Ebook Piracy and the Libraries of the Future

Image: Sarah Pinault. Toby’s first visit to the library.

My husband has been lucky since acquiring his iPhone. He was looking for a book to read to test out the reader function, saw a commercial for A Game of Thrones, decided to read the book and it was being given away as a free ebook that month in preparation for the show. After that, several people recommended that he read The Pillars of the Earth, lo and behold, a quick Google search and it too was a free ebook that month from a national retailer. Then it got trickier.

After deciding to read The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever following the directions for picking a Sci/Fi Fantasy book, he could not find a copy anywhere. He was now hooked on finding them for free. He found a hard copy at a library of which he is a member, he also found it illegally as an ebook. Surmising that since a library book was reading it for free, and he wanted to read it on the iPhone, downloading it made it just like reading the copy at his local library. He lasted about an hour with that logic, before deleting the file and becoming grumpy, in a holier than thou kind of way. My husband is a very honest man, it’s been two weeks and he still hasn’t bought or read the book. With Amazon’s addition of the Kindle Lending Library last week, the dilemmas facing my husband seem to be the wave of the future. A few overdue fines at the library pale in comparison with the fact that e-readers may be taking literature the way of Napster and iTunes, as far as morality and public ownership go. As the music industry continues to debate its own standards of ownership, I wonder where e-readers are taking us, and if recent court rulings will have any affect on how we view books that are still covered by their copyright. If I lose my hard copy of a book, am I entitled to an e-copy for free?

Behind the scenes at GeekMom the Kindle Lending Library raised some minor discussion. I am hesitant to accept anything for free from a company that possesses my credit card information, but I am quite happy with a world that accommodates both my love of paper, and my husband’s love of the convenience of his e-reader. Otherwise we have a split between those of us happy to forgo paper for .doc, and those who relish wandering around the local library. Would this new policy have any effect on libraries or e-readership figures since it is limited to one book a month? With the grassroots library movement, that GeekMom Melissa talked about this week, I have great hope in the future of the library.

So my question is, am I reading too much into my husband’s one-time moral dilemma, or should author’s fear for the sanctity of their work?