Why Photographers should Stop Complaining about Copyright and Embrace Pinterest

The Digital Rapture

As this future becomes more and more plain to me, I see a rapture of sorts, where old-school photographers clinging to the old-fashioned ways of doing things will be “left behind.” So much of the irrational behavior and anger is usually based in fear (fear-of-change, specifically), but it doesn’t have to be that way.

When it comes to sharing your photographs online, you can go in two directions. You can put small images online, watermark them and then spend some or all of the week chasing down people that have used them inappropriately.

Or, you can be like me.

Offer up all your creations in maximum and beautiful resolution to the will of the web. The web, and the universe, has a certain flow to it. You can become one with that flow and enjoy the ride. You can let the opportunity of what-can-be motivate you rather than the more poisonous fear-of-loss.

Join Me on Pinterest

I’m at pinterest.com/treyratcliff/.  I have boards with my stuff, places I’d like to visit, other favorite photographers, and design ideas.  Link to yours in the comments if you want to share.

The Big Picture – The Now of Sharing

Sharing isn’t the future; it’s the now. Before we talk about Pinterest in particular, let’s discuss an overall digital sharing strategy. Forming a solid philosophical foundation will help keep you from feeling like you’re always flapping in the latest digital breeze.

A pure artist has two motivations: creation for the sake of creation and sharing for the sake of connecting with the world.

In this recent talk at Google, I talk about the importance of sharing as an artist. Skip ahead to 7:22 for my sharing strategy or 11:50 to hear about Creative Commons.

Sharing your artistic creation with one person is better than zero. Sharing your artistic creation with 20 people is better than 10. And so it goes. Furthermore, if you want people to see your work in all its glory, it needs to be available at maximum resolution with no watermark. This is my opinion. Personally, if I see an image with a watermark, oftentimes all I can think about is that annoying watermark. Maybe this is just me.

The Results of My Open Sharing

I’ve been doing this for over five years under the Creative Commons Noncommercial license, which means anyone can use my images for personal reasons such as blogs, wallpapers, etc., but they must contact us for commercial licensing. It has resulted in my images getting 100′s of millions of views in the past few years; and emerging in the last six months in Google+, where open sharing has helped me to get over 3 million followers. When I share images there, the results go crazy because of the multiplication effect. For example, the “End of the World” image below has been viewed more than 35 million times.

This photo has over 35 million views thanks to Google+. When Google+ got started, many photographers were also upset about copyright issues. But not me.

None of this would have happened if I had the opposite attitude towards sharing. There are many other photographers that know exactly what I mean and get a lot of pleasure out of people seeing their work. It doesn’t matter if it is 100 people or 1,000 people that see your work. The point is that sharing (aka communicating your vision) with others makes the artist feel more alive.

What is Pinterest?

Pinterest is window-shopping on steroids. It is said, in a generally dismissive manner, “Oh, women really like Pinterest.” Fool! Women rule the world! In the great interwoven networks of our Dunbar 150s (wikipedia) , it’s the women that form most of the connections between and across groups.

> Techcrunch sites that Pinterest has over 10.4 mil users and 97% of the likes are from women. Article.

I say it is like window-shopping because it is a very visual and eye-darting experience. Women have a particularly good eye at finding something that is “interesting.” Now that doesn’t mean it’s good or bad necessarily, it just means that they are interested in it. They have an ability to “gather” interesting bits – a skill that still baffles my befuddled male-hunter brain. Then, almost effortlessly, they can “pin” it to their own board — their own “window.” This window-shopping then spreads at an algorithmic rate as different users with different Venn-diagrams of interest start building their own windows, all of which adds to the growing meta-mind-share of interesting images.

> “My wife used to have an interest in my interests, but now she only has an interest in her pinterest.” – Trey Ratcliff on a lonely night…

Why are some photographers anti-Pinterest?

Many photographers fear Pinterest because anyone can “pin” an image of theirs and all copyright is stripped away. This isn’t necessarily true, because the link to the originally pinned location is still there. So, you can think of it as a hyperlink that just happens to be a visual thumbnail instead of boring text like “Awesome Photo of Disneyworld.”

Instead, now I think of Pinterest as sort of an amuse-bouche. If people are interested, they will follow links to find out who actually took the photo. Perhaps they want a print. Or maybe they would like to license the image to use for an advertising campaign or on a commercial website. Either way, people that are willing to pay you money will do their best to track you down.

Free traffic leads to real revenue

Most people in the world are good people. If they find digital art they want to buy for a print or use in a commercial campaign, they will figure out a way to get you money. 99% of your traffic is truly “window-shoppers.” They will look at your goods, take note, enjoy them and move on. But 1% will want to make a personal or business transaction with you.

Despite what fear-mongers have told you, everyone will not steal your images. Most legitimate companies will work out a proper licensing arrangement with you. Even though I use Creative Commons Noncommercial, I still license my images with the Copyright office. This enables us to sue companies that do not go through the proper channels. There was a well-publicized case lately where we sued Time for using my images in an ad for their iPad app. But that is another story. The point is that most people do not steal, and on those edge cases where it does happen, you have many reactive options.

Pinterest accounts 15% of our Traffic

StuckInCustoms.com has healthy traffic that grows every year thanks to good old-fashioned word-of-mouth. We don’t advertise or buy links or any of that stuff. So I depend on the Internet and nice people like you to link back to the site and tell your friends that you find something unique and cool.

Last month, we had 714,143 Pageviews and 234,107 unique visitors. 15% of this traffic came from Pinterest. Amazing! If Pinterest didn’t exist (a reality some photographers would prefer), then our traffic would be 15% less. Choosing to switch-off innovation is a fool’s errand, especially in today’s world. It reminds me of the scene in Anthem where the council of candle-makers becomes rather upset at the invention of the light bulb.

New Styles of Human Communication

Increasingly, we have a new way of talking to one another. It’s not through voice or text — it’s through photos. They are like Chinese characters taken to the next order of magnitude. It’s strange to think about, but I can quickly show you five photos and communicate an idea, a story, or a complex thought. There wasn’t an easy way to do that 5 or 10 years ago.

Someone on Pinterest can make a board called “Feeling a bit blue,” and they can fill it with cool-colored melancholy photos. Isn’t this just another way of making a poem? If I built up this pinboard and sent it to a friend, it’s nothing but a visual poem in a new medium. It’s just as powerful, and, in many ways, more accessible.

Pinterest is simply another way (a newer, evolving way, mind you) for humans to communicate with one another. It is increasingly the job of digital artists to inspire, share and bring more beauty and communication into the world.

Discussion of your opinions on the matter

Whenever I discuss the subject of copyright in the evolving Internet, there is more than enough vitriol that gets spewed into the comments. That is fine. I leave comments here open – so, what do you think?

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