Avoiding Copyright Pitfalls on Pinterest


Copyright Issues with Pinterest

You either know what Pinterest is or you don’t. For those who do, just skip this next section. For the uninitiated, let’s bring you up to speed.

Pinterest in the online equivalent of all those torn out magazine photos, articles and recipes you’ve got taped on your wall, stuffed in a drawer, bookmarked in your browser even though you have no idea how to find them ever again, or piled high in a ‘to be filed’ which used to teeter on your desk until it fell over so now it’s on the floor. For those of you who are ‘my age’, it’s an online cork board. For the younger crowd, it’s similar to a vision board only you can have many vision boards without having to put together any more furniture from IKEA.

In a single word, it’s genius! Pinterest is a hybrid of Etsy, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Posterous and a Blog. As of the writing of this post, Pinterest is an ‘invite only’ community. It’s not some secret handshake kinda place, I think it was done that way to manage initial traffic. If you’re not on Pinterest but want to be, just email me and I’ll send you an invite. (As of August 2012, Pinterest is open to anyone without an invitation) So, now that you have an idea of what Pinterest is why the talk about copyright?

I signed up for Pinterest shortly after it went live. I used a stealth email so I can lurk and see how this thing worked. Sure, with about an hour worth of work you could probably connect me to my James Bond-ish Pinterest but I signed up for a very different reason. Anytime there’s photo and content sharing there are potential copyright issues. And I wanted to check it all out and see how it would unfold.

First, let me say that the Pinterest Terms and Conditions are pretty straight forward. While I’d guess about 90% of the Pinterest population just clicked the ‘agree’ box, I, in fact, have read the T&C. Several times. There are places where they are convoluted and exceedingly verbose. And, in many instances they’re quite a bit more ‘techy’ than they really should be. But, being a lawyer who works with online content creation, protection and sharing I’m probably a bit deeper into the reality of how a site like Pinterest is used than the average corporate or tech attorney. That being said, I didn’t see anything in Terms and Conditions or Copyright notice that would raise any red flags related to privacy or copyright protections.

I do have serious concerns about Pinterest hosting full-size images on their server, often without knowledge or permission from the original copyright holder. In doing this, Pinterest removes all references to the the original source. That creates significant issues with copyright (as well as other issues), especially when the copyright holder may not have provided authorization, tacit or otherwise, for the redistribution of the image. Now, the image can easily be redistributed without any determination of whether the image is protected by copyright. This is an issue I have with Pinterest directly, and not necessarily with Pinterest users. And, of course, Pinterest is based in the US yet it is a global board and thus there are concerns with protecting the rights of non-US citizens as well.

Now, that being said, let’s get to the reality of how Pinterest is used. The site is intended for users to ‘pin’ content to your virtual pinboard. By pinning a specific web page you can add comments, categorize that ‘pin’, and connect an image. And by doing so, potential copyright violations are apt to occur.

It’s not 100% the pin-ers fault, nor 100% Pinterest. Much of the issues related to copyright problems come about because the law is not straightforward. There is a great deal of wiggle room in copyright, which tends to fall under the category of Fair Use. And while there are licensing issues that are addressed in the Pinterest Terms and Conditions, the fact that people don’t read them combined with a lack of understanding of what Copyright Fair Use really is means that problems are bound to happen.

How can you avoid Copyright Pitfalls on Pinterest?

I’m glad you asked!

1. Avoid ALL cutting and pasting – When pinning on pinterest, the point is to add your insights, comments or thoughts NOT to cut the article and post it so you never have to reference back to the original. Since you’re linking to the original (or what is believed to be the original), in the ‘Describe your pin’ window you write something meaningful to you.

2. Pin the original source – I know that re-pinning is an acceptable practice and a time saver. However, if you’re really interested in what was pinned, take an extra minute or two and verify the source. Sadly, I’ve seen things re-pinned that don’t belong to the site mentioned.

3. Never copy an image from Pinterest to use on your blog! – Chances are whatever you’re doing will not fall under fair use, so you’ll risk the copyright holder saying you’re infringing their rights. If you really like what you see, reference back or get permission.

4. Don’t perpetuate the wrong owner – I’ve seen the same image attributed to many different blogs. This is not only frustrating for the reader but it’s downright maddening for the original owner. It takes a lot of work to get your images taken off other sites, and when you have to take extra steps to prove you’re the real owner it’s not only maddening but also very time consuming.

5. Watemark your images – I know that many photographers do not like to watermark images because it takes away from the beauty they were capturing. And for the average blogger, like myself, adding a watermark isn’t always easy (especially now that Picnik is shutting down but it’s gotten easier thanks to free sites like PicMonkey). It’s important to know that Pinterest doesn’t crop the image. That means the watermark will remain, letting people know the original source. This is not foolproof, but it’s a start.

Hope this helps with honing your Pinja skills!

UPDATE: On April 6, 2012, Pinterest updated its Terms of Service to specifically address several issues regarding what Pinterest can do with uploaded images as well a creating what they believe are simpler tools for reporting copyright violations. Overall, the general nature of Pinterest did not change. The one big change in the platform to help those whose words were lifted was to limit the comment to 500 characters.

For other articles about the legal implications of being online, check out my series on blog law and online rights.

Disclosure: While I am a lawyer, I am not offering legal advice. Posts on legal matters are intended to provide legal information and do not create an attorney/client relationship. This post is part of my Blog Law Series.


Author: Sara

Sara is a life-long dreamer, creating a list of things she wants to do "someday". Realizing there is no "someday" on the calendar she's taking the steps to make her somedays a reality. Between saving for retirement and college and paying for all the usual things, many women find that they're often putting their hopes and dreams on hold. Saving For Someday is Sara's way of encouraging women everywhere to find ways to save on the ordinary so they can do the extraordinary. Sara is also a licensed attorney and writes about legal issues affecting bloggers, content creators and online professionals. This blog is for informational purposes only. You can also find me on Google+

84 thoughts on “Avoiding Copyright Pitfalls on Pinterest”

  1. This is such important information. The issue of copyright on Pinterest was just pointed out to me yesterday. I dug into their TOS and immediately felt lost because of the legal jargon. I’m so happy to read this from someone who understands and can interpret it for the average Pinterest user!

    Thanks so much for writing this, Sara!

    1. Malia,

      Thank you for letting me know that my article was helpful and timely. Glad to offer insight to the blogging community.

    1. Oh, Kate, that’s terrible! I hate hearing that your images can’t be tied back to you. You take such beautiful photos!

      It’s reasons such as this that make me happy to write about these issues and bring them to light. I know much of the problem is that people don’t know what’s right, but it doesn’t diminish the importance of making sure people can get back to where the original is from.

      If I can ever help, you know how to find me.

  2. Copyright is such a sensitive issue and rather unclear as new technology and sites like Pinterest emerge and begin to dominate the market. At a recent appearance at Alt Summit, Ben Silberman, found of Pinterest, copyright was a hot topic which he noted they are working on improvements to address blogger’s attribution concerns but with the site simply blowing up as quickly as it has, they’re strategizing the best solutions as quickly as they can. In such a rapid and viral world of the www it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

    1. Heidi, thank you for visiting. I’m sure Mr Silberman didn’t foresee the level of immediate success in Pinterest. However, it didn’t need to be this successful to face the potential copyright issues it is experiencing with users. I don’t think the right kind of people who could have anticipated this were involved. Unfortunately, traditional business lawyers or tech lawyers often do not understand the world of social sharing. Peer to Peer sharing has been around in various iterations, even though it’s only a small niche of the legal profession that has worked in the area that is the intersection of the online world with laws created for an off-line world.

  3. Thank you for taking the time to write this article. I didn’t even know some of the issues you mentioned existed. BTW, I see that Picnik will be shutting down. Do you know if they will be replaced or will it just ‘vanish’ in April?

    1. Snippets of Thyme,

      Thank you for visiting and commenting. Yes, Picnik is going to vanish in April. Google bought it and does not feel it should be continued so it will be shuttered.

      Google, via Google +, does have what they call ‘Creative Kit’ which is oddly very similar to Picnic. I have only begun to work with it but it appears to have many of the same features.

  4. This is a great article and I agree with you on how at times we re-pin without checking much in detail. I am not gonna do that again for sure. Once I saw that someone pinned a photo from my blog and in the description, she wrote the recipe.. exactly copy paste from my blog. How should I handle that ?

    1. Kankana,

      Thank you for visiting and commenting. I’m sorry to hear that your full recipe was cut/pasted into a pin description. Stuff like that drives me crazy.

      In general, only the directions would have potential copyright claims as ingredient lists are not subject to US Copyright.

      I know people who have succeeded in getting the pinner to remove the cut/paste, but I also know people who are dealing with pinners who create a flame war because the original author had the audacity (said with sarcasm) to ask that their post not be cut/pasted. It’s often a matter of how the pinner views doing the right thing. Some people just don’t care and think they can do whatever they want with stuff they find on the internet.

      It’s a very fine line because you always risk the person being a troll.

      If it’s someone who does this all the time with your stuff, definitely contact Pinterest. If it’s a one-off incident, you have to weigh the pros/cons.

    1. Tania, with Pinterest the attribution is often automatic on pinning the original. It’s repins that often begin losing the attribution.

      In copyright, there’s really no such thing as ‘borrowing’ because original content that is lifted doesn’t get a pass just because there is attribution. Pinterest kind of muddies the water with this since the original author does not need to be a member of Pinterest or agree to the TOS to have their work pinned.

      Attribution may be nice, but it doesn’t make it legal.

  5. Interesting, I had never really thought about that. I guess because I see it as such a great tool and only repin after I have been somewhere. Thanks for the insight.

    1. Angela, thank you for visiting and commenting. Pinterest is a great tool, and if we can continue to showcase the talents of the original creator it’s a much more effective tool.

  6. Thank you for deciphering the Pinterest TOS. I will be re-checking my boards to make sure I follow your guidelines with every pin.

  7. Thank you so much for bringing a legal POV to this issue. I love Pinterest, but a few weeks ago I began going through my boards, attempting to weed out non-permalinks, poor attributions, etc. – talk about Spring Cleaning! Sadly, the ease of repinning is the source of much of my contribution to the problem. Attempting to find proper sources and re-repin.

    1. Alexandra, thanks for stopping by. I think a lot of the source issues could be avoided by some coding on the back end of Pinterest. It seems so easy to lose proper attribution on a repin. And I’ve seen that some 3rd party Pinterest apps pin the content from the app and not the original source. That’s not a problem with Pinterest but with the app, and something else I’d like to address.

      This is definitely proof that technology and copyright are out of sync.

  8. This is really interesting and very well explained… i have been reading up their terms and conditions and must admit to being a bit baffled….

    one thing tho, does Pinterest own you pics to do what they want with? it says they own all site content , does that mean they take your photos and use them as they see fit?
    i will be watermarking my photos in future and really taking care to make sure my pins are properly linked.
    Thank you 🙂

    1. Jenxo,

      Pinterest DOES NOT own your content. Their Terms of Service grant them a license to use uploaded content on their site/app/service. The company that owns Pinterest does NOT claim any ownership rights.

      That being said, I find it dubious that Pinterest strips out URLs and uses uploaded content for affiliate traffic.

      1. This is not entirely true. Pinterest has full rights to your work until the end of time, including royalty-free sublicensing to 3rd parties. That’s right, they can take your images and sell them at a profit, and you will not see a dime.

        Here is the relevant part of the Terms of Service:

        “By making available any Member Content through the Site, Application or Services, you hereby grant to Cold Brew Labs a worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free license, with the right to sublicense, to use, copy, adapt, modify, distribute, license, sell, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, stream, broadcast, access, view, and otherwise exploit such Member Content only on, through or by means of the Site, Application or Services.”

        1. Thanks, Ben, that is the part of the terms of service (or terms of use) that concerns me. Similar phrasing at Facebook a while back also kept me from posting photos there. I wish more people would notice this bit of code.

          1. Christine, as I pointed out the entire sentence must be read as a whole and not just stop after certain words. The fact remains that the words ‘… only on, through or by means of the …” are limiting as to how all those rights can play out. Changing the site from a virtual pinboard to one that sells the uploaded content would be a material change in the use of the ‘Site, Application or Services’ and thus should trigger a change in the Terms of Service (which has not been updated since March of 2011).

            Other than the word ‘sell’, the provision quoted above that you’re referencing as well is nearly identical to the Terms of Service for all other major social networks. The terms for Facebook are actually much broader.

  9. This got me thinking – doesn’t the same risk/issue exist with any social sharing – FB Share, social bookmarks, etc. they display an image as well. Do any of us really have permission to ‘republish’ anyway? If Pinterest/pinners are violating copyright I think these other sites/users are too. Then what?

    1. Karen, excellent question. The sites you referenced, as well as most social sharing sites, use thumbnail images rather than full size images. There have been issues with Tumblr because people post things w/o attribution and if the image was saved to their drive it loses the original link.

      Most other social share sites maintain the original location and limit the size of the image. In addition, the other sites aren’t stripping out original URLs and replacing them with their own. FB, especially, maintains the original link. Of course, if the image is saved and then reuploaded to another URL there is a problem with attribution, but for the majority of images that’s not the case due to having safeguards in place.

      With Pinterest, there are few safeguards in place to prevent copyright violations. For example, it would be easy for pinterest to have photo detection capabilities to determine if an image has been reuploaded but comes from a different source. Not that Pinterest should go to extensive lengths to police copyright, but there is a duty not to perpetuate knowing violations.


      1. Thank you Karen Clark for asking this question. I have been wondering the same thing.

        Thank you Sara for making this topic so much easier to understand and clear up the confusion. It’s an awesome article!

        I would like to add that images can be tracked even after being downloaded and edited- Getty Images make a killing doing just this. A friend took a sliver of an image from a free template which he downloaded from a site that Getty later purchased. Getty sent a letter demanding payment for the use of this little sliver- no warning, notice, or demand to take it down. This image had been heavily edited, but they were still able to find it.

        Images contain meta data that remains in the image. It’s not easy to track edited images and requires very expensive software, but Getty has a FT team dedicated to this one task. So be Very very careful of where you get your images.

        With that being said, I want to know what are your thoughts on using images from Google’s advanced search w/ the filter of free to use, share & modify even commercially? I have been on Webinars where this is recommended for finding images to use in blog posts.


        1. Hi Kathy,

          Ah, Getty Images! I know of a few websites that have forums with hundreds of people who’ve experienced the real life wrath of Getty. I feel for all involved. I applaud Getty for policing their rights. At the same time I think they could take a slightly different approach, but given the rampant infringing use of their images it’s easier to have one system in place despite how harsh it comes off.

          Any time images are taken from the internet, I would suggest verifying what type of usage is authorized. Google’s Advanced Image Search relies on site self-reporting. What may have been true in the past may not be true today. Also, as more images are uploaded the site-owner may have forgotten that they listed the site as ‘public domain’ and may now want some type of licensure. Google is very clear that it is up to the searcher/user of the images to verify the exact type of licensure.

          Especially given how easy it is to download an image and then re-upload it to another site it become more and more challenging to know the true source. This is the main reason I never suggest using images found through a Google Image Search unless you can be assured that you are dealing directly with the site that can authorize use. Sadly, I have seen people use licensed images but crop out the copyright information (which is itself a violation of copyright law).

          There are excellent sources of free/low-cost images where the license can be verified that relying on a Google Image Search, even if using the Advanced Search functionality, is quite risky.

  10. Hi Sara!

    I really hope you can help me with my question about the Terms of Use. I have been using my boards to pin my favorite photos from other users on the 365 Project which is a Photography site. I have always asked for permission before I pinned anything. 365 has received some new users from Pinterest because of it, too. However, you know how quick the ugly rumors, half truths and lies spread on the internet. Here’s a link to a damaging discussion at 365… 365project.org/discuss/general/11112/pinterest-terms-of-use-read-the-fine-print The concern is that Pinterest can do whatever it wants with original member content by changing it and even selling it. :: sigh :: I have emailed Pinterest for clarification about it but, I don’t think I’ll hear from them soon, if at all. This discussion thread has a whole lot of people upset, especially me. Can Pinterest do that? I would think not but, maybe my understanding of the terms is incorrect.

    I sure would like to squash this sort thing before it grows legs and runs away but, maybe I’m wrong. If I am, I will delete all the pins and my account because this is what I mainly use my boards for. Sure would love a positive reply, if you could provide one!

    Thank you,

    1. Maggie, you’re not alone in this question about what Pinterest can do with what is uploaded either by the owner of the content or by someone else.

      The TOS for Pinterest are very similar to many other social network sites. The big difference is that pinterest uses the word ‘sell’. It is my belief that in doing that they were covering themselves in case of selling the site, not in selling individual content. I doubt they anticipated that as a revenue-making venture. If they did, they’ll have a bit of backpeddling to do because basing your business plan on selling copyrighted content which is gained via a very questionable license is probably not the smartest thing.

      In uploading content, Pinterest is not getting a license to sell your work. That could open a huge can of worms because people are uploading content that is not their, and Pinterest knows that.

      The TOS relate to how the uploaded content is used on the Site/Service/App. While it is purely speculation on the part of may that Pinterest wants to sell the uploaded content, with more big brands using it I doubt they’re going to sit back and watch Pinterest sell their copyrighted images without a fight.

      The difficulty is that Pinterest is building itself on the back of freelance artists’ work, few of whom have the financial wherewithal to fight Pinterest if they do decided to do something as foolish as selling uploaded content for which they know (or should have known) may not belong to the member who uploaded it.

      Sadly, there are so many people out there perpetuating the misinformation of what Pinterest (actually Cold Brew Labs, LLC) can and can not do. But, until Pinterest does something with the uploaded content that would infringe enough copyrighted content we won’t really know.

      1. Sara, I would like to paste your reply to me with your link in one of my regular posts. I’ve decided it would do no good to post any information in the discussion thread and it would create more hard feelings with “those” people. So since I don’t follow any of them and they don’t follow me. Posting your reply and link for my followers will have more of an impact. No use in spreading more poison. Besides, “those” folks seem to enjoy stirring up stuff. But, do let me know if it’s all right! Please! Thank you again!

      2. “In uploading content, Pinterest is not getting a license to sell your work.”

        This is flat out wrong, they are getting exactly that.

        I agree it seems unlikely that they will exploit that right, but by uploading your work to Pinterest you are legally giving them the right to sell and sublicense your work, royalty free (without paying you).

        I posted it above, but I’ll post it again, here’s the relative section of the Terms of Service:

        “By making available any Member Content through the Site, Application or Services, you hereby grant to Cold Brew Labs a worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free license, with the right to sublicense, to use, copy, adapt, modify, distribute, license, sell, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, stream, broadcast, access, view, and otherwise exploit such Member Content only on, through or by means of the Site, Application or Services.”

        1. Ben, this is why there are defense attorneys and plaintiff’s attorneys. The words can obviously be read as broadly or as narrowly as someone wants them.

          When reading the license you quoted, which I have read multiple times, the words ‘only on’ would indicate, to me, that the license granted to Cold Brew Labs would be limited to those recitations as they relate to the Site, Application or Service, all of which have legally defined definitions in the TOS. None of those, the Site, Application or Services, are (at the time of this writing) commerce-based and thus the license granted by clicking the box to agree to the terms (terms which a majority of people would likely not have read prior to clicking the box) are related to those definitions of Site, Service and Application as of the time I granted them the license.

          Furthermore, this license is in direct conflict with their own marketing terms on their “What is Pinterest?” page which says – “Pinterest lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web.” Knowing that users would ‘… share all the beautiful things … on the web’ I doubt a court would take a broad reading of the TOS.

          Additionally, since Cold Brew Labs knows (or should know by now) “Members” are uploading content for which they may have no ownership or license and Members may be uploading content in violation of copyrights laws of the US or other countries I assert that this so-called ‘license to sell’ would need to be interpreted in the most narrow manner.

          All that being said, the reason for the courts is because many people have different interpretations of the same thing. I stand behind the information I have on my site.

          1. Hi Sara, thank you for your thoughtful response.

            It might not hold up in court, but if it came to that how many artists would be able to pay court costs? As an artist without enough money to hire a copyright attorney, I choose to avoid excessively broad licensing.

  11. Thanks for an insightful article! I’ve revised everything I had pinned on the site, but I’m considering just terminating my account rather than take a chance on any copyright issues. I did use all of your tips to edit everything that I left on my boards and I appreciate the guidance:)

    1. Donna, thanks for stopping by. Pinterest does create such an ethical dilemma. While it’s nice to have all these ideas organized and pinned for our own use, not wanting to harm others’ interests may mean we don’t get the ease of using the online pinboard concept.

  12. Sara,

    Thanks for the thought provoking post. I confess that I hadn’t given much thought to Pinterest and copyright issues. I doubt that most people using the site have. I suspect that most users aren’t intending to steal anything and probably aren’t aware that they are. Of course that doesn’t make violating a copyright okay. That said, how realistic is it to expect every user to understand the technical underpinnings of how a site works, since if I understand correctly that’s the crux of the difference between Pinterest and other sites that show content in a similar fashion?

    On the subject of attribution I’ve read elsewhere that attribution does not equal permission. If that’s correct, then merely adding the copyright holder’s name is insufficient. The pinner would have to get their express permission to use the item. What if a copyright holder doesn’t want their property to appear on a given site at all? Would a person be in violation even by linking to the site or by showing the page or an item from the page in an iframe?

    I’m curious what impact all of this will have on the internet. Does an overly strict interpretation of copyright run the risk of killing social networking usage by making people too afraid to link/reference/pin anything? After reading your post and a few others about Pinterest and copyrights I’m a little leery about using it or any other social site at all. In fact I’m thinking about deleting everything I’ve pinned and cancelling my account. Wouldn’t that be the prudent thing to do (that’s a rhetorical question)?

    Another aspect of this that I haven’t seen discussed is the benefit to the copyright holder from more people seeing their work, people that wouldn’t have if not for a site like Pinterest. Don’t copyright holders benefit from the increased visibility that their works get as a result of being shared on sites like Pinterest? Thoughts?

    1. David, you are correct that attribution does not mean you have permission to use a copyrighted work. That is well settled law.

      It’s really a catch-22 because some are pleased with the pinning/repinning (read: sharing) of their work because it’s driving traffic to their site and it’s converting to actual business. Other are not pleased because full-size images of their work are being circulated and it’s taking away any incentive to go to their site and buy their work.

      As to the question of “don’t copyright holders benefit from people seeing their work”, there is a long-standing legal view that it is the right of the copyright holder to not want their works distributed. It seems counterintuitive but ultimately it is the copyright holder who decides who they want to exploit their works to.

      1. Thanks for your response, Sara. One follow-up question. Do you think that Pinterest passes the “fair use” test?

  13. Sara–Thanks for your post. Will you comment, please, on those of us who use Pinterest exactly the way we use those torn out magazine articles that in past years cascaded out of our bureau drawers? Or if we’re neater than some, filled folders in our file cabinets?
    We save things (images, recipes, thoughts, ideas) because we love them, and may want to refer back to them “someday”–not because we want to use them to become wealthy. And sometimes, we are so smitten with an idea, or an image, or a recipe that we just have to share it with our friends who enjoy similar interests!
    Of course, we would be happy to attribute to original artist–if we even knew how to do that.
    Is there hope for us, or must we cease and desist?

  14. hi Sara, found your article via Brian Cuban. Good stuff, thanks.

    Just a quick side note about watermaring – if you open Picasa (which is not closing, only Picnik is), you can select the image(s) you want to add a watermark to, and in the bottom of your screen, there is an “export” function (which I use to re-size a bunch of images to get them web-ready (smaller) in batches). Select all the image(s) you want to watermark, and then click the “export” button.

    That pop up window will give you options to manipulate the image, and there is an option for adding a Watermark. You can add a name, (c) or URL to your images easily there.

    1. Kristen, thank you for visiting and sharing this great tip. I know many people dread watermarking because it can be such a time consuming project. Knowing a way to watermark multiple photos at once is definitely a benefit to taking at least a small step to preventing people from using your photo freely.

      This is important too because images that are watermarked get a bit of extra protection if the watermark is removed.

  15. Sara, may I copy and paste your answer in that discussion with this link? I really appreciate your reply! I can’t thank you enough!

  16. Sara, I would like to paste your reply to me with your link in one of my regular posts. I’ve decided it would do no good to post any information in the discussion thread and it would create more hard feelings with “those” people. So since I don’t follow any of them and they don’t follow me. Posting your reply and link for my followers will have more of an impact. No use in spreading more poison. Besides, “those” folks seem to enjoy stirring up stuff. But, do let me know if it’s all right! Please! Thank you again!

  17. I often wonder at the number of people concerned about copyright issues on Pinterest. They’re exactly the same as Facebook, Twitter, and other social sharing sites.

    Do you find that many artists are too protectionist, to the point of hurting their own chances on the Web?

    1. Cory, I wonder the same thing. I’m actually baffled by all the recent concerns about attribution on Pinterest. No one seems to worry about getting the original author of a tweet when on Twitter, an image that’s shared on Facebook, or a reblogged Tumblr post. Why is there all this renew emphasis with Pinterest? Because it’s more visual, and images are considered more sacred than words?

      Part of the fun of Pinterest is repinning that is fast and easy. If people are being asked to dig back to the original source … well, it’s not going to happen. The general user is not going to do that. At least, not with how the site is currently set up.

      Yes, I believe too many authors and artists are too protectionist on the Web.

      1. Angel, I think Pinterest has just made it easier. Also, FB limits the size of images (although many argue they are still too large). Tumblr is an ongoing issue but because it is relatively small they haven’t been targeted. It is the mass popularity of Pinterest that seems to have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

        There are arguments about copyrighting tweets but so few rise to the level of ‘an original work of authorship’ that protect tweets via copyright is often an act of futility. First broadcast of images over twitter did get a lot of play when the space shuttle launched and one image began circulating. But, while it may be difficult to track the original tweet/image it is possible.

        You’re right, though, the average user is not going to spend too much time to identify an original source.

    2. Cory,

      Copyright is a funny thing because it really has nothing to do with ‘getting your name out there’ and more about letting the copyright owner decide who can do what with their work. It may seem odd, but there are copyright owners who don’t want people ‘promoting’ them.

      It becomes a slippery slope because if you use the argument that ‘any PR is good PR’ copyright holders risk having their works associated with topics/issues/organizations/people/ideas that they may not personally align with.

  18. Hi Sara

    Thank you for your article. It is good to have a perspective from someone who has a legal background. I happened to post something on my blog last night on this very subject. I am also concerned about the snippet that Ben posted. Since I am not a lawyer my understanding may not be correct but the fact that Pinterest has it in their TOS, even though they may never do anything like that leaves the door open and gives them the ability to do just that if they decide to.

    They may not do it with content that someone has repinned because the repinner doesn’t legally own that content. But what if a person like myself pins their own content? As the TOS is written I own it, I pinned it and I have given them the rights to do whatever they like with my content simply by using the site.


    1. Arlene,

      There obviously is a lot of interpretation of the Pinterest TOS out there. And, when it comes to lawyers if you get 2 of us together we’re likely to give you 4 different opinions. 😉

      Unfortunately, it’s going to take someone suing/being sued to get this all straightened out. I think that’s unfortunate. I would gladly work with Pinterest to give them some real-life perspective on how the law and online copyright are intersecting and creating so much uncertainty. If only they would contact me.

      While the Pinterest TOS say that you should only pin your content or that for which you have a license, their entier business model overlooks that and encourages pinning anything and everything. As such, it would be difficult for Pinterest/Cold Brew Labs to determine exactly what is yours or someone else’s even if you are pinning.

      I still stand by my reading that even though the Pinterest TOS reads very broadly, the use of the word ‘only’ limits the license significantly to those things listed after the word ‘only’ which is “… on, through or by means of the Site, Application or Services.” This limitation is significant because the site is not an eCom site and is simply a virtual pinboard. It’s one thing to monetize by offering ads on the site. It’s something completely different to change their business model and use uploaded content to sell to 3rd parties when the original TOS agreed to did not contemplate such a far-reaching scenario. This contemplated ‘sell’ must take place ‘only on, through or by means of …’ which is not be the same as taking images from a server and offering them to some 3rd party via some other platform OR changing the platform for which the TOS apply at the time of agreement.

      Unfortunately, there are good lawyers who write things for which they do not have a clear understanding. That doesn’t make them a bad lawyer. But it does end up creating problems down the road. This is why litigators hate transactional attorneys.

  19. You wrote:
    I do have serious concerns about Pinterest hosting full-size images on their server, often without knowledge or permission from the original copyright holder. In doing this, Pinterest removes all references to the the original source. That creates significant issues with copyright (as well as other issues), especially when the copyright holder may not have provided authorization, tacit or otherwise, for the redistribution of the image. Now, the image can easily be redistributed without any determination of whether the image is protected by copyright.”
    This has been my concern since the beginning. I see very little discussion of this. I did start seeing some discussion of this recently though. Why not link to the image in the original. The pins are what are catching eyes. We look at a tinier image if we look at a whole pinboard. Why does Pinterest display a full image? Why not link directly to the full image on the original site?

    1. Maureen, you’re right that there hasn’t been much discussion about Pinterest stripping URLs and hosting full-size images on their servers. I’m not sure what the Pinterest model is, but it is definitely has some problems. The concept is terrific but the execution is not what I would expect from a professional organization.

  20. Sarah, THANK YOU for being a voice of reason. It seems like everyone is freaking out over this today, and I’ve heard of many who have actually deleted their Pinterest accounts over what amounts to nothing more than a system of online bookmark sharing. I don’t ever download images to upload to Pinterest, and I always click the pinned image and follow it back to it’s source if I want to re-pin something I’ve seen, and I pin it from the source. One thing I HAVE done though, just in the last 2 days, is changed my photo watermark to include my whole URL so that people can see where the image and post came from, whether from Pinterest or from Google Images. As far as I can see, the burden of proof of copyright still falls on the shoulders of the person who originally posted and hosts the image… of course, I’m NOT a lawyer, but that is just common sense. So is not taking photos that you don’t have permission to take. Definitely not worth deleting my Pinterest account over it!

    1. Dawn, I think it’s an excellent idea to watermark all images. Honestly, I’d put a full disclaimer on the image even though it would detract slightly from the purpose of the image.

      When it comes to copyright violations for pins/repins, if Pinterest is diligent in processing DMCA takedowns then I think they’ll have a better argument under Safe Harbor rules. It’s when Pinterest/Cold Brew Labs is itself engaging in the copyright infringement that the waters begin to get very muddy.

      You’re right that it is the pinner/re-pinner who may be infringing the copyright. I’m not so sure, though, that Pinterest/Cold Brew Labs is as innocent in all of this as some of the prior peer-to-peer sharing platforms. The entire business model for Pinterest is based on copyright violation. Unlike some of the prior music ‘sharing’ networks, there are limited legitimate reasons for pinning/repinning a copyrighted work.

      I don’t know if it’s worth deleting your Pinterest account if you can take steps to protect your own work. In allowing others to pin your work, the least you can do is watermark so that there is no question who owns the work. Is it the best solution? No. But it’s better than having something falsely attributed to someone else and they get the benefit.

  21. Thanks for this article! It’s very nice to have Pinterest cleared up some for me. I’ve been hearing rumors and getting a bit skittish about it. It appears that I have been staying legal, just because, for the most part, it means being considerate of the original author of a work. Interestingly, I found your article from a pin! 🙂

    1. Maureen, thanks for stopping by. A few people have pinned this article and that I know all have asked permission. 🙂

      The challenge with Pinterest is that any pinning of a copyrighted work is a potential incident of copyright infringement. I know that everyone means well, but it demonstrates how technology and copyright laws have progressed at such different paces.

      Being considerate of the author is definitely a start and if they want you to pin their work, then support them.

  22. Thanks for the great tips on how to avoid the pit falls of copyrights, this article should help many who don’t want to get sued for copyright infringement, and hopefully many will find it.

  23. Wow! So glad that I read this.

    I assumed – yuk – that if something was on someone’s board, it was legit. My thought was that Pinterest is such a great, visible way to bookmark the sites, blogs, freebies, recipes, art work, photography, etc., that I was interested in or I wanted to recommend others to and I would not have to remember who the original owner and site was. Made sense to me! And it is so quick to click on one of my boards and get to the website of a tutorial, blog or just to look to see what is new in any of these areas.

    I am now going to make a board of Pinterest legal issues and just plain rules of decency! And then do some Spring Cleaning!

    Thanks for taking the time to inform. I will do my part and pass along!

    1. Bobbie, Your assumption about Pinterest wasn’t wrong. It’s exactly how they have marketed their own site. The problems came about because Pinterest is using a different methodology for the peer-to-peer image sharing than those that have already been litigated and determined to be safe.

      There is a lot of talk about the copyright issue, and rightly so. But how it finally gets resolved may take more time than the various players are willing to invest. It’s definitely a watch-and-see proposition.

  24. Well, 2 seconds into my good deed of “passing along good information” and just read that I need to ask permission to “pin” the legal articles on a board! You can certainly tell I am such a novice to all the techie stuff :o).

    Before I do anything else, I’ll first do my spring cleaning!

    May I pin this article to a board? Your article is so easy for us old and novice techie people to understand that it would be great for everyone.


  25. Really great and useful post!
    I mostly post my own pictures on my blog but recently I posted a picture from Pinterest and added Pinterest as the source. I will do that differently now. As an (amateur) photographer I would like to be credited for my own work too!

    1. Mirjam, thank you for stopping by. Glad I was able to help you change how you pin photos. Definitely want to make sure you (or other artists) are noted as the originator of the work.

  26. Wonderful article. Thank you so much taking the time to explain the TOS. Mind if I re-pin? I will certainly link back. 🙂


  27. Is the copyright issue just about photographic images? I am not sure what you can safely pin or re-pin & what you can’t. If I am on the New Yorker web site and I want to pin an article & use the photo that comes up, is that OK? If I am pinning a TV show I like and an image of the show comes up, is that ok? Can a pin a pair of shoes I like from a retailers online site or a living room from a home site? A photographer I know who is vehemently anti-Pinterest just posted a link to a site where he was featured today on Facebook. Clearly there is a share button & I know he would love his friends to share on FB, why would he be upset if I pinned it? Also, if web sites have the share button, is that giving permission. I guess I am not sure what types of things are copyrighted and what aren’t. Pinterest is great eye candy & a nice change from FB & Twitter. I would never appropriate anyone;’s content as my own but I would hate to be sued when all I was doing was promoting art or other things I like. Still confused. Thanks.

    1. No, the copyright issue isn’t just for photographic images. You bring up interesting questions – if the image on the New Yorker website is a licensed photo then per the Pinterest Terms of Service you shouldn’t pin it. But, then we go back to the article and should you pin that since you may not have a license to do so.

      Same with the shoes or the living room example you use. Few of us have any license or right to images/content posted so the violations of the Pinterest TOS are obvious and Cold Brew Labs (the owner of Pinterest) knows this.

      One could argue that having a share button is giving permission, but no one knows for sure why the person has it on their site.

      You sum up most people’s view very nicely – Most Pinterest users don’t want to misappropriate another person’s content they just want to tell their friends about it and show off things they like. Unfortunately, the site has created liability for nearly every user.

  28. Would most of this headache go away if Pinterest just downgrades the quality of the images – turning them into thumbnails essentially? Bc that sounds like the crux of the argument and seems like it would be simple enough to do so I’m a bit confused why they don’t just do it… It may lose some uber-visual users, but would retain a significant portion of users for whom the images are helpful but not everything (as in pretty bookmarks).

    1. Kelly, the size of the images used on Pinterest is only one of the issues. The other has to do with whether the website is designed to induce copyright infringement. There is some legal precedent that Pinterest’s lawyers should have consulted before making the site live. While it may not have been a template on how to have a site that doesn’t infringe copyright or induce others to do so, these prior cases would have been very helpful in making modifications of the now-known Pinterest platform.

      Basically, there are issues with Pinterest’s lack of inline linking as well as the size of the pinned item.

      In addition, there are concerns about their Terms of Use. But, with regard to pinned content, yes, if Pinterest’s lawyers looked up the prior case law much of this could have been avoided.

  29. Great read.

    I’m one of those folks who really appreciates having my stuff pinned. Pinterest is an invaluable referrer to my blog and because my stuff is all recipe related, the picture/pin doesn’t end on Pinterest. People click through to my blog.

    Here’s my question. I’ve never been inclined to watermark my images b/c I don’t fancy myself a professional photographer. But I’m wondering if I should solely because it then removes a level of liability to others who want to pin it? In other words, I’m ensuring I always get credit, so they can feel free to pin?

    1. Regan,

      Adding a watermark would be a way to ensure that all images belonging to you marked as such. You could even put ‘Pin Me’ in the watermark, along with your name/blog, if you want.

  30. hi Sara, great article and I hope I didn’t miss this answer through all the replies,
    however, do we have permission to “pin” your article?

    To make it easy for my fellow Pinners, I have a pin it button on my sites and I also watermark all my images.

    Thank you for this.

    1. Thank you for stopping by and glad you liked my article enough to want to pin it. Yes, you may pin it as long as it links directly back here.

  31. Any site which causes the level of copyright concerns to artists and photographers which Pinterest has needs to get its act together fast.

    The revised terms of service are an improvement (eg clearer statements that members can and should upload only content they own or have permission to use; Pinterest can no longer purport to sell an image without the copyright owner’s permission).

    * images are still orphaned via Pinterest – due to metadata being stripped out – * full size images are reproduced on this site rather than thumbnails and depriving originators of traffic and visitors to their site (why go to the originating site if you’ve already seen the image?)
    * Pinterest members are still pinning work unaware that they are breaking the law because they never read the TOS or simply do not care.

    It’s only a matter of time before artists and photographers start issuing invoices for the fees due for unauthorised reproduction by members AND Pinterest. It’s probably not how anybody intended to make money from their images – but if that’s what it takes to make the point………

    It’s time Pinterest started to ask questions of those pinning images – during the process of pinning – eg Do you own this image or do you have clear permission from the copyright owner to use it?

  32. Good day! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I really enjoy reading your articles. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that go over the same topics? Thank you so much!

  33. Hi, I know it’s late, but I just wanted to thank you for including a reference to my blog. Great article on a great topic- one that continues to become more important as Pinterest becomes more popular. Thanks!

  34. Have you ever thought about creating an ebook or guest authoring on
    other websites? I have a blog based on the same ideas you
    discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information.
    I know my audience would appreciate your work. If you are even remotely interested, feel free to send me an e-mail.

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