what people are talking about: pinterest & copyright

pinterest copyright.jpg

update: pinterest has updated it's terms. read on for more info!

as you may have already guessed, i LOVE pinterest. it has been a huge source of traffic to build a little biz, i find so much ‘pinspiration’ over there, and i love having a place to bookmark all of the stuff i love. (i even have a ‘vision board’ for 2012 going, and have found that it really keeps me focused on what i want out of life/biz this year. i am totally on the ‘vision board’ bandwagon!)

the post i wrote about using pinterest for biz has been read, shared, tweeted, and pinned (yay!) many times, and i have been asked by other champions of women in biz to jump in and help out with pinterest tips. it’s very cool and i plan to keep talking about pinterest, even in light of copyright concerns.

because there are definitely some questions coming in to play about the use of pinterest by anyone, for any reason, let alone the effect of pinterest on businesses that are image based (eg photographers, artists, etc.) or that sell their unique designs (eg handmade businesses, artisans, etc.)

so here is a bit of explanation as to the concerns being raised about pinterest, as well as my take on this issue. please note: i am definitely not a lawyer, also definitely not an expert. and i am totally going to simplify and talk in layman’s terms here – so do read the posts i have linked to because smarter people than me are talking about this in much more detail.

you should read these too: pinterest etiquette & terms.

these are the primary concerns i have seen raised:


in its etiquette, pinterests asks users to NOT self-promote. ie they want you to pin other people’s images more often than you post your own

yet in its terms, pinterest states that you cannot pin things unless you are the exclusive owner of those images, or you have consent from the owner.

this is a very good explanation of this issue. basically, we are in a catch 22. by the very nature of pinterest – we pin and repin images from anywhere (they have even made a pin it button for your toolbar to make it easy to pin anyone’s image) – we are all in violation.

UPDATE - pinterest removed this statement from the etiquette and the focus in the terms is on you sharing your content (or that which you have permission to share.)

i still don't think businesses should use it solely to promote themselves/their biz ALL OF THE TIME (you know, that yucky spam-ish behaviour that no one likes) and pinterest does remind you to 'be authentic' (ie not a walking advertisement or sales pitch?)


in its etiquette, pinterest asks users to properly attribute pins, pinning from the permalink of the source site (not from sites like tumblr, google images, etc. and not from saving images from facebook and then uploading them to pinterest yourself.)

yet at this time pinterest is not taking down pins that aren’t properly attributed, and so the problem of images being shared without crediting the author is perpetuated.

this site talks about this issue and is on a mission to remind people to ‘link with love’

update: the ettiquette clearly reminds people to credit sources and link properly, encouraging you to go find the source if you see the pin is not sourced. the onus seems to be on the user, it doesn't seem like pinterest is taking down pins that aren't linked or sourced properly.


in its terms, pinterest states that when you share content on its site you grant them the license to use, copy, adapt, modify, distribute, sell, transfer, etc.… that content.

facebook, google etc. have similar language, but the problem with pinterest is the use of the word SELL in particular. 

read more about this issue here and here too.

update: pinterest remove this from the terms. read what they have to say about it here on the pinterest blog.


when you upload an image to pinterest, it is not saved as a ‘thumbnail’ image (which is what google images does), it is a full copy of the image (in the same resolution & size as the original). so there really isn’t incentive for pinners to go to the original site and there is question as to whether this violates copyright as it is a full copy of someone else’s work.

read more about this issue (and the others as well) here and also here.

update: as far as i know pinterest hasn't said anything about this issue. but i thought this post was interesting: pinterest is getting flack but is certainly not the only site with these concerns...


the embed code allows bloggers/website owners to very easily add images found on pinterest to their own sites. yes, the embed code names the source and if you click on the image you can eventually get to the source, but really the embed code leads you to pinterest. this means that pinterest gets the traffic and pinterest gets the link (SEO), not the authour or original source.

it also means that people are easily using images found on pinterest without getting the consent of the authour. so again, even though pinterest says they want you to only use images with the consent of the authour they make it really easy to embed images without that consent.

update: again the onus is on the user. you should only pin/share/embedd images that you have permission to do so. if you are not sure, then you should not pin or share it.


in its terms, pinterest states that you take on the sole risk of using the site and not violating any one’s copyright. so even though pinterest is set up to easily pin stuff, you as the pinner are the one that will be held accountable if something you pin violates copyright.

this post explains the legal/copyright concerns very well.

ok. so here’s my take:

pinterest is still relatively new. and there is no way they are oblivious to these concerns. they have already responded to some of the copyright concerns in this blog post here, so i think they will continue to address them and improve the user experience.

i hope they do something about the terms that they can sell our images. i don’t see actually how that would ever fly, the backlash would be huge. i am guessing that because pinterest hasn’t actually got a plan yet for how to make money off of their idea, they have included this so that they could use pinned images in ads perhaps?

and i hope they adjust their terms, etiquette, and user experience to ensure that authors are credited and sources are properly linked – perhaps asking that all original pins come from the owners themselves or from the pin it buttons the owner provides (thereby giving permission to repin)? perhaps removing the embed code so that people cannot easily embed images to their own sites without author permission? 

as far as concerns i have about my own work being copied? i am a photographer, i am a designer, and i am an author, so you would think this would worry me. it doesn’t.

i share my work online all over the place. pinterest is no bigger issue than facebook, my blog, google image searches, right off my website, whatever… if someone is going to copy my stuff, they will copy it whether pinterest exists or not. i believe the benefits of sharing my work online far outweigh the risk of it being copied.

i want people to pin my stuff. i ask them to pin it and give them the button to do so. so i see that as giving my permission. most people social share for the love of what you do (not because they intend to copy.)

what can you do?

  • add pin it buttons to images you would love your fans to pin and share. include your own name & website in the description to improve the chances of staying linked to your image.
  • watermark your images with your name and/or website to reduce the chances people taking credit for your image and maintain your authorship. include your logo too as a way to increase brand recognition! 
  • consider adding a statment to your site and below each of your images stating your terms for use of your image or idea (like this blogger suggests) 
  • if you do not want images pinned from your site – add the no pin code
  • when pinning from other sites look for ‘pin it’ buttons, or a note about permission to pin/share with credit to the author and links to the source
  • if you want to use an image in a blog post, newsletter etc, ask the author for permission. and do not use the embed code, link to the source directly so the author gets the SEO benefit & traffic
  • create your own images for use on your blog/site/news etc. rather than risking violating copyright (use photoshop, GIMP, picassa, picnic, etc. to make your own graphics)
  • if you notice that a pin is not linked to the source, don’t repin it. if you do a look around you will probably find a pin that is correctly sourced, or try a reverse image search on google
  • let pinterest know about your concerns over their terms/etiquette/user experience. their contact email is in the terms. if enough people raise these questions we can hope they are addressed.
  • if you are aware of copyright infringement (of your work or someone else’s) report it to pinterest
  • leave pinterest now. if you feel you cannot use pinterest based on these concerns, delete your boards 

me? i am going to stay, and see how this plays out. i will make every effort to stick to the spirit of pinterest and respect the copyright of authors/designers/creators.

update: i will just re-iterate that you should only pin things if you are sure the author as made it clear on their site that they allow it and if you want your stuff to be pinned then you should make it obvious on your site that you allow it. 

a final note about copyright & social sharing:

i do think the way we deal with the sharing of content & images is going to change, with the rise of social media and the internet. we cannot use these tools (social media, blogging, google search, image search) to promote our businesses (our content, our images, our products, and our expertise) yet complain that our work is being copied due to those tools in the same breath.

yes, there is risk. but if the benefits outweighs the risk, then i think online sharing is worth it. if not, then perhaps you should not be using online tools to promote your biz.

by the way, let’s be clear. i am NOT saying it is ok for people to copy anyone else’s work. it freaking sucks when it happens, and i hope the assholes that do that get it back in karma tenfold. but copying does happen, even if you don’t have a biz online. (people are probably eyeing up your stuff at your market stall and on the store shelves to get ideas.)

what i am saying is that perhaps with the popularity of social media as a tool for both businesses and individuals, we need get clear about what is considered copyright violation and what is considered to be well-intentioned social sharing.

i don’t know, what do you think? i would love to hear from you.

also: i would love for you to share this on pinterest, twitter, facebook, your newsletter, your blog... the more we talk about issues like this the better it is for little bizzes online!

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