Copyright Law and How it Affects Pinterest Users – Updated

Pinterest, the newest social media sensation that took the Internet by storm in 2011, has recently come under scrutiny for it’s carefully worded Terms of Service. Terms that hoist all copyright liability onto the user and give vague and broad image license to the company. It’s given quite a few bloggers and other users some pause when they consider the ramifications of what could happen.

Last month, popular DIY and craft blogger Amy Locurto of Living Locurto, wrote on her blog about the issue of images being hosted on Pinterest that has her rethinking the way she blogs and pins. She says:

“When someone pins your photo, it goes onto the Pinterest’s servers. You no longer have control of that image, Pinterest does. If you don’t want your image on Google or Yahoo, you just delete it from your blog or server. You don’t have that option with Pinterest. It’s there for anyone to repin and take whether you want them to or not.”

This can be extremely disheartening to bloggers who are working hard on their unique brand. There is already enough blatant misuse of copyrighted photos on the Internet as it is, but the Pinterest phenomenon seems to be making it much easier and much more rampant. Amy has decided to take action on her end by adding copyright language to all images she puts on her blog.

How does pinning violate copyright law? HubPages has an excellent summary of that.

“Copyright is the legal right of artists, authors, and photographers to decide how their own work is copied. (They may sell this right, and thus profit from their work.)

Therefore, giving credit and a link back does not satisfy copyright. You need permission.

Fair use does not say “it’s okay to repost someone’s work if you don’t make money on it.” “

Lawyer turned blogger, Sara Hawkins has also addressed the issue of copyright on her blog, Saving for Someday.

“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.”

Sara offers five ways to avoid copyright pitfalls on Pinterest which include, for the Pinterest user “always pin from the original source” and for the blogger/photographer/artist, “consider using watermarks” on your images.

On the heels of these revelations, Kirsten Kowalski, another lawyer turned photographer/blogger, wrote an emotionally charged blog post about why she deleted her pin boards. Turns out when she dug into Pinterest’s Terms of Service, she found out that she, the user, could be sued for violating copyright but Cold Brew Labs LLC (the company that owns Pinterest) would not be:

“This “defend and indemnify” stuff means that if some photographer out there decides that he or she does not want you using that photogs images as “inspiration” or otherwise and decides to sue you and Pinterest over your use of that photog’s images, you will have to hire a lawyer for yourself and YOU will have to hire a lawyer for Pinterest and fund the costs of defending both of you in court. Not only that, but if a court finds that you have, in fact, violated copyright laws, you will pay all damages assessed against you and all damages assessed against Pinterest. OUCH. Oh, but it gets better. Pinterest reserves the right to prosecute you for violations. Basically, Pinterest has its keester covered and have shifted all of the risk to you. Smart of them, actually since the courts are still deciding whether the site owner or the user should be ultimately responsible. Rather than wait for the decision, they have contractually made you the responsible one. And you agreed. (And by “you” I clearly mean “we”).”

Pinterest has not ignored all of this and shortly after the initial outcry, implemented an “opt-out code” that could be placed on a website so that images could not be directly pinned from it. There are numerous problems with this as Plagiarism Today points out:

“…several problems with the opt out system are instantly obvious.

  1. Not All Artists Can Opt-Out: If you don’t have control over your site’s template, such as being a Flickr user, you can’t add the code and, thus, you can’t opt-out. Unlike Google, which provides other means of removing your site, Pinterest only provides the code.
  2. It Doesn’t Stop All Pins: With Google, mostly Google Image Search, already the second most popular source for pins, Pinterest’s opt-out system won’t stop a large amount of the unwanted pinning that takes place.
  3. The Future: Finally, if we have to add a line of code to block Pinterst, what happens when the inevitable wave of Pinterest clones come around? Will artists have to add a separate line for each of them?”

Flickr does, in fact, have a way to “opt-out” of pinning. Katherine Tyrrell, of Making a Mark, has an excellent tutorial on Flickr privacy and sharing settings.

Incidentally, Katherine also successfully had all her pinned images removed from Pinterest’s website. She explains why and how in a two part series. If you are serious about your work not being used on Pinterest, follow Katherine’s advice and directions to have it removed.

In the end, it’s up to the user to decide how they will use Pinterest. Blogger Amy Lynn Andrews offers precautionary steps that everyone who uses Pinterest can take, including “don’t use the embed feature” and “pin only from sites that have the ‘Pin It’ button”.

Here at O2O, we’re using Pinterest to help promote blog posts that our members produce when they join a project. We also produced a pin board to help promote blog posts about BlissDom. If we are ever asked to remove a pin, we will do so happily and willingly.

UPDATED March 28, 2012 – Last week, Pinterest updated it’s Terms of Service, Acceptable Use Policy, and Privacy Policy. In a blog post, the Pinterest team summed up the most significant changes. In regards to being able to sell images you’ve uploaded to their site they say:

“Our original Terms stated that by posting content to Pinterest you grant Pinterest the right for us to sell your content. Selling content was never our intention and we removed this from our updated Terms.”

But the only indication they give about the question of copyright infringement is:

“We released simpler tools for anyone to report alleged copyright or trademark infringements.”

It was encouraging to see this acknowledgment near the end of the post:

“We’ve gotten a lot of help from our community as we’ve crafted these Terms.”

Good to know they really are listening.

Have any of these recent copyright revelations changed the way you use Pinterest? Let us know in the comments!


  1. I have read several online articles in the past couple of weeks about this. I have not changed the way I post to my site but I am considering putting a watermark on all of my photos and adding a disclaimer on my blog. Right now, Pinterest brings in lots of traffic to my blog so I would hate to not use it.

  2. With havin so much content and articles do you ever run into any problems of plagorism or copyright violation? My site has a lot of unique content I’ve either created myself or outsourced but it seems a lot of it is popping it up all over the web without my authorization. Do you know any methods to help prevent content from being stolen? I’d certainly appreciate it.

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