Problems with Pinterest?

*Let me start this by saying I still have a Pinterest account, and still have my pins visible. My research did not cause me to remove anything I had pinned.


Lately there has been a lot of talk on the internet about Pinterest and copyright violations. By now, most of us have read this article about a Photographer who looked at the terms of service, and promptly deleted all her boards. Today I see that Flickr has given users an opt in/out to allow their images to be pinned or not. In the article, it points to a link on Flickr’s forum where users were discussing Pinterest and the use of the opt-out button. Many of the commenters were for the opt-out button, and happy their work wouldn’t be taken and pinned to Pinterest without their consent. Although, as one commenter pointed out, if they post an image to a blog (or elsewhere online), it can still be pinned from that location, which is a risk we all take when posting things on the internet. My friend, Carrie, says, “I like that Flickr is going that route. People SHOULD be able to choose whether or not their stuff is pinable by others. That being said, I (mostly) agree with the person in the article who thinks it’s bizarre that people would view Pinterest as such a huge copyright issue.”

As a blogger, I see the need to protect your intellectual property, and wanting to make sure that you get credit for images you create and that they aren’t used for things without your consent. But as a user of Pinterest who has been inspired by images and who loves finding new things, I find myself torn. I have had my images pinned to Pinterest, and find it flattering that someone wants to pin an image of what I’m wearing, or a DIY I did last year. I don’t feel like people are saving my image to use it maliciously, but because they think “oh great idea, come back to it later.”

That’s what I feel Pinterest is, at its core; a great big inspiration board of stuff you like, with links back to the source. But, it appears that even though that might be the thought behind the uber popular website, it’s not something everyone is comfortable with. I reached out to a few bloggers, a photographer, a store owner, and a general user of Pinterest to get their opinions on pinterest and how they feel about this controversy.

Kara, from Unusual Form, says, “As a personal-style blogger, I’m always incredibly flattered when someone pins one of my outfits. It means that I’ve put together an outfit that someone has found interesting or inspiring. One of the reasons that I post my outfits each day is so that I can be an inspiration to my readers. I find a lot of my own inspiration from other blogs as well, so you’ll see that my pin boards are filled with photos of other bloggers. Isn’t that what blogging is all about? Sharing?

Kara is one of the Pinterest users I follow, and I’m always quick to repin something she posts that I find inspiring, and I’ve noticed she does the same to things I post. That, in its essence, is what Pinterest is about.

Another person I’m constantly repining is Neeka, owner of Since Neeka is a frequent user of Pinterest, pinning her deal of the day, lookbook images and inspiration, I thought she would have an interesting point of view on the use of Pinterest. She says she “loves seeing organic pins of [ merchandise and images] on Pinterest.”

When asked if she feels Pinterest is beneficial to her business, driving traffic to her shop, or helping get her store name out there, Neeka says yes. “I find it very beneficial to my business. We are getting more linkbacks to our site without having to pay for them. Pinterest is the second largest traffic generator [for us]. I love Pinterest and can’t wait to see where it goes.”

Interestingly enough, I found many other business on Pinterest, including Karen Kane, Modcloth, Kate Spade and more. Anthropologie has an account, and while they’re following over 4,000 people, they have yet to pin anything themselves. It appears that many businesses are jointing Pinterest, most likely for the same reason Neeka did- free marketing and inspiration.

While all these businesses are fashion-based, I wondered what a different business, such as a photographer would have to say. I found this image from Procopio Photography on Pinterest, and immediately pinned it on one of my own boards.
(Source: Procopio Photography- used with permission!)

Curiously, I followed it back to the website it’s linked to, which then links to the photographer’s website. I contacted them, to ask how they feel about Pinterest. Cicely says they haven’t “quite formed an opinion about Pinterest yet. It’s funny that you are emailing me about it, because our most recent blog post was the first time we added watermarks. We did that so when pinned, more of our images would be tracked back to us.” You’ll notice that the image I fell in love with was posted prior to their inclusion of watermarks, and can only be traced back to the source by clicking through.

Cicely goes on to say she “loves that [Pinterest] is a new source that people can find us, but I don’t like when images are improperly linked, or not at all, to the source.” Well, therein lies the problem that most people seem to have with Pinterest. The problem seems to be less about Pinterest itself, but more about the link backs, or lack thereof.

Much like the writer of the first post, I found myself perusing Pinterest’s terms of service to see what I got out of it. Boy, you’re not going to like it.

According to this passage of the terms of service, when a user pins something, they are accepting that they are the owner of that image, and are giving Pinterest their consent to have it on their website. Well, that seems a little odd, because of the images pinned from my blog, I haven’t pinned any of them. That means whoever pinned them was (technically) giving MY consent for the images to be up there.


But even more concerning to me was this passage, “We may, in our sole discretion, permit Members to post, upload, publish, submit or transmit Member Content. 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.” Basically, by uploading an image, pinning one from whatever blog you’re reading, or pinning your own image, you’re giving Pinterest the rights to do WHATEVER THEY WANT with that image. Meaning they can sell it if they wanted to, just because YOU uploaded it.

If that doesn’t make your skin crawl, I don’t know what else will. But I’m sure it will be this next part I found might help do the trick.

“Cold Brew Labs grants you a limited, non-exclusive, non-transferable license, without the right to sublicense, to access, view, download and print any Pinterest Content solely for your personal and non-commercial purposes.” Awesome. So that means that technically I can print off any of the images on Pinterest or download them to my own computer, according to these terms of service. I don’t think anyone knowingly signed up for THAT. I think Amanda from Prim and Propah says it best; “I have read articles that make me worry that people misuse Pinterest/ infringe on copyright laws without even knowing it.”

Now, after having read through these terms, I find myself wondering what I can do to protect myself and protect my images. My answer? Leave the Internet forever. Seriously. If you don’t want your images on Pinterest, downloaded to someone’s hard drive or potentially licensed by Pinterest, sign off right now and break your computer and never return. Carrie, a general user of Pinterest (someone without a blog or business tied to an account), thinks that might be a little too extreme. She equates freaking out about images you chose to put online similar to someone complaining they don’t like cats, while seven cats are climbing in their lap (great mental image, right?) She also goes on to say, “if you don’t want to play on the playground, stay inside for recess. Now kindly get the eff out of my way so I can play Red Rover.”

According to the terms of service, if you pin something you don’t have the rights to, or isn’t a public image, you violate the terms of service. So what does that mean? Does that mean someone pinning an image from my blog is violating the terms because it’s not an image they own, or is it OK because I put that image online for anyone to view? Huge grey area.
Another thing to realize is that sometimes bloggers (and other outlets) use sourced images (like the one above from Procopio Photography) and those images can and are pinned. Look at this screencap of images pinned from my blog.
Did I take all of these images? No. Did I source them on my blog? Yes. I crossed out the ones that are not my images, but ones I sourced in a post.

So what does that mean? Are we in direct violation of Pinterest’s terms by pinning images from sites that are only sourced on that site? Technically, yes. Therefore, everything from Tumblr is in direct violation, in addition to many, many images from blogs, websites, articles and more.
Again, what can we do? Basically, nothing unless Pinterest goes away (doubtful), or someone sues. Of all the people I talked to, no one seems to be concerned or worried, and with the influx of businesses jumping on board, I don’t know if anything will come of these alleged copyright violations. My only suggestion is to be careful with what you pin, and pin thoughtfully. Many businesses and blogs that don’t mind being pinned have links to Pinterest on every page, item or post.

If you’re not sure, ask! The image I found from Procopio Photography I pinned prior to asking them about it, and thankfully, they’re on board with being pinned. They also responded to my email within 24-hours, even though it was only to get information for this article, not an inquiry about their services.

If you choose to delete your Pinterest boards, I suggest you reach out to Pinterest to tell them why. If you choose not to, pin thoughtfully! Personally, I really enjoy Pinterest, and I hope they will respond to these copyright problems and offer solutions to those who don’t want their images pinned, without it having to result in legal action.

What do you think? Do you use Pinterest, why or why not?


15 thoughts on “Problems with Pinterest?

  1. Reading that article and doing my own research, I got myself all anxious about being sued haha but at the end of the day, I am keeping my Pinterest because I love having these inspiration boards right there waiting for me. That being said, I will be pinning more thoughtfully in the future because one never knows. xo Coincidentally, I was looking at my blog traffic and a lot recently has been driven from a DIY post someone pinned from me, which then got pinned another 15 times in a day. Pinterest is definitely a blogger’s friend in my humble opinion.

  2. Great article. I’m glad you posted it. I’m actually thinking about making a policy page on my blog (I’ve needing to for a while). On that policy page I could give my readers permission to pin any original image from my blog as long as it has proper link back, then everyone pinning from my site would be doing it properly, I think. Haha.

  3. I think you are completely right about “not playing on the playground” – the playground called the internet. I have a collection of fashion outfits that I’ve collected from various style sites, but I keep them private for my own personal use as inspiration. They aren’t out there for anyone to grab or use. Nor do I go out and say that they are mine, since I only use them to help me get dressed in the morning 🙂 I think as all these new social network sites pop up, people are starting to come to the realization that not everything needs to be shared or put “out there” on the web. Like you said, if you have concerns about someone stealing your work, keep it to yourself. Or license it (like you have) with a public creative commons license! Facebook and Tumblr have both had issues like this arise, and I have personally had serious conflicts with Tumblr, the whole idea of a blogging platform based around a “reblog” of someone else’s content, you just hope and pray that the blogger is going to quote you, link back to you, or hold back from altering any content that they reblog from your blog (which is just a simple DELETE here or there!) These issues are only getting started, and we have so much more to learn! Great post!

  4. I know that my own concern about this has caused me to slow my activity on Pinterest. I suspect it is just a matter of time until someone DOES file a lawsuit…and I would hate to be the test case. I know that everything I’ve pinned can be linked back to its original source, but I am still very concerned. Thanks for investigating this.

  5. I’ll go ahead and disagree wit some of this. Is pining a picture of a purse from the Kate Spade website (and linking it properly) any different that printing off a picture and putting it on an IRL inspiration board? I’m sure some of you are saying YES there is a difference.

    However… What if you then take a photo of said inspiration board and post it to your blog without linking where you found every single thing on that board? Regardless of the media delivery system, be it print or digital, the only person responsible for the safekeeping of their property, photos or what have you, is the person who originated the item. Watermark your photos or trademark, copyright, embed your work. If you don’t, then you really only have yourself to blame. It’s not like we all thought the Internet was safe until this article was written. People rob banks and shoplift IRL all the time. Why would virtual reality be any different?

    Be smart and take care of your art.

  6. Suze! This post is really well written and put together! Props!

    And also, definitely agree with the playground thing. I also think sourcing on the internet just need to start being a part of usage. I’ve only recently really got the hang of it. I know at one point Pinterest had a warning pop-up when one was pinning from tumblr, encouraging the user to find the original source. Not sure if they still do that, but it seems like a good reminder.

    Pinterest has actually helped me hugely in my sourcing habits. I used to store images in files on my desktop. If I ever wanted to post the images somewhere, there’s no way I could remember where I got them from.

    and there are just so many pretty things. 🙂

  7. I’m not a huge Pinterest user, but I do add a few pins weekly. I’ve read the articles about Pinterest and stopped to think about what all this means for me and my blog. I see pinning as similar to Tumblr or pulling a photo from another blog to post on my own blog. It’s a way of sharing inspiration with others and remembering where I saw things. It drives traffic to my blog, which is always a good thing. I think if we all try and use it fairly, making sure to link or credit the original source than Pinterest can be used in a way to build community and followers. – Katy

  8. This was a very good article and like you I’m a bit torn. I guess as a child of the pre-internet days, I always believed that nothing is private, sacred, etc. on the internet. As consumers, we want free access to information and with that need comes the dangers of losing privacy and security. I actually don’t blame Pinterest for those Terms of Service. In essence, they are covering their butts from a lawsuit. This is also a classic case of how laws can’t keep up with technology. Until someone brings civil action will things be looked at and reassessed. Does it bother me? Yeah a little, but in the end I only post things to the internet that if one day it may end up on a jumbo screen in Times Square I would be cool with it. Those images that I do pin will always have a link back to it – that’s how I cover my butt!

  9. Hi Suze,
    I’ve been a long time reader of your blog but not a commenter, but this time I did have to say something because I think you are mistaken on this issue. Pinterest DOES offer an opt-out for publishers, it’s called the nopin tag. Any image with the nopin attribute cannot be pinned to Pinterest, making sure that ANY content creator or publisher is in complete control of what content shows up on Pinterest. Adding the tag is as simple as adding an alt tag to your image. So it seems like you’re worked up over nothing.

    More info:

    Thanks, Andrea

    • Thanks for your response Andrea. I am aware of the nopin tag, and I think it’s a great option for people who don’t want their images pinned. My curiousity was peaked about people pinning items that might be on my blog (or another) but are used with permission from someone else, and what the TOS of Pinterest state, which are slightly alarming.
      I use Pinterest, and find it very helpful and useful, but do wish it was a little clearer/easier/simpler for those who do not want their images pinned to be able to do so. But, we also run the risk of anyone being able to steal our images when we put them online.
      Personally, my only issues with Pinterest are some of the things in the TOS that make copyright issues and place the “ownership” of the image with the person who pinned it, regardless of if they’re really the person who owns it or not.
      Thank you so much for the link- I think it’s something that more people should know about!

  10. Hi again Suze, for some reason I can’t reply to the last comment using my Twitter account so I will leave another comment. 🙂

    I totally see your point on that. My advice to anyone who publishes images that don’t belong to them on their blog (like you do, with their permission), would be to ask the originator if they are OK with their images being pinned from your page. If they don’t explicitly say that it’s OK, then the image should always be posted with the nopin tag to protect yourself and the content originator. I know it sounds annoying, but it could just be another step in the process of asking permission.

    I think as long as people who are republishing images have that person’s permission to post without the nopin tag, then that would be the best possible outcome.

    • I think that makes total sense, and would be the best way to go. I think it’s an easy way to “save” ourselves from potential issues in the future. I mean, who knows if anyone really WOULD attempt legal action against anyone on Pinterest, but I certainly don’t want to become the test case!

  11. I will say this to the person above Pinterest only JUST allowed the opt out. So there are already a couple hundred pins on there that are from my site despite me putting a notice on my blog asking not to do it. I am installing the opt out but it doesn’t remove all the previous pins. So everyone who pinned me did not have my persmission and when I contacted Pinterest at the time they said there was nothing they could do.
    So it isnt’ getting worked up over “nothing” it bothers some people. I know it bothered me seeing my images there getting pinned and repinned and people removing the original text. I had a company pin something I had used with the users permission and their text said something totally different on the pin.

  12. Great research and points! I deleted my Pinterest account after looking into their TOS and licensing practices. It didn’t really affect my life all that much…I collected inspiration long before Pinterest using Evernote, Google Reader, browser bookmarks, etc., and that’s what I’m back to using.

    It wasn’t so much that I was concerned about getting caught doing anything or not attributing original sources, but more the fact that I felt bad giving Pinterest license to use something that wasn’t mine, regardless of how widely available it is on the Internet. A lot of what I pinned was original art, and to think that I was giving Pinterest carte blanche to then use an artist’s creation for their own commercial gain without any remission to the artist made me uncomfortable. Yes, some people might point fingers at an artist for not watermarking, etc., but to me, that’s sort of like blaming sexual harrassment in the workplace on a woman’s clothing. It doesn’t excuse the behavior. I have the same issue with websites like Tumblr, so I stay away from those, too. Everyone uses Pinterest slightly differently, though, so they may not have the reservations that I do.

    I don’t mind if people pin my images. I put them out there, the Internet does what it will, and I’m cool with that. But my blog doesn’t bring in an income, unlike an artist’s work is their bread and butter. And from a non-expert legal standpoint, Pinterest’s TOS is actually quite clever and makes it easy for them to continue getting users and dodging any ramifications.

  13. I feel like the TOS is such a fuck you to the users (we’ll enable and encourage you to do things and then toss a few words at you to cover our asses legally).

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