I’ve reached the moment when I cannot decide which end is up with Pinterest. I love what I share with my followers, and what they share with me. But I’m worried that I’m infringing on copyright with every pin I push. In a recent case of online copyright infringement, someone was ordered to pay $4000 for a stock image they mistakenly used.Adding up my pins using that random example, I would be able to buy all the baubles and gowns and settees I’ve pinned. And then some.

Take a moment to plug in the equation for your own pins.

It’s not pretty.

Lately I speak of Pinterest in earnest, hoping it will get better, as though it were a person in need of a support system to help it through a difficult time. But perhaps I’m just an enabler. I believed that the problems were about lack of respect on the part of pinners, and lack of work on the developers of the site to make it so easy to pull a tumblr. I love clicking on a pin of a brass étagère that takes me to a blog post that takes me to We Heart It and then a tumblr dead link at which point I begin wondering what on earth could possibly be worth this much time. And yet I keep trying. Trying to properly source stuff.

Oh, George Carlin, I hope you are laughing at me wherever you are.

Now back to the price of pinning. According to the Pinterest Terms, we all click and agree that:

“…you either are the sole and exclusive owner of all Member Content that you make available through the Site, Application and Services or you have all rights, licenses, consents and releases that are necessary to grant to Cold Brew Labs the rights in such Member Content, as contemplated under these Terms…”

Wait, what? Were these the terms when I joined? I don’t know.

A year ago, I thought pins fell under Fair Use, but now…I don’t know. Where’s the FAQ section for this? The Etiquette page says nothing about asking permission to post. (Though it does say original sources are “always preferable to a secondary source such as Google Image Search” – Really? )

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the rights, license, consent or release for 98% of what I’ve pinned, thinking that what I was doing was OK. I’m willing to admit when I’m wrong, only I don’t know if I am and could use some clarification.

Pinterest tells us to pin with abandon but clearly states that they are not responsible if images that shouldn’t be there are. They simply provide the hypothetical push pins.


Anything on this blog is under a Creative Commons license to share, but I require people ask permission. It’s written just above the CC terms. I don’t have CC licenses on my other sites. Those are strictly All Rights Reserved. Do I mind that some of my images, from this site and others, are on Pinterest? Not as long as they link back to the original source. But, per Pinterest’s Terms, nothing of mine should be on Pinterest unless I gave someone permission, or I’ve done it myself. And that should only be done in small ways because we’re not supposed to use it for self-promotion.

Do not self promote.

Do not pin content that you don’t own the copyright of.

Am I drunk?

I need Pinterest to explain to me how it’s legal to be doing what we’re doing. Tell me what I need to take down and I will. Immediately. I need them to tell me because the legalese is not making any sense. And I usually don’t have a hard time with such things.

Pinterest, there isn’t enough cork in the world for all the boards you’re adding every day, and yet, if it’s a sea of copyright infringement you’re encouraging, even accidentally, I want to know. Let’s fix this.  xo a.

 Please read these thought provoking posts here, here, and here, and let’s talk about this. We need to talk about this. This has to be easier to figure out than where the smoke monster went when the island disappeared.

ADDENDUM: Between work deadlines today, I have been culling my boards and deleting. Not because I fear lawsuits, but because I have never in my career erred on the side of “this might be OK so I’ll do it.” I don’t know why I started now.

I recently designed cards for TYPE A that may have infringed on copyright by use of a line of a poem I thought was in the public domain. I spent a hundred dollars or so in printing and hours in design, photography and calligraphy – but I won’t sell them because I am not sure. I have a small business and to throw those cards in the recycling bin wasn’t  loss I wasn’t happy to have, but I would NEVER do something that I thought could possibly infringe on someone’s copyright. Why am I not applying these same principals by which I live my life to Pinterest? I am now feeling like an absolute hypocrite.

So, I’m going to delete a bunch of my boards. I’ll leave up a few things, things I know I have the right to have placed there. Which should be about a dozen pins out of 752.

I still will fight for this, but each time I get notification something of mine has been repinned, I feel nauseous. I don’t want to feel that way anymore.

For those who want to permit their work to be shared on Pinterest, I will be creating a badge you can add that tells the world. I’ll also be designing one that says the opposite. I’ll let you know as soon as they’re up.


40 thoughts on “POST NO BILLS

    1. alexandrawrote Post author

      Seriously, thank you. I think that Link With Love has helped to bring together a community of people concerned about this very issue. And it’s not just Pinterest. I wrote just the other day about tumblr and the responsibilities of the tumblr-ers to fill in those little boxes for source and URL. As a web community, people are just not doing what’s right, and yet, for a great many, they have no concept of what that “right” is. Education is KEY. If they continue to do what they do once they have that info, then that’s a different situation.

    2. Bryan Farley

      You explained some of the problems I have with Pinterest.

      Something just doesn’t feel right. I want to like it, but I know what it takes to create an image. I am not sure that many social media companies know how to create and pay for quality imagery. Their business model seems to be built on other people’s images.

      I created a board called Photographishy. I post articles and photos about pinterest. (There are just a few.) Let me know when you finish your badge.

    1. alexandrawrote Post author

      Exactly. I am just baffled when I read what makes perfect sense from a copyright standpoint but then consider how Pinterest can exist to begin with. I want them to explain this because certainly a company with SO much money invested couldn’t be based on the notion that the average person would understand what copyright is – especially online where people believe that because you can access free content you then have the right to do with it what you’d like.

  1. Claire (thehalfheartedhousewife)

    Honestly, I’m about to delete my Pinterest account. Until they have an option for private boards, I think it’s more troublesome than it’s worth. I don’t want to steal other people’s content. I don’t even want to share what I’ve pinned with others. I want it to be what it’s name implies- a virtual inspiration board. One like I would keep in my office, where no one else could see it, that was full of images and ideas that inspired me. For personal use, within the bounds of copyright.
    I think that Pinterest grew so fast that its creators are as confused as its users as to what is proper, legal and right. Is each board like a mini-blog? Is it just a place for personal inspiration? Are you creating content (and thereby stealing) by virtue of putting together a collection of images (rather than, for example, linking to the same photos or webpages on your facebook wall)? If you can’t self-promote and you can’t promote other people’s work… what’s left?
    It’s all so much more complicated than I thought it would be when Pinterest started.

    1. alexandrawrote Post author

      Twitter and Facebook offer privacy while maintaining profits – social media sites succeed with privacy options all the time. I think it’s a great idea. And I think that deleting my account wouldn’t be the end of the world. But I really want this explained to me. I want to say I opt out for a reason other than being afraid it MIGHT be outside the realm of Fair Use. I want them to explain the facts so I can weigh my options.

      1. mskristiina

        I would LOVE privacy options. Pinterest is one of the best ways to keep track of inspiration but it’s a double-edged sword. I love to use it to track my sources instead of a word document like I used to do but now I have a copy cat so I can’t use it anymore. I would love to be able to block her or have a private board.

        I don’t dare delete my account because one of the main ways I get traffic is from pinning my own photos.

      2. alexandrawrote Post author

        If the terms say to pin what we own the copyright for, then I think pinning your own stuff is the one thing you can be sure falls under their Terms. And we know that the Pinterest traffic is better than google can offer! Best of luck!

      3. Frau Haselmayer

        I don’t understand why they do not provide private pinboards. I’d consider using it! Flickr offers different privacy options, too, and it’s really useful.

        But then it also doesn’t surprise me that Pinterest is not offering this option…

  2. andrea nicole

    great post. i wrote something similar today. but with more of a focus on tools to find the original source for an img. but it’s freaking me out. i sometimes feel like i’m falling into a black hole when i ATTEMPT to “pin down’ (ha.) the original source. there’s enough well-meaning people who are concerned and want to avoid copyright infringement.

    1. alexandrawrote Post author

      I agree. Education is key. People hardly understand copyright in print, and online it’s totally misunderstood – and yet they’re the same in both places in most cases. Knowledge is power.

  3. laurameeks

    Awesome article. I’d love to know the perimeters too. I see many fellow togs pin their own work, almost excessively due to seeing a jump in SEO benefits.

    I’m another on board for private boards. I’ve got multiple friends who create “fake” name accounts to keep stuff private. There should definitely be a way to still pin, under your own name, and limit viewers.

  4. Shaunna Keller

    Thanks to MsKristiina (^^ above) I found this post. It’s like a breath of fresh air. I myself would like to know the terms as well. I have carelessly pinned in the past and even used images that I am not 100% sure where they came from – but at one point you stop yourself and think, this is wrong. How is this happening? I strongly and highly suggest that Pinterest lays out the terms and really considers offering private boards or even entire accounts.

    The concept is amazing but the follow through needs to be as well. I attribute my huge increase in creativity and drive to start my own blog to Pinterest. The last thing I would want is to delete my account. But I’d rather know what it is I am actually doing to the rights of others and make my decision based on that.

    Thank you oh so much for broadcasting this to the world and letting us know we aren’t the only ones questioning this.


  5. nevrandil

    I am confused too. I can see how, if someone didn’t link from the original source, that would be a problem but overall I treat this as a virtual pinboard, like I would in my home. I cut out images from magazines and pin them. How is pinning something copyright infringement anyway? You’re not doing anything with it apart from bake that cake or knit that scarf?
    Baffling. Shared.


    1. alexandrawrote Post author

      I’m so glad you asked. There is nothing wrong with taking info from a magazine or website to make a cake/knit a scarf. But let’s compare Pinterest to a magazine. Imagine you had a recipe in Good Housekeeping that listed a link to your site or to buy your book. You may produce revenue from site traffic (at least enough to pay the cost of running the site where you give free recipes to the world) or book sales. But if someone took your recipe and reprinted it without citing you as the author, it devalues your work. And they might be profitting.

      I have had my photographs and writing published without permission and used by others to sell things. They’ve made a lot of money from my work. Without giving me any credit. That is not sharing. That is stealing. And it’s happening all over Pinterest every day to people I know.

      1. nevrandil

        That bit totally makes sense to me. Of course, the author should always be credited.

        Thanks 🙂


  6. Karen Anne

    I worked for years as a Curator of Visual Resources. Couldn’t get the profs or students to grasp that they couldn’t just grab any image off the web without infringing on copyright. So why did I go ahead and pin with abandon? Because it was fun and for MY inspiration. Guess in the morning my boards are gonna come down – I haven’t time to go image by image. What a sticky-wicket…

    Thanks for a great article!

    1. alexandrawrote Post author

      I’m not taking them down. I’m going to follow the terms, only use what I have permission for (doesn’t hurt to pin friends and family’s talent, right?) – I want them to shape up and be better. And I want to make sure my own work is respected. And yours, too. (By the way, as an Etsy shop owner, do you think it’s weird they can profit off clicks from Pinterest to your site? Weird, right?)

      1. Karen Anne

        Sounds more reasonable. I did take down a board called “inspiration” that had some work by artists I admire. And will gradually cull through the rest. And yes it IS weird they can make profit…looking forward to more sales so I can make one!

  7. Confused

    I think I’m more confused than I was before…

    If I’m not profiting in any way by pinning on Pinterest… could I be infringing by pinning?? Egads! I hope not.

    I try my best to link to the original sources.. or at least add the name of the artist in the comments if I can’t find a link… but I’m just using pinterest for my own personal inspiration, just like I’d pull pages out of a magazine and post it to my physical board… I’m not making a profit at all.. just redecorating my own home. But fact is I don’t have actual permission to pin them (as you just pointed out is in the FAQs! YIKES)… but I also don’t have actual permission from the magazines I pull stuff out of either? I want to respect the original artist but now I’m so confused I don’t know if I am or not by pinning… I sort of feel that if I pin (without actual permission) and include a link to the original artist blog etc.. I thought I was helping the artist and I thought I was respecting them and their art… now I really just don’t know.

    Should I be taking down my boards?

    1. alexandrawrote Post author

      I’m so glad you ask about the difference between mags and pins. When you buy a magazine and pull tear sheets that is perfectly legal. But it wouldn’t be legal if you scanned and placed those pages online because the content isn’t yours to share in that way. (Just like photo labs won’t reprint professional images without a photographer’s consent).

      It’s really questionable whether a pin you put up actually helps an artist. But you can be sure you respect them by if you’re pinning directly from their website, or a site that is properly crediting them.

      I don’t know if taking down boards is the answer. I hope Pinterest speaks up soon and clarifies it.

  8. Liz

    Great piece, thanks for even more food for thought on the whole Pinterest thing. Let me just say, I LOVE Pinterest, I love looking at my boards when I’m stuck on a design issue or a painting issue. I love looking at my friends boards. I want to just ignore all the “I’m not sure this is right” feelings I’ve been having, but I can’t. This is like the 5th post I’ve read about the shaky copyright house that Pinterest lives in, in just 2 days. I am wondering if Ben and his team are reading too?

    1. alexandrawrote Post author

      I hope that the Pinterest team is picking up on these posts – mine or elsewhere. And I hope they put out a response to these questions soon. I know it’s a small company, but they’re not a mom and pop shop without legal experts -they have hundreds of millions of dollars invested in them. They need to address this.

  9. lyndal

    I am sorry if I sound really really ignorant – I am fairly new to the online world with a very small blog, and this has FREAKED ME OUT! I don’t have this pint rest thing, but i do use google for images and link back to the source where I can – is this not okay, or better not to do full stop? yikes.

    1. alexandrawrote Post author

      Don’t apologize for not knowing how to deal with these online issues – that’s exactly why I feel Pinterest needs to offer more info to its users than the few tips and the etiquette notes. Most sites give people some direction. It’s important because unknowingly people can do things they didn’t realize were wrong.

      Google images is good for searching but not pinning – if the google image is a sofa you love, click it so you are on the site with the actual sofa and pin that page. Unless you click through to the page, you won’t know if the google image is linking to site that properly credits the work. Does that make sense?

      This is less about copyright and more about credit. The issue of copyright and Pinterest is a debate in need of definition from Pinterest. But the credit issue is easier to define at this point.

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  12. Tracy Francis

    Oh I so agree. I love what my boards have done for me but am very alarmed when I see my own WORK/illustrations pinned on young designers boards who obviously don’t have an idea of how much work has gone into it. How I have arrived at that concept by whittling things down. That is why I appreciate posts like this because the only way to fight the tide is through educating people. I have to have my things on the internet in order to sell them.

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