Pinterest – whose image is it anyway?

Pinterest logo

So an awful lot of us have been getting into Pinterest lately. For those not yet signed up, Pinterest lets you ‘pin’ images from around the web, sort them into ‘boards’ (themed by interests such as crafts, music, art, style etc) adding your own comments, sharing them with your followers and vice versa. According to stats published in Monday’s Metro, Pinterest now has 11.7m users worldwide. with 200,000 users in Britain. Its trajectory of growth makes it one of the fastest growing social networking sites ever. What’s not to love?

I’ve read two articles recently that pose fairly serious questions about copyright and ownership around images shared on Pinterest. According to this article by, Pinterest’s service agreement ‘gives it the right to sell images that users upload’. Here’s the fine print laid out on Pinterest’s site:

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.”

So basically you’re granting these guys at Cold Brew Labs the right to use your images in any way they wish, forever and ever. And what if you upload someone elses’s images that had previously not featured on Pinterest? I have just created a board called Sewing Friends Super Creations, wherein I pin pics of fabulous projects from blogs I follow and love. (I should add I also provide a link back to your blog!) Is that wrong now? Will my sewing chums worry that their images will be abused or used in some nefarious way?

There is a way to protect your blog images from being used. Pinterest has provided a line of code here that you can add to your site  if you don’t want your pics to be pinned.

I for one, won’t be using this code. I’m pretty relaxed about content-sharing, especially within the sewing blogosphere. I’ve never heard of anyone trying to pass someone’s else’s work or art off as their own. But what do you think? Would you prefer your images not to be shared and distributed, with little or no reference back to your site/blog? Do you sell your projects online, and worry that perhaps attribution may be lost as your images are shared over and over? Does it bother you that your image is being put out there by people you don’t really know?

I’d also be interested to hear from you if you’d prefer me not to share images from your blog as I’d hate to offend anyone!

36 thoughts on “Pinterest – whose image is it anyway?

  1. Once something is out there in the online world it becomes pretty difficult to police. Age old problem.
    If someone steals your image, best out them on the blog and let the online community take care of it (see Tatty Divine and Claire’s Accessories).
    Else, if you create your own images, best copyright them with a sign and a date and then you’re protected and hope to goodness people have the goodness to link back to you. It’s only polite really.

    • Interesting point about tatty divine Tanya I’ll have to look that up as I’ve not read anything about that yet. Indeed I agree that once things are on the internet it’s incredibly difficult to control their usage, nomatter what you do.

    • Thats the thing I do like about Pinterest, the link is in the data. Keep clicking on the image and you get to the source. For this reason I think you’re worse off barring Pinterest from your blog, because people are more likely then to just copy the image and you won’t necessarily get any attribution.

  2. I’ve been chewing on it for about a week now and I have to admit, the policy bothers me. I’ve only recently started to explore the site and very quickly thereafter realized that I was infringing on people – although, so far I’ve mostly only pinned red carpet gown photos, so I’m not sure how badly I feel about it. Personally, I have my Flickr set to limit sharing, and that’s where I host all my blog images. However, I’ve tested it out and even when I add the code to the CSS of my blog template, people can still pin my images once they’re up on the blog. I mean, I’m not losing sleep over it, but I’d prefer my stuff didn’t hit Pinterest (the same way no photos I care about make it into Facebook.)

    It’s tricky, because I understand the nature of Pinterest is to create viral interest, which should be a good thing. I just don’t understand why the fine print has to be so strong in order to legally protect them. I mean, does it? Or do they just write it that way because it’s convenient for them? I’ve spent quite a few years studying photography, so admittedly I take the idea of giving up my copyright pretty seriously.

    • Hmm so the code doesn’t necessarily work? That’s rather disturbing…! The wording is incredibly strong but I guess it leaves no room for misinterpretation at least.

      • I’ve figured it out – it does work! I’m not the most technologically-inclined. I was trying to put it in the custom CSS field when the code is HTML. It took me a while, but I did find the right place to put it, and it works now 🙂

  3. Interesting question! I personally don’t care if my images get pinned & posted all over the web (although it can be a little weird to come across a picture of yourself on a site/blog you’ve never seen – especially if it’s in a language you can’t read! Haha!), as long as they are linked back to me, or at the very least, mention my name. I figure when you put stuff on the internet, it’s going to get posted all over the place regardless of how many precautions one might take to try to keep that from happening. It’s the nature of the internet! Deal with it, or stay off, you know? 🙂

    • Heheh ‘deal with it’ reminds me of a UK Sat morning kids show called SMTV that had Cat Deeley turning to the camera and growling ‘Deal with it’ in a threatening manner. Ah takes me back… but I digress. You make a very good point though – the only way you can protect your pics online? Don’t put them online I guess…

  4. (I should add: I’m not so naive as to think that my images are “safe” – I know if someone wants to steal them, they’ll steam them. And I certainly don’t mind people grabbing my photos for personal use, blogging with a link back, etc. I just kind of have a problem with websites like Pinterest writing such strong terms that we then all go along with because we like the site enough that we just think, “oh well.” If that makes any sense? I’m an idealist more than a realist, I guess :D)

  5. What I think Pinterest needs to do is take a proactive approach in disallowing/deleting pins that do not link back to the original source. There are a multitude of images there that were uploaded by users instead of linking to the original source. I have seen images I recognize from the blog world that have been totally misidentified and with each pin it gets murkier. It’s like the online version of that childhood “rumor” game Telephone.

    • That’s a great idea but how would they police that I wonder? I mean, you could link off to dodgy websites selling ‘manly pills’ (you know what I mean!) or something…

  6. Honestly that part of the fine print bothers me. Not so much because my photos will be stolen but because if it’s written they can do it. I feel this goes against IP protection laws in any country and I don’t see how they can circumvent it. I feel we should request a change into privacy policy by making it go viral…sometimes it works. So thanks to you for this alert!

  7. That’s some incredibly strong terms! You’re basically signing any rights to the image away for ever… Not something I currently mind but if I was a pattern designer and my line drawing got pinned, there’s nothing to stop the company exploiting the original and artistic endeavour. Even if the image is copyrighted on your own site and is added by a third party. Here in the UK I think (but will have to double check) that the copyright, designs and patents act will back you up as long as you have asserted your copyright. Enforcing this internationally however is a whole other ball game!

    Fortunately I don’t depend on my artistic endeavours to make a living so don’t mind my images being pinned should anyone want to. However this seems like more of a cash making clause (they could charge a publication that wants to use a pinned image in an article, for instance) than a protection clause to me, or an attempt to avoid being sued!

  8. As a general rule, I don’t care if my images get posted, or re-pinned… share and share alike I say. It’s the nature of the interwebz, as others have noted. Interestingly enough, Google Plus has a very similar disclaimer, in fact i think it’s actually stronger.

    On the other hand, I do have a very large problem with that clause when it comes to my artwork/graphic design. This is always a big concern with visual artists, photographers, designers, etc. because we have to ply the fine line between exposure and plagiarism. If we could trust everyone to be honest that would be great, but sadly, that’s not the case. I don’t post artwork on public forums anymore, unless they’re watermarked, cause once it’s up, I’m aware that it’s out of my hands.

    As for the other stuff, if I post it, feel free to share it!! 🙂

  9. I’d hate for images to be misused, but I would just like to point out that most pins seem to link back the source automatically, and I’ve found many new blogs and sites this way. It is a way to gain exposure…

  10. There’s always a downside to every “great new thing,” isn’t there! I guess as far as my blog goes, I don’t see any trouble with being pinned because I nearly always use commercial patterns and if I didn’t, then I was probably inspired by someone else’s work anyways. But if a person was selling something or had kids in their pictures, they might not want those images appropriated by a company.

  11. This is such an interesting issue and one that can never be fully solved. I reckon if you don’t want people copying your stuff, don’t post it only…simple! Like you, I’m pretty relaxed about people sharing my content, can’t say I’m too precious about stuff like that. I’m sure one day this attitude may come back and bite me in the butt…but until then, I shall remain relaxed ;o)

  12. Yikes. I’m not worried at all about other people pinning my own images (I even put pics of my handmade clothing on Pinterest myself so people will re-pin it and ultimately get to my blog via the link — hey, I’m greedy for visitors, I admit!) Anyway, I didn’t realize that Pinterest declared ownership of everything that I pin, and therefore when I pin others’ blog pics I’m surrendering them and their cute dresses to the dark Pin overlords. There’s a certain home decor blog with images I always try to pin, but NOW I realize they probably have that CSS block on their site because Pinterest always says it can’t “find” the images to pin. I figured out how to work around it and pin the images anyway, but that was pure naivety around what I was actually doing, not maliciousness. So geez, how do we protect against those of us (like ME) who aren’t trying to steal content for personal gain but just don’t understand the rules? I guess copyright infringement is still copyright infringement, regardless of good or bad intent. :-/

    • I’ve done that too with a certain commercial clothes website but I thought that was just because the website was optimised – not because they didn’t want their images to be pinned!

  13. The main thing that concerns me are the words “perpetual” and “irrevocable.” Other than that, the language seems fairly innocuous.

    Note this part of the quoted language: “only on, through or by means of the Site, Application or Services.” The language does not give the owner of the website the right to sell individual photos or use them in any context other than displaying them on the website.

    I have not made much use of Pinterest, other than to look at it, so I don’t know whether they have language that would have the users indeminify the owner of Pinterest if the owner of a displayed photo were to sue them. If there is language of that sort, it would put me off displaying photos on the site.

  14. I’m quite picky about what images I put online…but where possible I’d like to be at least told if an image is being posted elsewhere. But I understand once something is out its out and hard to police.
    I have never been on or wanted to visit pinterest so I don’t know what the site is like.
    I read somewhere you can metatag photo’s using something like photoshop so that your copyright is embedded in the image code.

  15. While I think it is worrying that Pinterest claims rights over member content I think that this indemnity clause in the terms and conditions is more worrying.

    “You agree to defend, indemnify, and hold Cold Brew Labs, its officers, directors, employees and agents, harmless from and against any claims, liabilities, damages, losses, and expenses, including, without limitation, reasonable legal and accounting fees, arising out of or in any way connected with (i) your access to or use of the Site, Application, Services or Site Content, (ii) your Member Content, or (iii) your violation of these Terms.”

    This suggests to me that if a lawsuit arises from a member posting a copyrighted image without the consent of the copyright holder that member would be responsible not only for their own legal fees and any settlements but also those of Cold Brew Labs. Perhaps someone with legal training could clarify this.

  16. Pingback: Why I am giving up on Pinterest – Perche’ smetto di usare Pinterest | Sewing Princess

  17. i’ve been wondering about the copyright issues with pinterest recently. not that it would stop me from using it, but i sometimes like to consider the “what if” scenarios. i have to agree with a lot of the other commenters – once something is out there on the internet its very hard to police. and as someone who blogs (and has posted pictures from other sources) i feel like there is a “share and share alike” mentality with blogs, and that if anything questionable comes up, most bloggers are quick to call the other person out on it. i do love me some pinterest – its my favorite time suck! and i love clicking on the images back to the source, its lead me to some pretty great sites. i hope it doesn’t go anywhere!

  18. Pin away I say! The way I see it, we’re already sharing our images online for the world to see and if it’s not Pinterest or Facebook bagsing them, anyone else can just grab them off our blogs and use them any which way they like.

    Seeing as part of the point of writing a blog for me is to share my work, I’m happy for it to keep on getting shared further!

      • You wouldn’t expect that from a big company.
        It would be really freaky to find your face on a t-shirt.

Let me know your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s