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Pinterest and you, what you need to know…

You may or may not have stumbled across the Pinterest website. Here’s what you should be aware of before signing up for an account.

Pinterest is a website that allows anyone to set up their own little board/site/scrapbook online and “curate” content from the internet by pinning stuff they ‘find’ anywhere on the web to their board. Other people can then “like” these images or words or articles and then “re-pin” them. And so on, and so forth.

What’s wrong with that? Well, nothing whatsoever if you, the Pinterest user own the content you are pinning. But if you don’t there could be a nasty legal surprise in store further down the line. Did you read the Pinterest terms and conditions? Did you understand them?

Here’s a great article written by a lawyer who does understand them very well. She has deleted her account after realising the problems ‘pinning’ content you don’t own permission to use can land you in. This is written from a US perspective but it equally applies to UK Copyright Law.


So to summarise:

  • pinning is the equivalent of publishing content and for that you need the copyright holder’s permission by way of a licence
  • Just giving a credit to the original source does not make it OK to use without prior permission or licence.
  • Pinterest themselves put ALL the liability on you, the user for the copyright status of the content you pin and you also agree to fully indemnify them and pay their legal costs should you get sued
  • Each re-pinning also constitutes publishing and a fresh infringement so there’s no defence of “well 500 people have pinned this already”
Pinterest example

Pinterest screengrab of a search for "Getty Images", probably 99% unlicenced material in this view alone

A lot of stock agencies and photographers are now using image search tools that easily allows them to find where their images are being used without licence or permission, and when they find a copyright infringement they will issue an invoice for the full amount of the usage plus damages. This can get very expensive, very quickly and you, the Pinterest user are liable, not Pinterest themselves. You indemnified them from any legal issue, all they have to comply with is DMCA  (an act that allows ISPs and websites a get out clause for infringement claims if they remove the content once notified by the copyright holder) which doesn’t cost them a thing.

The safest thing to do is not to join in. If you’re a creative and using Pinterest to self-promote your work you’re in danger of making your work orphaned in no time at all.  Pinterest also strips all metadata (data embedded into images by photographers to show who owns the image and the rights it can be used under) so it creates orphan works on the very first pin and the image will float round the internet without proper attribution.

Here’s another really informative article about why, as a creative, you should ensure your material is kept well away from Pinterest.


To summarise:

  • Metadata is stripped from all pinned content, separating the image from it’s creator
  • Pinterest has a clause in its terms & conditions allowing it to “sell” any pinned work. This clause is obviously not in use yet but you are agreeing that Pinterest can sell your work with no compensation to you
  • Pinterest have released some code for webmasters to use to inhibit pinning. This is a pathetic response, it’s like having to put a sign on your house saying “don’t  burgle me” else it’s assumed you don’t mind being burgled


I feel Pinterest is a lawsuit timebomb waiting to go off. A cursory glance at the site and the thousands of ‘boards’ will show that the vast majority of images and articles pinned by its users are copyrighted material taken, without permission, from websites, blogs, stock agency libraries and photographer’s websites.

The lawsuit clock is surely ticking…

Pinterest NoPin Code

Meanwhile you might want to add this code to your webpages. Place it in the head section of all pages on your site:

  • <meta name=”pinterest” content=”nopin” />

Or, if you run a WordPress blog this Block Pinterest plugin will do it for you.

Update – March 24th 2012:

Since this post was first published there have been a couple of developments. First, Pinterest now require all pinned content to have a caption in an effort, it would seem, to claim ‘Fair Use’. Whether this will fly legally is a matter for debate. More reading on this feature can be found here:


More recently Pinterest announced a modification to it’s existing terms & conditions. The summary of which appears to be that the word “sell” in relation to pinned content, has been removed. Pinterest users are once again (it’s spelt out pretty unambiguously) held fully legally liable for any content they pin or repin. No change there. More comment and analysis available here:


Pinterest have introduced a form for copyright holders to fill in which produces a DMCA statement that is sent off. I’ve used this to remove work from Pinterest and they have removed the material very quickly. However each separate pin has to be notified.

Provide the full URL to each individual pin. e.g. http://pinterest.com/pin/12345

Some images uploaded without consent of the copyright holder have been pinned and re-pinned hundreds of times. That would mean the copyright holder spending their time (and time is money) in tracking down all infringement URLs to be able to fill in this form.  That is simply not good enough. A system that allows re-pinning and linking of content should easily be able to trace the original pin and all subsequent re-pins from one single reported infringement.

Finally, here’s a link to a video interview techcrunch.com have done with Jonathan Klein, CEO of the world’s most famous stock image agency Getty Images. In it Klein states that once a website becomes monetized (i.e. starts making money in a commercial sense) then licence fees will be due. At the moment, Pinterest does not make any money at all. The moment it does, the views of many copyright holders whose material is being republished, but who are currently taking no action will no doubt harden!


No doubt the Pinterest story is going to develop over time. I’ll endeavour to keep this page updated.