{Updated: March 15, 2012}

The internet: where everyone goes, and where very few know how to behave. Not through lack of trying, mind you – many of us try our best, but NEW AND FUN THINGS keeps popping up on our radar and we just want to THROW OURSELVES IN. Terms of use? Yes I agree, yes yes yes! Just let me into this app/game/website. Whoops, this might infringe on the rights of others – whatevs, that’s the website’s problem, amirite?

Sadly and all too oftenly, nope.

Many of us aren’t strangers to being “borrowed” from. A few years ago I designed a logo for my dear friend Michelle, then one day she emailed me with a little surprise:

Clever Cupcakes logo vs imposter

Isn’t that a delightful homage? I didn’t think so, either. I emailed and respectfully asked for a take-down and the person wrote back to say that she had found my image by Googling “cupcake” and that as such it was fair game. Um, no, it’s not, really. It took a few diplomatic emails to explain why this was inaccurate. I was beginning to despair when the lightbulb moment finally arrived as I explained that had she found the McDonald’s logo instead, she wouldn’t have used it. She agreed to take the logo down.

If only it always went down this simply – often the stakes are much higher. I regularly see many talented independent artists getting ripped off by big corporations. But what if your images are not being modified or used for personal profit, yet are being shared at a dizzying rate, without your permission or even without leading back to the correct source? Surely an artist doesn’t mind getting a little free promotion, right? Well, you don’t need me to tell you what assuming does…

Pinterest has been around for a few years now, but has gathered considerably more steam and attention as of late. It’s a pretty fun concept. “Pinterest lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web.” Hey, cool. With all the nifty things I find on the web, and with all of my ideas and future plans/haircuts/meals/renovations depending on it, I could use some organizing help. There’s even some pin etiquette to help get you started. Interestingly, they’re saying to avoid self-promotion. Really? Ok then. Moving on… wait. What’s this in the Terms?

“You acknowledge and agree that you are solely responsible for all Member Content that you make available through the Site, Application and Services. Accordingly, you represent and warrant that: (i) 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; and (ii) neither the Member Content nor your posting, uploading, publication, submission or transmittal of the Member Content or Cold Brew Labs’ use of the Member Content (or any portion thereof) on, through or by means of the Site, Application and the Services will infringe, misappropriate or violate a third party’s patent, copyright, trademark, trade secret, moral rights or other proprietary or intellectual property rights, or rights of publicity or privacy, or result in the violation of any applicable law or regulation.”

*Holds up hand* Soooo…. how can I post anything if I shouldn’t self-promote but those are the only images I actually own? How can I pin to my boards if I don’t have the rights to use the images I find on the interwebs? *Waves hand around* Is this even a sustainable business model?

It’s great that Pinterest encourages their users to credit the source (if you spend any time on Pinterest, you’ll see that a lot of images are credited to other pins, or Tumblr, or whatever other site they were copied from, instead of actually leading anywhere that would be productive to the actual creator of the image). Not to mention, Link With Love is doing an admirable job of raising awareness in this regard. And many Pinterest users are conscientious, caring people who are crediting, attributing, linking wherever they can. But there’s one thing everyone mentioned here has forgotten about:

Most, if not all, of the images you’re posting do not belong to you. You need to ask permission.

I probably should put my hand down now – my fingers are getting numb, and I don’t think anybody’s going to be able to answer my question, at least not for now. If everybody on Pinterest actually took the time to ask permission to use the images they’re pinning, would anybody still be on there? And if you really think about it, shouldn’t this already apply to all blogs, tumblrs, facebook pages, etc? I realize this is a much bigger issue that stretches far beyond the scope of this (already very long – and it keeps getting longer) post, but it’s something we should all consider on our daily internet wanderings. Professionally, when I come across a font or texture I’d like to use for a project, I read the terms of use. If they don’t grant permission for commercial use, I don’t use it. If the creator wants attribution and the project I’m working on doesn’t allow for that, I don’t use it. And so on. Why should anything else on the internet be approached any differently? If there’s a share button, or some kind of disclaimer where you agree to respect the terms, go for it. But if there isn’t – do you really need it that instantly that you can’t write a short note saying how much you like said image, and can you please use it? Not only is it respectful (and lawful), but 9 times out of 10, you’ll be making that person’s day. I don’t know about you, but I LOVE making somebody’s day…

Pinterest is trying to set up some measures to help with this. They’ve created a “pin it” button you can add to your site to allow users to pin your work, and conversely they’ve also created a code snippet you can add to your website that will block people who try to pin from it. Flickr has already implemented this code to pages with copyrighted or protected images.

Unfortunately, the code snippet is very easy to bypass and I have seen websites with no-pin codes continue to have their images pinned to Pinterest – meaning that users are still pinning even though the copyright owner of the work has specifically and unmistakably requested that they don’t. This kind of behaviour is exactly what has some content creators and bloggers so concerned, and the fact that Pinterest continues to be so passive about it (i.e. you need to contact them to file a claim of infringement, but they aren’t actively discouraging this behaviour nor investigating/enforcing this on their own).

Additionally, the pin-it button does not necessarily eliminate the permission question. Firstly, if I have obtained permission to run somebody’s work on my blog, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they have also given permission to allow their images to be pinned to Pinterest. Adding pin-it buttons throughout your blog can be misconstrued as a green light to pin when, in fact, you may not have the right to offer this kind of permission. Secondly, a trend seems to be forming where major sites are adding pin-it buttons across the board, regardless of whether the content belongs to them or not, and without giving any kind of opt-out choice. Behance has since revised their approach and are not including the pin-it button on any portfolio work that is not cc (creative commons). Etsy remains particularly worrisome because they exist primarily to showcase and promote independent artists’ work, and at the moment there is no option for sellers to remove the pin-it button from their images.

And what about all the sites that don’t have pin-it buttons? Pinterest is basically suggesting that the entire internet needs to modify their sites with the (slightly ineffective) block-out code in order to opt-out. It shouldn’t be an opt-out. It should be an opt-in.

Ok, so back to me. Since I can’t post anything I don’t own or have the rights to, how about I throw suggested pin etiquette out the window and just post my own work? Then I’m safe, right? Wrong…

“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.”

Some of these rights sound a bit scary, but as with many other sites, they are necessary in order for the site to function as it promises to. But SELL? That’s a bad word to see in there. (“And otherwise exploit”… after everything else they’ve listed, I can’t even imagine what that would mean). If I post any of my work, I’m granting Pinterest the right to sell it? Oof. A few years ago I used to warn artist friends not to post their work on Facebook for licensing reasons but most people really don’t seem to care. And, I will admit to using Instagram (for personal use) with gleeful abandon. Perhaps Pinterest will be free of this kind of care, as well. But until the terms of use change, I think I’ll refrain from pinning my own work, or adding any pin-it buttons to my site; at least for now, thank-you.

Don’t get me wrong – the idea that somebody might like my work enough to save it as inspiration or just to share with others tickles me absolutely pink. But I have a problem with granting this kind of access to a site that will claim selling rights over my work. I wouldn’t even be able to track it or embed copyright information into it, because Pinterest strips all embedded metadata from its files. (p.s. so does Facebook, Twitter, and others).

Think you’re safe because if anybody gets really upset and starts suing, the website will take the fall? You’re not. The Pinterest terms of use state that they are free and clear of any wrongdoing. In fact, if they get sued, not only will you have to pay to defend yourself, but you’ll have to pay to defend Pinterest, too. (Facebook has similar terms, by the by).

Pinterest is a small, growing company of 20 or so people. I understand how this can make it difficult to resolve massive issues such as this – but since they’ve already been around for a few years, and seeing as their business model appears to be built around sharing images that nobody has the rights to, I certainly hope this is something they are working on. Surely they realized this would become an issue? (Pinterest: quit calling me Shirley. Badum-bum). Recently, a petition was passed around to limit the amount of characters you could add to a pin. Turns out, people were copying entire blog posts or recipes and adding them to their pins, which eliminated the possibility of people clicking through to the actual site that was responsible for the content. Pinterest graciously implemented a character limit soon after. While I applaud this move, I feel that this was a relatively quick fix and still skirts the main issues at hand. From what I have read, they’re a conscientious team and they’re trying to do the right thing. I hope this means that significant changes for the better are in their not-too-distant plans.

If you are frustrated by the ongoing silence and lack of updates from Pinterest, and are concerned about the ethics of your Pinterest boards but lamenting the return to simple bookmarking, there may be other solutions for you:

Image Spark (in fact, when Pinterest showed up as the new kid on the block a while back, I thought: hey, another Image Spark). Image Spark differs from Pinterest in that it allows you to make your image collection private (this is a key difference that allows you to assemble your favourite images in one place while helping to avoid the more complex issues of sharing), has much more acceptable Terms (and in the FAQs, they specifically state that getting permission is your responsibility) and has the additional fun feature of personalized moodboards.

Dropmark is also showing a lot of promise. You can sign up for a free account (250MB) and have the ability to assemble a lot more than just images – and, more importantly, you have the ability to keep it private. Their Terms are also very reasonable.

As for where this leaves me, I did sign up to Pinterest not long ago to see how it works… but I haven’t pinned anything, and for the time being I don’t plan to.

To sum up:

– Just because something’s on the internet doesn’t mean that it’s free for public use – it is still protected under copyright law. Some sites share their permission policies prominently but if there is any doubt, ask.

– Not everyone wants their work to be shared on Pinterest, or any other site. It doesn’t matter what their reasons are. We have all snapped a photo or similarly created something that belongs to us. Try to be respectful of others’ wishes.

– Crediting a source, while admirable, is not enough – you should be asking permission. Drop them a line, tell them how much you love them, and ask. If they say no, move on.

– If something has a pin it button, and you know for a fact that permission has been granted, go crazy and Pinterest your pants off. If you’re unsure that a site truly has the license to share, or you come across a site that doesn’t specify whether you can pin or not – regardless of whether there is a Pinterest blockout code on it or not – ask.

Wow – you’re still here?! You super trooper, you. Thanks for sticking around. Gold star for you!



  1. Lindsay says:

    I’m still here!

    Those cupcake copycatters make me upset. I often think I should put a watermark on my nail photos, but I don’t really know how or it if would make a difference.

    I’m on the Pinterest and I wondered all of these things that you wrote about. WHAT DO WE DO NOW!?

    • Girlfriday says:

      Gold stars!! And extra glitter :) Thanks for making it all the way down here! Ideally, if Pinterest allowed their boards to go private, it would help users wait out the updates as they figured all this stuff out. But right now the only solution I have seen (via other users) is to tearfully delete their boards. I hope they’re able to come to some kind of resolution that allows people to continue to enjoy themselves, respectfully.

    • Kimberly says:

      Please be aware that Pinterest has since changed their Terms. They announced this on March 23rd. New terms are available on their site by clicking “Terms and Privacy” and will be active as of April 6. They are drastically different from these posted above.

      • Girlfriday says:

        Thanks Kimberly, I did hear and read about the new terms on the day they were announced. There are still some issues that aren’t addressed properly but it was definitely a step in the right direction.

  2. Anna @ D16 says:

    What an excellent post!! Thank you so much for taking the time to break it all down like this.

    I have been vocal about my opposition to the Pinterest business model for quite some time now, and it is a massive and encouraging relief to see others speaking up about the same concerns that I have.

    One thing I WOULD like to add, though, is that the mere presence of a “Pin It” button on a blog should not necessarily be considered adequate permission to pin the content of that blog. In order for that button to be considered permission, the owner of the blog has to also hold the copyright to the image. My photos are shared on blogs all the time, and I’m sure many of those blogs have “Pin It” buttons on them—but I certainly have not granted permission to them or to any of their readers to share my photo on Pinterest.

    • Girlfriday says:

      Thank-you Anna! Appreciate it. And, totally agreed with what you said – I lost track of some of my thoughts as I was trying to put this together and that was definitely one of them. If somebody pins something I didn’t create from my blog (that I obtained permission to post about), I certainly don’t have the right to pass it on to other sites that have different rights releases. And if somebody posts about me on their blog, I don’t necessarily agree to having it pinned after that. That’s a big issue, too. So many issues! Looking forward to seeing some solutions.

      • Fantastic post about this subject! It is so difficult to communicate because it is so complicated!

        I am very surprised at how many blogs who only post others work have the ‘pin it’ button – or why big companies would put their images on there

        Thank you for writing this!

  3. Alexandra says:

    Thank you so much for writing this post. I have written quite a bit about Pinterest concerns as both pinner and content creator. I’m also affiliated with LINKwithlove and am so glad you’re spreading the message!

    Anna raises a very important point that I am addressing in a post for Friday about the way an official Pin It button is misleading. I’d love to quote this – would mind emailing me w permission?

    • Girlfriday says:

      Thanks Alexandra! I enjoyed reading your posts, they’re great. It’s really all about having fun while being respectful and kind with others, isn’t it :)

  4. Tania says:

    The way I understood it is the verbage in their terms is referring to images uploaded (not pinned). If you upload an image to pinterest, you are giving rights to pinterest to use (so you should have the authority to do so). Pinning on the other hand is a link back and a review of sorts so within fair use. We had a big discussion about this at a local social media users group meeting last week. The conclusion being to be very wary of uploading your images to pinterest (which most is don’t do anyway).

  5. Ben says:

    I understand the concerns about Pinterest, and agree that some of their terms and conditions’ phrasing is definitely in the wrong. However, I can’t help but think that the main idea of Pinterest is comparable to other sharing sites with which nobody seems to have a problem. I’m mainly thinking of 8tracks here. Songs are organized and uploaded into playlists by users and can be listened to by anyone else. While there’s usually a link to somewhere the song is available for purchase, that’s not always the case. It makes perfect sense that photographers would be more concerned about the infringements of Pinterest, since they feel it targets their own medium, but it’s unfair to then utilize other sites that basically do the same thing with music.

    • Girlfriday says:

      Thanks for your comment Ben! Couldn’t agree more about asking for the same respect across the board, regardless of context. When you know better, you do better. That being said, I checked out 8tracks and they seem to be operating under a legal precedent, and pay royalties to various companies. I don’t know enough about them to comment further, but it would be great if Pinterest could similarly carve out a legally appropriate niche for themselves where people could continue to have fun on their site without infringing on the rights of others, or requiring copyright owners to hand over selling rights in order to be included in the fun.

      • Ben says:

        That does clear things up — paying royalties is definitely not in Pinterest’s current business model! I do hope Pinterest responds to the many complaints that have been raised about the selling rights issue. It would also be nice to have some system to report pictures without links (though in my experience, less than 5% of pins have that problem, though maybe the pinners I follow are just especially responsible).

        If these two problems were worked out, I think it would make pinning analogous to bookmarking or saving pictures in files for later inspiration, so I’m not sure we’ll ever see eye-to-eye completely on the necessity of express permission from the owner. I can, however, understand your view on this. Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

  6. This inspired me to start going through my pins and crediting and linking each one properly. (I’m not done yet but I’ve made a dent.) I’ve also emailed my favorite fashion illustrator (David Downton) a link to my Pinterest board with his stuff on it (all re-pins, I did not upload them) and asked him how he feels about it, with a promise to delete them toute de suite if he’s not happy about it. Will keep you posted.

    I’m also not thrilled about the Sell part. If Pinterest can train their users (penalties? rewards?) to properly credit, link and get permission first for uploading others’ content, then I will consider uploading more of my own original content. So far I’ve only uploaded one image, as a test, to see if the traffic is worth the trade-off.

  7. Jessika says:

    Thank you so much for this well written and insightful post Anile! You managed to lay out all of my major concerns about Pinterest-the biggest that it is an opt-out vs. opt-in service and the dangerous ethical implications of that. There is a great arrogance in deciding for the entire internet what use our images can be put to.

    I’ve been researching a post for OMHG to share during our Entrepreneur Ethics theme this month. We’ve raised questions about pinning ethics before but the issues on the table now are much bigger. I sent you an email about sharing your post/quoting you this month.

    Thanks again for taking the time to think this all out and set it down so clearly for us!

  8. Tiffany says:

    Hi Anile! I just happened upon your blog through a link on Emeline & Annabelle’s website. How small the world is… I met you at our upstairs neighbor’s house last year, and discovered we went to Dawson at the same time.

    I am inspired by your blog! And I can’t believe that obvious copycat logo. Wow. That is bad. And sad. I am glad you were able to address it.

    I love your logo design for Davnina & Daniel – beautiful work. I always find it interesting reading about other designers’ creative processes.

    You have inspired me to break open my (many) unused sketchbooks tucked away… and getting back to the basics – and remember why I started this path of design to begin with. It was for the love of art. :)

    • Girlfriday says:

      Haha! Hey, awesome – nice to “see” you!! Thanks for stopping by. Hooray for breaking out the sketchbooks… good for you!! Which reminds me, I need to post my sketch for this week. Thanks for keeping me on my toes :)

  9. sal says:

    I’ve been following and trying to understand this issue – thank you for breaking it down and making some sense of it all.

  10. Allisa says:

    Brilliantly written! Thank you so much for so articulately and carefully expressing the concerns of many. I really hope Pinterest tunes and makes some changes (though I’m not sure what those would be, the problems seem so massive!).

    ps. Love your cupcake ;)

  11. Ward says:

    Kristen of DDKPortraits did a follow-up post regarding the legal issues with Pinterest by actually having a conversation with Ben (the creator of Pinterest). Here’s the link: http://ddkportraits.com/2012/02/my-date-with-ben-silbermann-following-up-and-drying-my-tears/

    • Girlfriday says:

      Thanks Ward! Appreciate the heads up, I did see this post. Way before this even became a big issue, I had heard nothing but good things about Ben Silbermann via other blogs and reports from the past two Alt Summits. This is why I feel so hopeful that significant improvements are on the way. I love that he gets in touch with people, shares their concerns and asks for their feedback. That being said, Pinterest has several powerful communication tools at their disposal (last I checked they have over 500,000 followers on Twitter) and it would be nice to see them addressing some of these issues more publicly. Their blog post from February 20th was a step in the right direction, but I know people would like to hear and see more. Simply acknowledging that they’re working on things would mean a lot to concerned users, rather than just posting on Twitter every 10+ days or so about who is new to using Pinterest.

  12. agnes says:

    Thanks for articulating a lot of the things I am concerned about. These are the reasons I have been reluctant to use Pinterest, though any time I browse the site I find my work all over it, often without credit. Etsy has recently added a “Pin It” button to every single item listing, which I have no control over allowing. Everyone’s making it harder and harder to opt out! I hope continued efforts of responsible consumers and well-spoken bloggers to educate everyone on just what is and isn’t okay with regards to copyrighted images can improve the behavior of sites such as Pinterest, and its users. Lots of independent artists (myself included) rely so much on the magic of the internet to get our work seen (not to mention purchased), it would be nice if the ethics of such environments were more deeply understood.

    • Girlfriday says:

      Thank-you Agnes! And, well said. It’s hard enough for artists/creators/photographers as it is without enabling it further. I’m disappointed to hear that Etsy doesn’t have an opt-in/out choice, and was also disappointed to hear via Alexandra Wrote that Behance has also recently implemented the pin-it button as well, without consulting its users. Both of these sites exist primarily to showcase and promote independent artists so it’s a lot to be concerned about.

  13. Caroline says:

    I am still here too and totally applaud what you are saying. I print greetings cards from artists own work and am well aware of the lack of respect that too many people have for other people’s own work whether it be written or illustrated.
    I have also had the worded contents of my website copied almost to the letter by two other such print companies so can understand totally your frustrations. I have many friends who use Pinterest and am sure they would be keen to see this broken down so clearly, thank you.

    • Girlfriday says:

      Thanks for your comment Caroline! So sorry to hear that your website/work has been copied – how awful. I am often blown away by the overtness of it…

  14. flora says:

    I loved this post, and i hope it’s ok if i share some of it on my blog, with a link back to the rest? I wanted to do a post about pinterest, but you just said it all so well!

    • Girlfriday says:

      Thanks Flora! Sure, I’d be happy to share an attributed snippet :) Appreciate you asking, and glad you liked it!

  15. flora says:

    That’s great, thanks so much!

  16. I did too stay until the end. It is quite a controversial topic these days. We love everything great pinterest brings to the table, but most people choose to close their eyes on the not so good. It is one thing when people link back to the source and give credit. It’s another when people just use as if it was their work. Thanks for writing about it though, very much needed!

  17. Rachel says:

    thanks for writing this very important article. It has really opened my eyes about this whole subject. However, I do wonder if Pinterest will change so it’s not as easy to rip off other people and not give them credit. For instance, it should require that you write down the website that you pin it from in the pin description and refuse to pin unless it’s written. I have complaints about Etsy, too, in several different areas. It will be interesting to see where all this leads.

  18. Janice Auton says:

    Great advice have decided to step back before using this as part of my business social media. Will watch with interest.
    Great advice thank you

  19. Giulia says:

    Hi there – still here. Just found your blog today b/c you are attending the same workshop in June as I am ;)
    I just wrote about by irks about people crediting their source – and while my post doesn’t go into the details of Pinterest itself (or for me even worse Tumblr)it does capture some of your thoughts as well.
    I make one point though which is to read on the blog what the author wants regarding permissions, etc – while some do require permission, other state that you can blog their images if you link back to their site.
    I think Pinterest is one of those things that started off small and such good intent that they could not anticipate much of what is happening now. I used to enjoy it a lot more a year or more ago for pure home reno or vacation inspiration – now that businesses has started to jump on it it’s not the same.
    Still waffeling on deleting my boards.
    Look forward to meeting you in June.

    • Girlfriday says:

      Hi Giulia, thanks for dropping by! Agreed that Pinterest started off with great intentions, and I think there’s still lots of room to “fix” stuff – it’s just hard when there isn’t a whole lot of feedback going on aside from individual bloggers occasionally getting phone calls. I know they’re working on some stuff so it’ll be nice to see it in action. Totally agreed that it’s important to check each blog individually to make sure what their permissions are – especially if they’re blogging about something that isn’t theirs, because the rules might be different in that case. It’s nice that people are becoming more aware and respectful of each other – I love that! Looking forward to meeting you too, I’m so excited about our workshop!!

  20. molly says:

    great post. you broke it down really well with seemingly a lot to digest, but with a bottom line: don’t steal, people, share with love and credit! thanks.

  21. Marie says:

    Clear and funny and witty :-) but a bit scary too when you actually stop and think about it…!

  22. David Riecks says:

    Great overview of the issues!

    You mentioned that facebook, Twitter and others remove (strip) metadata from images. This is not a new development. I began tracking this starting in 2009 with the help of my forum members. Check the preliminary results link on the “Survey regarding the Preservation of Photo Metadata by Social Media Websites” at http://www.controlledvocabulary.com/socialmedia/ to see which services to avoid.


  23. amber renee says:

    ahhh! i’ve been having some issues with tumblr and pinterest lately and i’m so glad i found this post! linking to your blog (mine is down for a redesign right now but i’ll be back soon!).

    thanks again. <3<3

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