Pinterest’s Quiet Copyright Coup

The hottest new social site, Pinterest, has responded to concerns of copyright conscious website owners by offering a way for sites to block pinning directly from their websites (by placing a  <meta name=”pinterest” content=”nopin” /> in their site’s header).

Sites that don’t want users stealing pinning their images can now place code on their site and Pinterest’s users will no longer be able to pin images from that site in one click.

The move comes on the heels of several articles outlining the fact that almost all Pinterest users are violating copyright laws and that Pinterest’s terms of service actually make the user liable for that copyright infringement.

Unfortunately, Pinterest is merely putting the proverbial lipstick on their copyright abusing pig.

Pinterest users can STILL save any image from any website, and upload it to Pinterest (removing any value to the originating site) where it can then be repinned into oblivion.

Pinterest also still puts ALL of the responsibility and, more importantly, liability for that copyright violation on their users. If a copyright holder decides to get litigious with Pinterest, Pinterest would likely turn around and sue the user for any damages or costs associated with that lawsuit.

And assuming you actually ARE the copyright holder of that image you just pinned, you just granted Pinterest 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!”

Don’t Ruin Pinterest!

My wife has been a Pinterest addict pretty much from the first moment she was introduced to the site. She’s gotten ideas for everything from meals to hair styles to dog toys and treats from her fellow pinners. And every time she sensed any interest from me in the site for marketing purposes she’d instantly threaten me. “Don’t ruin Pinterest!” The “or else” was pretty much implied.

Pinterest Ruined Pinterest

But my wife is also an avid photographer. When I explained that by pinning any photo she didn’t own she was very likely breaking the law and by pinning photos she DOES own, she was granting Pinterest that “perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free license” I was more than a little afraid she was going to stab me.

“Sorry,” I said, “I really didn’t mean to ruin Pinterest.”

“YOU didn’t ruin Pinterest, Pinterest ruined Pinterest, and I hope people make a BIG stink about it.”

And in one single sentence my wife summed up Pinterest’s MAJOR problem with copyright.

By putting both copyright owners and their users at risk, Pinterest will have no one left in their corner defending them like they had when it was discovered Pinterest was secretly swapping out users’ affiliate links for their own.

Other image sites such as Google Images or Yahoo owned Flickr display copyrighted images just like Pinterest does. Other image sites make copyright owners opt-out of having their images stolen. Almost all image sites make content creators enforce the copyright laws because the image site owners don’t care who’s copyright is being violated as long as THEY aren’t the ones being held liable for it.

But unlike almost every other image site out there, Pinterest forces their users to grant Pinterest unprecedented rights to use their images however Pinterest wants!

As it stands now, Pinterest has allowed hundreds if not thousands of people to violate Matthew (Oatmeal) Inman’s copyright by fraudulently grant Pinterest free reign to do whatever they want with his images. If Inman himself were to pin his comics, Pinterest could sell books, t-shirts, posters, greeting cards (all items Inman himself currently sells) and he wouldn’t be owed a dime.

[dmm_social tweet=”#Pinterest benefits from the content producers’ work while perpetually & irrevocably screwing them.” quote=”The scenarios are endless, but they revolve around Pinterest benefiting from content producers’ work while perpetually and irrevocably screwing them in the process.”]

Irrevocable Means It’s Too Late

If you, like most people, didn’t actually read Pinterest’s terms of service and posted images you own onto Pinterest, you’re likely too late. While I’m certainly not a lawyer, granting someone irrevocable rights seems to suggest you can’t just delete your pins and revoke Pinterest’s right to do whatever they please with that image.

So yes, Pinterest will be making copyright violation one or two steps tougher for users by allowing site owners to block one click pins.

[dmm_social tweet=”Pinterest is quietly acquiring irrevocable & transferable rights to millions of images.” quote=”Unfortunately they’re still passing the burden of copyright violations on to their users while quietly acquiring irrevocable and transferable rights to millions of images that they can sub-license, sell, or distribute however they want.” hash=”#pinterest”]

Speak Out!

If my wife’s reaction is any indication, Pinterest users are going to be just as upset at Pinterest as copyright holders should be. To help get the message out we recommend pinning and sharing either of the two images below. We promise not to sue you for pinning them, no matter what Pinterest decides to do with them.

Pin It

Pin It


It appears Pinterest has heard the public outcry and is at least listening to the copyright concerns created by their Terms of Service. One common thread that seems to be running throughout all the different discussions on this topic is that people WANT to use Pinterest and WANT the site to succeed. We just want to do so without violating copyright laws and without permanently giving Pinterest the right to use our images in almost any way they see fit.

Image source: pasukaru76 & p-j-trash


  1. Brian says

    I have a hard time believing that Pinterest’s TOS would be enforceable against a user since the user isn’t actually hosting the file or displaying it on their paid for (there’s the main factor in making it unenforceable) account. Copyright law is an interesting subject. I had 2 years of classes on it and still don’t even slightly understand all of the intricacies. What I do know is that the laws typically penalize those whose servers the data is on. Since nobody pays for an account at Pinterest, it would be really difficult for them to go back and blame the users, regardless of the TOS, which isn’t law.

  2. Ben Cook says

    Brian, it might not be enforceable against average users but I could definitely see them going after a company that has deep enough pockets to make it worthwhile. And, whether it would stand up or not, getting sued isn’t cheap or fun.

    And, as I said in the post, I think the bigger issue is the plethora of images owners are uploading & granting Pinterest irrevocable licenses for.

    Again, that part of their TOS might not stand up but it would be MUCH better if their TOS were more reasonable.

  3. OptimusSpime says

    Given that Oatmeal posted a comic today that basically said “it’s cool for everyone to download Game Of Thrones Because I don’t Want To Wait Until March 6 when It’s Released on DVD/Blu-Ray” – he might not be the best example of someone hard done by violations of copyright.

  4. Ben Cook says

    A) I think Oatmeal’s comic today was more making the point that if your content is easier to pirate than buy legitimately you are going to experience more piracy. But…
    B) It doesnt matter whether he is the king of piracy, his images are still copyrighted and Pinterest’s TOS are pretty horrendous.

  5. Christee says

    Good article. I’m just pissed that I’m one of the victims and it’s now “too late” to revoke my agreement. Plus I really enjoyed using Pinterest. Hope they make changes to make it better!

  6. Traci says

    Somehow, I don’t think that the idea behind Pinterest was intended for people to “steal” anyone’s work. One could argue that it is just like bookmarking on your computer. Anyone can bookmark a website on their computer to come back to at a later date and use that information however they want, legally or not. Pinterest seems to me to just be a way of doing the same thing, only you are using someone else’s server to hold the information for you instead of bogging down your own computer.

    I have been told many times that “a locked door only keeps the honest people out of your house.” This is too true and the same really does apply to anything posted on the internet. By requesting that people not use your stuff (pictures or words) without permission, that is your locked door and only the honest will abide by such a request. Besides, I really don’t think most people even think about it as stealing. They are only showing other people what they have found that they like. It seems to me a good way to get more people coming to your website to see what you have to offer. If you don’t want people to see your stuff, then why did you bother to put it out on the internet in the first place?

    I agree that stealing is wrong, but it can happen whether your stuff is on the internet or not. But by putting your stuff out on the internet, it makes you more vulnerable to theft, copyright or not. It is up to you to protect your information/pictures. There are ways to do that as you are putting it on the internet. It may take a little extra time and effort, but if it means that much to you, then it should be worth the trouble.

  7. says

    I have to agree on the Ben’s point about The Oatmeal. I think the point of the comic is more that media companies need to get a whole lot smarter about distributing their content online than it is that piracy is OK. It’s not pro-piracy, it’s anti-stupid.

  8. Ben Cook says

    Traci, I think you must have missed the main point of the article.

    Pinterest’s terms of service state that by uploading your images to their service, you grant them perpetual, irrevocable rights to use those images in any way they see fit.

    Also, there are several bookmark sites that just let you go back to the site at a later date. Most of these sites don’t display your images and remove the need for visitors to visit your site.

    And finally, just because someone puts their content on the web, doesn’t mean they want it to be stolen. Doing things like preventing companies like Pinterest from claiming rights to your images (especially irrevocable and perpetual rights) is one way to avoid having your content stolen for good.

  9. says

    But what about Tumblr and We Heart It, who have been doing the same thing for YEARS but with even less of a policy of linking to original content owners? They are the worst! Why do they not get any heat when they’ve been doing the same thing?

    Also, because so many people “pin” my photos, Pinterest has become my second highest referrer of traffic to my site {it’s huge really}. I’ve only pinned a handful of my own images, though I had no idea I was granting Pinterest irrevocable rights to them while doing so. At least the hundreds of photo pins from my site daily are by other users.

    Here’s the thing too… if you code your site so people can’t easily “pin” from it, Mac users will just screen capture the image then upload it on their own, without any possible chance of a link back {unless, they, like me, manually enter it}

  10. Patrick Bennett says

    Pinterest is far from unique in their TOS. The great © grab started more than 15 years ago, first time I saw: “throughout the universe” in a photo buyers contract. I think I actually crossed it out and put in “Limited to the Milky Way Galaxy.” Or “you can have the moon and Mars but not Uranus.”

    This post and others like it are extremely important to continue to get the word out. Most people just don’t know and many corporations do and use this to build a free library of images.

  11. Traci says

    I understood perfectly well. If Pinterest says that in their TOS, then the problem that anyone has with their stuff being used should lie with Pinterest, not the users. The users are only using the site as a way to show what they like. And I didn’t say “just because someone puts their content on the web, doesn’t mean they want it to be stolen.” You did. I said that “If you don’t want people to see your stuff, then why did you bother to put it out on the internet in the first place?” There is a difference there.

    Besides, if you are putting things on the internet with the assumption that no one will use your stuff without asking first, just because you have requested they ask, then you are, quite frankly, too trusting. Not saying that it can’t be done, but I have yet to find a website that I was unable to go back to, after bookmarking, that didn’t show ALL of the contents that were there before, pictures included. And there are ways to protect your photos so that a person can’t even copy the link or image, and upload it later. For that matter, you can’t even click on it to see it zoomed in.

    All I am trying to say is that if you want to protect your images, then do the work to protect them. Quit putting the blame onto people who weren’t trying to steal your stuff in the first place. They were lead to believe it was okay to Pin the photos. Love Meagan was right, Pinterest isn’t the only ones who are doing this. Why is it just now becoming such a problem? It should’ve been taken up with the other websites before now. Yes, Pinterest should change their TOS, but the other sites should do the same thing.

  12. Ben Cook says

    The article is placing the blame squarely on Pinterest’s shoulders. They are the ones that are saying by using Pinterest you’re claiming to own the images you’re pinning. They are the ones making users grant them rights to their images.

    To address a couple of your other points, who in the discussion said they didn’t want users to see their content? Of course everyone would LOVE for more users to see their content. However, I want those users to see my content on MY site, not some other site that’s monetizing my content without paying me for use of that content.

    Bookmarking a web address in your browser is completely different than what is happening here, you realize that right? I don’t mind at all if you keep coming back to my website to look at my content time after time. But if users are going to your website to see my content instead of coming here, then we’re going to have an issue.

    And finally, it absolutely HAS been brought up with other sites, in fact Google has faced lawsuits over their use of images. However, as I said in the article, Pinterest’s ToS are even more invasive and far reaching than any other social media site’s TOS that I’ve seen to date. There may be worse out there, I just haven’t found them yet.

  13. Traci says

    It is understandable that you would want people to come directly to your site, but how exactly do you think that anyone will be able to find your website unless they came across it somewhere else. It isn’t like people just KNOW that your website is out there and that you have things on it that would interest them. They most generally find out about websites they like through other channels such as doing a search for something on Google, Yahoo, or any number of other search engines out there, OR by coming across it in reference from another blog or website.

    It is also understandable that you wouldn’t want them making money on your stuff without sharing. That makes perfect sense. But how many people really understood what Pinterest was doing? Even if they read the TOS, most people don’t understand all of the legalese. I agree that Pinterest should be held accountable for this glaring misuse of rights, but that doesn’t mean that the users should be to blame for “stealing” photos.

    And of course people put their stuff on the internet hoping that it will be seen. The point is that if you do so without properly protecting YOUR work, then you should look first at that. If you were to put your stuff in an art gallery and assume that they will insure it from theft, then that is your bad. You should carry insurance on the art as well just to protect yourself. You can’t just assume that it comes automatically or that you shouldn’t have a back up plan. Maybe it is just my lack of trust in others, but I would make sure my stuff was protected and not rely on someone else to do the work for me.

    I believe that Pinterest should be held accountable. I just don’t think blaming the users is the right way to go about it. Educating the users without blame will get more reaction on this matter than by making them all feel guilty for not knowing what was going on. And that is what I felt that your article saying. Sorry if I misunderstood.

  14. JM_Cook says

    Traci, the fact that I put images online does not give anyone else the right to reuse or repost them any more than parking my car in the street give someone the right to “borrow” it. Am I aware of the risk I am taking? Yes, but that doesn’t excuse illegal behavior by others.

    The fact that most people prefer to remain ignorant on this point doesn’t change the law – or the morality – involved. Yes, Pinterist is primarily at fault here but its users do share some responsibility.

  15. says

    Any site that blocks Pinterest is insane. Literally. If you block, the user just downloads the picture and pins it anyway. They are probably not going to put in the correct link (most people are lazy :) and so you get no credit, no link juice, no hits, and no chance at anyone finding more of your work.

    And I find that most creators (including myself) are less worried about people stealing their work, and more concerned about their works sitting collecting dust in obscurity. If one of my pictures becomes uber popular on Pinterest, hooray! If the link is correct I get more exposure and interest. If you are petrified, put a watermark with your url on all your pictures. Simple and easy.

  16. Ben Cook says

    Joshua, what you need to worry about is granting Pinterest rights to your images. That to me, is the biggest issue of this whole thing.

  17. Dave says


    How, exactly, does one exercise the due diligence you speak of to protect themselves from copyright abuse?

    I’m pretty relaxed about the abuses my works suffers, and I understand that it will happen and I tend to release my stuff under creative commons, to reflect my attitude. And on the occasions where I’ve kept full copyright, I’ve found that my copyright is respected (my metric being sites like tumbler where my CC stuff gets circulated endlessly, but I’ve never seen any of my copyrighted stuff). In fact, despite the occasional search for violations, I’ve never found an example of somebody reusing any of my IP improperly, with one exception: where someone has screen capped or otherwise downloaded something and then reposted it as their own. It’s this last that infuriates me, because it shows that the infringer is cognizant of the moral and/or legal wrongness of what they’re doing, and also that they are effectively claiming authorship. It may be that they are only trying to circumvent protections, but it is a claim on their part. And it sounds to me like this is what’s happening with pinterest (and that doesn’t happen with tumbler et. al., in my experience) So: to summarize: in my experience, the only copyright infringement that a typical individual is likely to face is the kind where no safeguards would help (short of not letting anybody anywhere see it).

    I profess to not be an expert on the matter, and my original question is genuine: what steps should one take to ensure that copyrighted works are protected?

  18. Dave Bennett says

    The users are the ones who took the action of linking (or pinning) an image, not Pinterest. This is probably why Pinterest is saying the fault lies with the user. Pinterest is assuming that the person who pins an image has permission and/or the rights to the image.

  19. Ben Cook says

    Dave B,
    Social sites such as Pinterest or Flickr often assume the users own the rights to the images they are uploading. They do this to cover their legal rear ends while still being able to profit off of copyright infringement.

    But again, the biggest issue in my mind is the perpetual, irrevocable, transferable rights Pinterest is claiming on the images that you DO own that you upload.

  20. says

    Traci, you say “there are ways to protect your photos so that a person can’t even copy the link or image” but that’s simply not true. There are ways to disable right-click downloading, but that can be easily circumvented. If you can see it, you can copy it. The most you can do is put in a roadblock.

    I’m in agreement with the author (Ben Cook). The opt-out meta tag offered by Pinterest does little to address the issue that images can still be pinned from any site, whether it’s the originating author’s or not, and these images are then stored in 600px width on Pinterest’s servers. This is not a mere bookmarking site.

    I wrote a blog entry myself about Pinterest and copyright earlier this week:

  21. says

    Quick Question, is what Pintrest doing any different that when I post a like to Facebook and I can choose the thumbnail next to the link? To me it seems like the same thing.

  22. Ben Cook says

    As I mention in the article, Facebook & other sites claim rights to your images but their ToS allows the user to terminate those rights by removing the images.

    Pinterest’s ToS claim perpetual, irrevocable rights to your images, meaning that if you realize you don’t want to grant them those rights & delete the images, they retain rights to those images.

    Now, I would argue that Facebook’s ToS is still too intrusive and they should limit themselves even further. However, Pinterest’s ToS are even worse and render the site completely useless in my opinion.

  23. says

    Rich, another important difference is that the thumbnails that Facebook generates are much smaller than the images Pinterest generates and stores on their servers. 600px width is wide enough that for many casual users it doesn’t provide an incentive to visit the originating site, especially if the image itself is the content rather than an illustration for a recipe or some such.

  24. says

    Sad fact: Few if any actually read the TOS. They just check the box, click the agree button and go on about their way. Often this is because either some folks are a) lazy, b) stupid, c)don’t care, d) it’s too much legal jargon to read for a layman, e) confusing double speak, d) uses too much time, e) insert reason/excuse here.

    The bigger the company, the more expensive the lawyer they can hire to craft such documents. It’s something I’ve noticed over the years. If you look at say, Etsy, who encourages their users to craft their own “store policies”, or personal sites by people who have no clue about the various online legalities out there, or game manufacturers, movie companies, game studios, and more you’ll see the discrepancies. It’s so sad, but it’s so true.

    Is it a lack of education? Is it a lack of understanding? Is it a naive trust? I don’t know what the motivation is, but one thing I did learn from an old singer who’s group were scammed out of their hit song’s copyright. “Be a shark” he said to me, “don’t take your copyrights for granted. Protect them with all you have and fight for them every step of the way. You can’t trust anyone, even the companies that seem to ‘support’ you.”

    Companies will want to protect their interests, this includes liability in regards to usage lawsuits and the like. In this regard they will try to find every loophole, and every back door they can, even if this means stepping on someone else’s toes. Walt Disney’s own studio policies are ridiculous all because the man himself was ripped off from the animation studio he worked for when he was young. This is not a new problem, but there aren’t many answers either that allow for “sharing” versus hiding one’s work in the shadows.

    Thank you for this article. I’ll make sure to share it.

  25. says

    This is a common misread of TOS. You’ve cut the end of the clause which says that they may only, “…exploit such Member Content only on, through or by means of the Site, Application or Services. Cold Brew Labs does not claim any ownership rights in any such Member Content and nothing in these Terms will be deemed to restrict any rights that you may have to use and exploit any such Member Content.”

    Bottom line: The TOS does not grant Pinterest the copyright to your work nor does it allow them to make greeting cards or any other such thing. What it DOES do is allow them to sell a premium service if they want to as well as show images on a variety of different formats.

    If a service like Pinterest actually used someone’s photos to make t-shirts or really anything, their entire business would collapse and the money gained from the sales could not possibly justify the cost.

  26. Ben Cook says

    Mary, just because they’re not claiming ownership doesn’t mean users aren’t granting them rights as discussed. Again, I’m not a lawyer but if they are allowed to transfer these rights to your content or sub-license the images I’m not sure why you don’t think they could for example making greeting cards.

    Your point that it would be a horrible business decision is a good point, but frankly I don’t want control of my images to be at risk even if sites make dumb business moves.

    And again, the perpetual & irrevocable nature of the rights is something I’ve not seen other sites do.

  27. says

    Quoting Joshua

    Any site that blocks Pinterest is insane. Literally. If you block, the user just downloads the picture and pins it anyway. They are probably not going to put in the correct link (most people are lazy :) and so you get no credit, no link juice, no hits, and no chance at anyone finding more of your work.

    And I find that most creators (including myself) are less worried about people stealing their work, and more concerned about their works sitting collecting dust in obscurity. If one of my pictures becomes uber popular on Pinterest, hooray! If the link is correct I get more exposure and interest. If you are petrified, put a watermark with your url on all your pictures. Simple and easy.

    More people need to understand this is the way of the future, change isn’t always easy, but learn to embrace it and you will gain understanding of how the “new world” is learning to live.

  28. Ben Cook says

    Staci, I think everyone in the conversation understands the benefit of social sites & additional attention for your images. However, it’s important that benefit doesn’t come at too high a cost.

    For example, if the NYT published a photo you had taken on their front page without asking or paying for it, would you say “oh well, at least a lot of people saw it”?

    I suspect you would want proper attribution and probably payment as well (I know I would).

    So while social media is definitely something that can be harnessed to spread your images, it needs to be spread in the right way that doesn’t compromise your control over your images.

  29. says

    Photographers who obsess about their online photos being ripped off are wasting valuable time that could better be spent shooting.

    Posting photos online is one of the most cost-effective ways for photographers to market their work. Commercial users will contact the photographer and arrange to license stock they like for a fee. Or they might have an assignment. I make thousands of dollars a year in stock and assignment photography, purely off referrals from my blog and Flickr. If someone uses your work commercially without paying there are ample remedies under the law, including triple damages.

    Lighten up, people — especially about low-res online images. A 600 pixel file would print a 2-inch wide greeting card at 300 dpi. And if people want to use yur web images for personal use, so what? It’s arguably fair use in the first place.

    Some photographers turn into record company execs railing about “pirates” when it comes to their own images. When you get the urge, go take some photographs.

  30. Colleen says

    I have to agree with Peter and Joshua here. In what way would those photos be of such great value that pinning them could create great wealth for anyone at all?
    I dislike photos on Pinterest that track back to nothing. Pinterest is best used when you can show the world something that gets them interested and would pin back to the relative site.
    It sounds a bit paranoid to say that some great unknown harm can come from pinning. I believe that pinning back to the site allows for lots of views, possible sales, and more interaction.
    As for the sales of photos only, go with the watermark as suggested and live long and prosper.

  31. says

    So………….. Where do we go from here? When you know better you do better, but is it too late? I’m a “pinner” and I’ve been “pinned.”

  32. Ben Cook says

    I would say 1) we should keep up the pressure on Pinterest to change their ToS. Pressure seems to have changed their behavior in terms of the undisclosed affiliate links, so hopefully they’ll claim less rights to your images if the outrage reaches enough of their user base. 2) I would be VERY careful moving forward about which of your images you pin AND what you pin on other sites. Re-pinning would seem safe in terms of legality but I’m not a lawyer so…

    There seems to be a lot of debate over whether or not this is actually a big deal but the facts are the facts. Pinterest is claiming irrevocable rights to the images you upload to their site. This doesn’t transfer ownership or anything, but it does reduce your control over your own images. If this isn’t a big deal to Pinterest, they should change their ToS.

    Also, while many of the people commenting here don’t want to place any blame on the users, you are, by Pinterest’s terms of service claiming that you own (or can grant Pinterest rights to) ANY image you upload to their site. Everyone can make their own decisions but I would recommend pinning only images that have already been pinned.

  33. Vanessa says

    I was wondering when this was going to come up and how Pinterest was going to address it… their fix is way too easy to circumvent. If I was a photographer, I would be pretty insulted.

    In regards to the TOS, it is almost a year old. I think that alone (plus the popularity of the site) should give Cold Brew Labs cause to review and modify the agreement. Here is to hoping…

    Now, I’m not a lawyer but I read the Pinterest TOS again. I can’t figure out how it can be perceived, with the TOS in its current state, that Cold Brew Labs could take a “pinned” image and sell it on a greeting card, t-shirt, etc. They don’t claim ownership of an image even when pinned. And I understand that pinning an image gives them rights BUT “only on, through or by means of the Site, Application or Services”.

    The Site, Application or Services is defined in the TOS as the following:
    “view and follow visual collections (the “Services”) through our website, accessible at (the “Site”), and our application for mobile devices (the “Application”).”

    From what I am reading, the TOS does not state that the image could be used in a product outside of the defined scope of “Services”, “Site” or “Application”. Again, I am not a lawyer… but this is how I am interpreting it. I don’t want to be naive and I do believe the TOS needs to be updated but am I missing something in regards to image use? If they don’t own the image (but have the rights to it) how can they sell a card with the image on it and collect a profit?

  34. Ben Cook says

    Vanessa, I’m hoping to get an actual copyright lawyer to chime in on this issue but where I think the issue get’s sticky is that Pinterest is also granting itself the right to sub-license the images as well. Would their sub-licenses be restricted to the Site, Application or Services? Not from the way I read it but again, as I’ve stated, I am nothing close to a lawyer.

  35. Rosemary says

    Thanks for the heads up. I don’t use Pinterest and probably won’t. I’m an artist and a lot of people I’m in contact with on the web are artists or photographers. I don’t want to be granting any rights unless I’m quite clear on the issue. Artists are used to having their work stolen but they don’t like it, obviously, and try to prevent it by using watermarks, distortions, never posting over a certain size, etc. We probably wouldn’t fuss much over minor things like a web-posting of a small or watermarked image to call attention to our site or our work, it’s the guys in China selling giclees of our work that’s going to hurt us. On that same theory, we don’t want a site like Pinterest claiming and using our work for it’s own purposes just because we posted the work on their site. Thanks again.

  36. Alain says

    Wasn’t this “if you post your original art there it belongs to them” discussion done to death a few years ago , over the Deviant Art TOS?

  37. Ben Cook says

    Alain, no one is saying Pinterest owns your images. They are granted rights to your images, but not ownership (or even exclusive rights).

  38. techartchic says

    Ben, I’m in full agreement with you. Not sure why so many people can’t wrap their mind around the irrevocable license thing. This is totally different from facebook, google, etc. Why should we look the other way and NOT demand a “win-win”? Why is everyone so willing to just give it all up to the next big coolest social media behemoth with the worst TOS I’ve ever seen. I’m all for sharing, posting, pinning, linking…I love it. I love Pinterest. You mentioned greeting cards. How about stock photography, digital photo frames, mobile device wall-papers and skins…online publications… as more and more magazines, books, cards, everything, is moving away from print and into online – I fear the “but it’s lo-res!” argument doesn’t hold water anymore. They could easily integrate a pay-for-image-and-download-and-use business line from their site, for commercial and personal use. Why are we so willing to hand over the bag without asking for, I don’t know, something ethical? Because they KNOW what their users are doing 95% of the time, and how it’s being done. Let’s face it…we shouldn’t expect the whole world to have to opt out of Pinterest just to protect their work from modification and unauthorized sales. There needs to be a middle ground. Like I said, I love Pinterest and I’m okay with monetization. But how can I be encouraged to pin the content of others, knowing I actually am not legally allowed to do so, according to their own user agreement? They state we should only pin our own work, or whatever images we have permission to pin/upload. And in the same breath they discourage self-promotion. Remember the days of Napster? Well, I don’t think that business model allowed Napster an irrevocable license to the music to sell it and modify it, etc, putting the onus on the musicians to take it up with the millions of users infringing copyright. There has to be some accountability and moving forward with integrity. Or are we all just giving up on that, laying there and “taking it” in the name of progress and technology. They are a little, if you ask me, treading on a very thin line. Let’s hope for a change for the better that works.

  39. Ben Cook says

    Techartchic, I completely agree with you. The low res issue does at least limit what could conceivably be done with the images (they probably wouldn’t print out on a poster very well unless it was a composite piece) but if I’m reading the ToS correctly, they could quietly license a stock image company to use all of those images and 600px is plenty big for most stock image sites.

    Again, I have contacted a copyright lawyer to help provide some clarification of these issues and I’ll post an update as soon as I have more info.

  40. Erin says

    I am an avid Pinterest user, and I am not trying to steal anything. I pin things that I like, and when I repin something it is because I have gone to the original site and have decided that I want to keep that information for later. I don’t claim things as my own and I don’t remove the link to the original site. I get the feeling that you are calling pinners thieves and that is not fair. Most pinners, I believe, use pinterest for inspiration and for learning. Without pinterest I would not have found many of the blogs that I have pinned, including yours, and while I am not terribly familiar with the blogosphere it sounds like the more people visit your site, the more money you make(?) so it seems like it isn’t that bad of a deal. Maybe I am just naive, but I don’t think people use pinterest to steal photos or art and claim it as their own.

  41. TS says

    Every major website on the web requires irrevocable, perpetual, worldwide rights to content in order to legally host it and propagate it elsewhere on the web. Tumblr, etc… Why all the Pinterest hate? This has nothing to do with them – almost every site has the same TOS for bookmarking or snapshot type features.

  42. Ben Cook says

    Erin, while you might not be claiming the image is yours intentionally, that’s what Pinterest’s Terms of Service are forcing their users to claim in order to pin an image. That is part of why their ToS are so bad. I am not calling Pinners thieves, but most ARE violating copyrights. That’s just the facts of the unfortunate situation Pinterest has created.

    TS, I would challenge you to show me which other sites require irrevocable and perpetual rights. As I mentioned in the article, neither Flickr nor Google+ require irrevocable rights. I’ve since checked Facebook and they don’t require irrevocable rights either. I’ll take a look at Tumblr’s ToS but this is NOT something that’s typical across the web and it most definitely DOES have to do with Pinterest (since they’re the ones who wrote the ToS).

  43. Ben Cook says

    TS, I just looked at Tumblr’s ToS and while it is quite intrusive, they to state that “On termination of Subscriber’s membership to the Site and use of the Services, Tumblr shall make all reasonable efforts to promptly remove from the Site and cease use of the Subscriber Content.”

    In my opinion, this makes Tumblr’s ToS slightly less sucky than Pinterest’s.

  44. says

    You need to consider the words “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” in the light of the way a site like Pinterest is operated.

    “Use”: they can’t do anything at all with your content without being allowed to use it. “Adapt, modify”: if they automatically generate a thumbnail version of your content they’ve adapted and modified it. “Distribute, license, sell, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, stream, broadcast, access, view”: those are all things a web site does by virtue of being visited and looked at, with the exception of “license” and “sell”. The most likely explanation for them is that visitors to the site are only given a license to view the content, not rights in it, which means that term protects the owners of original content placed on the site; and “sell” allows them to charge visitors for a premium service, like the way Flickr allows paying customers access to the highest resolution versions of photos. “Otherwise exploit”: there are a number of recondite ways in which content may need to be manipulated in order to keep a high-traffic web site up and running, and this allows for them.

    Going back up to “worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free license, with the right to sublicense”: it’s a World Wide Web site, they provide the service on the basis that you don’t receive royalties, the license you grant is transferable and sublicensable because they may want to split the company into several divisions for business reasons but – and this is extremely important – the license you grant is non-exclusive. That means that they can’t do anything to prevent you using your own content in any other way you choose; they have no exclusive rights to it.

    That just leaves “irrevocable, perpetual” and, to be honest, American lawyers in particular seem to include those words in everything; it must be something they learn in college. The main benefit to the company from those words is that, if you choose to delete your account or some particular bit of content, they don’t have to spend loads of time and money making sure your content is removed not only from the site, but also from all the backups they’ve made to ensure continuity of service. They can just take your stuff down from the live site.

    The most important words are “only on, through or by means of the Site, Application or Services”: that means they can’t use your content on t shirts, posters, mugs, or anything like that – they couldn’t even use it in an ad campaign for the site without additional permission, as the ads would be served by a different site/application/service. All you grant is that they can do whatever’s needed to show your stuff on their site and, if you didn’t want them to do that, why did you put it there in the first place? 😉

  45. says

    I have to admit that I am sadly one of those that probably did not read the terms of service because I figured they said the same thing that all other terms said. I apologize and I will be very careful about what I pin from now on. I hope that I have not exposed anyone’s photos that should not be and if you see something on my page that you feel should not be out there please feel free to contact me and I will remove it right away!

  46. m-jay says

    Bizarre.. Call me what you will. But if you don’t like it or the rules they have set on their own paid domain / site…. don’t use it. As for grabbing images… I’m pretty sure most of us have used ‘printscreen’ at one time or the other… Or other varying softwares that do the same thing.. Windows 7 even provides ‘snipping tool’… Like I said, if you don’t want your shiyet to be accessible on the web or have other people ‘pin’ it don’t use it… The fact people are moaning and whatnot about it just seems really stupid. Make your own site and host it yourself, you can set your own rules. Geez.

  47. Ben Cook says

    This post is educating people about Pinterest’s ToS. I am, as you suggest, not going to use it because I don’t want to grant them rights to my images. However, the idea of “if you don’t want your stuff stolen don’t put it out there” is just ignorant & excusing people who violate copyright law. If I swipe your wallet, should I blame you for carrying one around?

  48. m-jay says

    I see what your saying, yep ignorance over came me in a flurry. I didn’t fully comprehend the breadth of what you were talking about beyond what I mentioned previously regarding individual postings of ones work. If what your saying is true, then I fully get the urgency. So to dumb it down (for me) you’re saying.. If I were to post a pic of someone elses photograph from someones elses website… Pinterest assumes they have the right to use that image in anyway they want ? On multiple mediums and varying applications.. for profitable purposes ? the mind boggles. Surely that can’t be right. Megavideo just got hauled off the net just for hosting stuff.. Can’t be long for Pinterest to suffer the same fate surely?

  49. says

    Tried to pin the bottom graphic in the post, and INTERESTINGLY ENOUGH pinterest’s server refused to pin it. HMM. Had to grab it and upload it myself (with a backlink to here in my pin, of course!)

  50. Ben Cook says

    Alan, that part was actually something I broke in the pin button code apparently. It should be fixed now. Sorry about that!

  51. Sarah says

    What frustrates me is that these accusations against Pinterest and the subsequent knee-jerk reactions they’re inspiring are being made by people who don’t truly understand the issue. You say that this post is “educating people about Pinterest’s ToS,” and yet you also admit that you don’t REALLY know what those terms mean, because you’re not a copyright lawyer, and therefore, you’re just guessing. Sooooo, why didn’t you contact a copyright lawyer to clear up the issues you didn’t understand BEFORE you posted this article and created those images that you want everyone to pin?

    You, and others, (especially the bozos who created the “Pinterest Project” on, are perpetuating the spread of misinformation, which helps no one.

    And, what cracks me up is how everyone is getting their panties in a bunch over something that isn’t really happening. You say that “if Inman himself were to pin his comics, Pinterest could sell books, t-shirts, posters, greeting cards (all items Inman himself currently sells) and he wouldn’t be owed a dime.” Well, a) that statement is entirely false, and b) even if it were true, do you REALLY believe that Pinterest would do that? I mean, really, really, truly? My answer is a hearty NO, because I believe Pinterest’s mission statement, I believe that the people running Pinterest are smarter than that, and I also believe that people are innocent until proven guilty.

    But I promise that if I ever see Ben Silbermann hawking Oatmeal coffee mugs at the mall, I will eat my words.

  52. Michael says

    I don’t see where Pinterest is doing any of that. I have an account, and when I see good ideas for something, whether it be home renovating or places I would love to travel, I pin it. It is stored on my Pinterest account, NOT my personal computer, and the links link to the place from where I pinned it from. Meal ideas, clothing ideas, paint color ideas, anything you can think of. Pinterest introduces people to people, places and ideas that maybe you haven’t thought of.

    Maybe it could be modified with more recognition to the original owner of that chili recipe, but the idea of Pinterest is a good one, and it is easy to see why so many people like it. You aren’t stealing people’s images by pinning them. Its no different than bookmarking the page.

    If they take Pinterest away people can still simply save entire pages to their computers, save images to their computers or anything else that does risk violating copyrights. Pinterest just keeps links and ideas pinned to an area in your account so you have access to those great ideas you stumbled upon last Friday.

    People, in typical fashion make everything out to be a copyright issue. If you are going to stay awake at night popping ulcer pills worrying about your image being put on Pinterest and repinned a billion times, why did you offer it to the public by putting it online in the first place?

    And I am a photographer, and my images are online as well… I know the risks.

  53. Ben Cook says

    I’m not a lawyer so I can’t say for certain what would hold up in court. For example, I’ve been told Pinterest’s ToS wouldnt hold up and that they would still face legal liability should someone decide to sue them for copyright infringement.
    However, the ToS absolutely ARE claiming rights to your images AND making users certify that they own or can grant rights to the images they pin. Those are the facts and just because you’re a fan of the site doesn’t change those facts.

    As the comment after yours clearly illustrates, there is a LOT of misunderstanding about Pinterest and copyright. The site stores 600px images on their own servers, this most certainly is NOt just like bookmarking a site as some commenters have claimed.

  54. Sarah says

    I find it telling that your reply does not address anything I actually said in my comment, but instead refers to statements made by others. And why is it that you have not replied to the comment by Nick Fitzsimons, which clearly explains the language in the terms of service and refutes many of your claims?

    I don’t really care, because your statements prove your ignorance, and not mine, but I must refute your assumption that I am a fan of Pinterest. I do not have a Pinterest account, nor am I on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr, or any other sharing site. I do all of my communicating and sharing online via email, and I do just fine, thank you.

    What I AM a fan of, however, is THE TRUTH, and therefore, by extension, RESEARCH. And the CAPS LOCK. I simply feel that you should be able to back up your assertions with actual FACTS before you tell people to take action and “get the (false) message out.”

  55. Ben Cook says

    Sarah, I’m not sure how you’re still managing to argue against what is in black and white on Pinterest’s own Terms of Service that you can click through and read for yourself.

    Fact 1) Pinterest’s ToS states that by pinning an image, you’re asserting that you either own the image or can grant Pinterest rights to use that image. In a very large majority of cases, that’s NOT true. Most “pinners” don’t own the images they are pinning, and as a result, they are violating copyright law. That is, as you put it, THE TRUTH and actual FACT.

    Fact 2) Pinterest’s ToS is forcing users to grant them rights to their images. Unlike other image sites such as Flickr or Google Images, the rights Pinterest is claiming are perpetual and irrevocable. This is also the truth and a fact.

    Feel free to argue against both of those two facts until you’re blue in the face but they are in print and are irrefutable.

    What you seem to have a problem with is my speculation about what could be done with the images that Pinterest is undoubtedly gaining perpetual and irrevocable rights to. I have no idea what Pinterest’s business plans are, or what they could get away with if they were taken to court.

    However, just because a company has yet to exercise their rights does not mean we shouldn’t be wary of granting them those rights. THAT is the message I wanted to spread through this post and no matter how much you argue, it doesn’t change the two main facts that I’ve once again highlighted in this comment.

    The fun/frustrating/interesting thing about the law, especially copyright and trademark law, is that the only opinion that matters is that of the judge and/or jury deciding a case in the court of law. Maybe the hypothetical situation that I speculated about would never hold up and Pinterest would be ordered to pay a truck load of money. Maybe Pinterest will never attempt to do anything malicious with the millions of images users are uploading to their site.

    But I for one, think Pinterest should change their ToS to, at the very least, be more in line with sites like Flickr or Google, and will not be uploading or pinning any content until they do so. What you or anyone else does with the information presented in this post is outside of my control.

  56. says

    As a business owner/blogger I WANT people to pin from my website and blog. The images link right back to my site which only creates more traffic. I’m not claiming that Pinterest users are or are not infringing copyright laws….but as these users are not claiming that these images were produced or created by them and should (if the user is using Pinterest properly) alway link back to where the original content stemmed or at least from a reputable site that gives the original content credit I don’t see the problem. Who in their right mind would sue Pinterest/Pinterest users for liking their images/work and spreading it to a wider audience? Isn’t that the entire point of posting content online, for it to reach a broad audience? Pinterest only helps make this happen.

  57. says

    Thank you. You confirmed to one of the FEW people who actually read the terms of Pinterest’s service, that was I was reading was in fact accurate.
    Any pin that I pin that isn’t mine, is copyright infringement.

    You did enlighten me to the fact that I’ve lost my own rights over my own images by pinning them to my boards, though, and I thank you for that information.

    I read over and over trying to make sure what I was reading was accurate and what I settled on was that the only images I’m allowed to pin, legally, are my own. But, somewhere in there I doubted what I knew, because I saw everyone else pinning and thought that it must not be true if all these other people are doing it (and not getting in trouble). Yea. I know. Lamest excuse ever.

    I’m removing myself from Pinterest. Trust your gut, folks.

  58. Nana says

    @Jennifer Harrup, You hit the nail on the head for savvy business owners. Being “pinned” equals more traffic equals more sales equals more revenue. Business owners and bloggers I visit are constantly writing about how they are amazed at the sudden influx of visitors … and customers … who visit from P. The other day, there was a blogger who was talking about how she only had 12 (twelve!) hits on her site, until one of her entry’s pictures was pinned, and suddenly she had over 75k in no time flat.

    Those who are worried about their copyright should post it on their pictures via watermark or some other means. AFAIK, no one can transfer the rights of your copyrighted picture FOR you, so someone else pinning your pictures does not invalidate your copyright.

  59. says


    Excellent write-up, thanks! The more I read about what Pinterest is doing (and not doing!) the more it bothers me. I’d love to use that awesome ‘STOP sign’ logo on my pages on various sites (my own as well as image hosting sites) to advertise that I do not want my work pinned (or, where a site does not allow embedding images, maybe use it as a temporary avatar!).

    Would such a use be allowed? You do encourage sharing and pinning it, but it would be great if you would grant much wider usage for people to use it on their own sites and on sites where their work is hosted – after all not all sites that host work have measures in place to ‘prevent’ pinning (to the extent possible). I should also mention that it would not be possible in all circumstances to link back to to here, depending on what type of image embedding and linking image-hosting sites allow their users. But if it’s widely adopted and linked back where possible, would you accept that?

    Also, if you do allow this, would you prefer we use our own (downloaded & re-uploaded) copy, or use a direct hotlink to your version on this site?

    (I won’t be able to ‘pin’ it myself because I definitely not sign up with Pinterest: even if I wanted to use the site – which I don’t – I could not possibly sign up given their terms!)

  60. says

    I own the copyright to my images. That is ingrained in copyright law and treaties around the world.

    A social media site or social networking can lay claims to member content, because the member is responsible and in the user agreement, states he or she either owns the content or has permission to share, on Pinterest.

    Now, if we ask ourselves, do all the members ask before pinning? I think it is fairly safe to write, that no users do not ask.

    What is more of a concern, is the usage and modification to our works that Pinterest claims it can do.

    Also, member content is considered links, so, again how does a member own a link?

    Here’s a web site that has easy to understand copyright info.

  61. Ben Cook says

    Feel free to use the image any place you can link back to this page. If you would like to use the image as your avatar on Twitter or Facebook feel free to do so.

  62. Mitch Labuda says

    What about the “embed” code next to each pinned item?

    I can click the embed and place the code on my blog, from Pinterest, where the user may or may not own the rights to the work.

    Heck I can even resize, read modify, the pinned work.

  63. James says

    Copyright law has a “fair use policy” where people can use a copyright image
    as part of a review, criticism, etc. Their is a line between “fair use” and what
    constitutes as infringement, but that line can only be determined in a court
    of law, so it’s difficult to sue over a copyright unless it is an outright case
    of theft. The most obvious would be using a copyright image for profit in an
    advertisement, where that would normally be considered infringement.

    There are many sites that post funny pictures and some may hold a copyright
    but their is no infringement on the copyright unless the copyright holder
    finds that it goes beyond the “fair use policy” and then they must prove
    that within a court of law. It’s much easier and less costly just to request
    that the images be removed. The problem is that the Internet is massive,
    and there is absolutely no way to stop the spreading of images and videos.

    The only solution is to eliminate the copyright laws, because content creation
    is no longer something that people can easily claim ownership of anymore.

  64. James says

    Copyright is a thing of the past. With the advent of the Internet, it’s impossible
    to enforce a copyright when an image can be shared to hundreds of millions of people.

    An image is not assumed to be copyrighted. The creator of the image must enforce
    the copyright in order for it be against the law to use the image. It is nearly impossible
    for anyone to determine where an image originates when found over the Internet,

    It’s time for people to realize that certain things have changed with the advent of the
    Internet, and instead of complaining about it, the easier path it to try to adapt to it.