Don’t Pin Me Bro! The Saga Of Copyright and Pinterest


Like Twitter and Facebook, Pinterest is a social media concept that’s compelling by nature and has quickly taken the social community by storm.  And it’s easy to see why.

Pinterest is a concept of “pinning” your favorite interesting photos found across the internet, to a virtual bulletin board, complete with categories and descriptions for content.  In essence it is a virtual visual collection much like a wish list, or even a dream or vision board.  Only you can have several boards all hosted on Pinterest.

Have an interest in Dr. Who like I do?  You can create a board there to pin your favorite photos of Daleks and actors, the electronic screwdriver you want for Christmas and even the Tardis Kindle Cover I pinned and later received for Valentine’s Day (my hubby is the best!).  And the cool thing?  When you pin, Pinterest links that photo “pin” directly to the site you pin from. From there your friends and followers can also “re-pin” the photo to their boards, link intact.  It’s a great visual way to share with others.  A lot of words aren’t necessary when a picture paints a thousand words.

Btw, you can view my Pinterest boards here.  I’m slow to adding to my pins and follows, as I try to do so with purpose.  Ever since reading Forbes’ article about the potential costs caused by digital hoarding, I’ve looked at collecting a whole new way.  But that’s another story for another time.

As it is with most social things, I first heard about Pinterest from a friend.  I wasn’t sure what to think of it at first, but I’m pretty darn sure now that there can be some marketing aspects to it.  And only a week ago,  The Wall Street Journal seems to agree.  I finally joined because I kept seeing referral hits on my blog from Pinterest and I’m pretty sure at least one pattern sale this month originated from that direction as well. I’ve also found it’s a great way to find more things in genres I love, like Dr. Who, Steam Punk, etc.. The kind of things that pretty much it takes one to pass it on to find, but Googling might not discover.  And it seems more efficient than StumbleUpon.  Being very visual in nature, the platform is perfect for collecting visual experiences that only a photo can describe.  I am sent photos over the internet nearly every day in one inspirational Power Point presentation or another means.  I’d far rather be tagged on Pinterest and know where the photo came from.

What About Copyright Issues?

Along with the pioneering spirit of Pinterest’s visual landscape, though, copyright controversy has also been in the air.  There have been complaints from image owners who don’t want their images being pinned and don’t know how to stop the frenzy.  Many Etsy sellers are included in this lot.  Unfortunately, some sellers have even found their for-sale items pinned to boards with descriptions like, “$60 is too much! I want to figure out how to copy this.”  Not to mention the on-going concerns many photographers have.

It’s disconcerting to go through. Sellers are trying to make an extra income. Some Etsy folks are there because they lost jobs, or need a second income. Some are there because they were die-hard makers to begin with. I know we can totally appreciate their plight. No one likes to feel victimized. Everyone desires respect and professional courtesy. No one wants to lose money or have their ideas swiped. And it’s a bit of a poor show for someone to pin a seller’s item with a blatant stated intention of copying.

To add fuel to the gathering flames, just last Friday, Galen Moore wrote his article “How Your Business Could Get Sued Using Pinterest” for the Boston Business Journal.  In it he explains a little known clause in Pinterest’s user agreement that gives them the right to actually sell any image uploaded to their service.  A clause many people probably never noticed.  I didn’t.  And we could be liable for it. Eek! Really?

Also on the same day came Kevin Lincoln’s article “Pinterest Might Be Enabling Massive Copyright Theft” for Business Insider.  In that article Kevin interviews a media law attorney, Itai Maytal, on the matter.  Along with the varying answers both grey and pointed, Mr. Maytal points out that the recent copyright concerns are likely to be an issue for Tumblr as well.

Concerns Are Being Heard

There does seem to be some action being taken for folks who don’t want their items to be pinned.  Not unlike how photos on Flickr can be protected and how photos on Google image search can be removed.

And Pinterest is no exception.  They even wrote a blog article this week on the copyright subject.  Seems they’re listening and they’ve created a code you can put on your website to disable pinning.  Owners can also file copyright infringement complaints directly with Pinterest to have pins taken down.  You can fill out that form here.

Flickr, a photo hosting service, is also listening and jumping in to protect their users.  Just yesterday they enabled protection for Flickr users from having their photos pinned.  Check out yesterday’s discussion on Flickr here.

Is This Much Different Than A Xerox Machine Though?

Many folks might remember though, this kind of thing isn’t the first time new technology caused copyright concerns.  The invention of the copy-machine came first.  There was a lot of controversy over the ability to steal copyrighted material, and yet copy-machines are indispensable today.  Read more about that history at “Copyright And The Advent Of Xerox Machines,” a great little article on the “History of Information” blog from Berkley.

Some Of My Thoughts, As A Seller & Designer

Copyright protection is important.  Seriously important.  And for more reasons than just products and inventions.  I don’t want my children’s photos, for instance, posted around the internet without permission either.  An approach to the issue I haven’t really heard much about and a subject for a different conversation.

However, I think the truth is that with or without Pinterest, the copy-cats are there doing their thing anyway. In my experience, many may covet, but few truly act. (See my article “When Artist’s Hear, ‘I Can Make That!‘” for more.)  And honestly, whose people aren’t my market anyway. Services like Pinterest just make it easier to find out that someone might want to copy your work. People will do this sort of thing with or without help of services like Pinterest.

Case in point: At a local juried show a few years ago, I had a woman come into my booth, handle/look at all my goods, ask questions, acted like she wanted to buy, let me talk to her about my hooks and methods, etc..  After much conversation and time, she then walked out of my booth with these words over her shoulder, “I hadn’t thought about making these kinds of things to sell in my booth! I’ll have to think about it and make some now.” She then proceeded to walk back to her booth on the opposite side of the show.

I was completely disarmed. Usually, rather exclusive juried shows include better vendors and behavior than that.  But still, this sort of thing can happen. Me personally?  I just can’t fathom taking the time away from my customers and booth during a show to do that to someone else.  She was even old enough to be my mom!  Very surreal experience, but it definitely taught me something.

Those people are out there and being in public puts you in their path. And being in business at all means risk – that’s the nature of business. Show me a good thing and I’ll show you a way someone could be victimized by it. And likewise the opposite is true. Everything in life is pretty much a two edge sword. It’s all in how we live. For now, I’ll conduct myself ethically, pursue my passion with a pure heart. If at any point I need to do something, I will. And judging intent is a tricky thing.  Makes for interesting discussion though.

Overall, I see the Pinterest service as kind of a reorganized Google image collection. Everything’s already out there on Google and coming up in searches. I receive a lot of hits from Google image searches and I use image searches myself to find specific products I’m looking for. Like that stitch guide I like but keep misplacing.  I never remember the brand name for that thing and I’m always losing it.  I probably have 10 of them now.

Though I’m not a huge pinner yet, overall I think Pinterest can be a huge benefit to people who’d like to be discovered and I hope it stays. It’s a great tool. A great way to hang onto something visually, link included, without taking up space in my bookmarks (a system that doesn’t really work for me anyway) or my tab groups in Firefox (which works, but is mainly suitable for my research, not a lot of other things). It’s a great way to share new products with others too.  Pinterest even helped me get the Tardis Kindle cover I wanted, originally pinned by a friend of mine. Amazon’s Universal Wish List never quite did that for me. And that Etsy seller would not have gotten my husband’s sale without Pinterest.  Just saying. From a wishlist standpoint, the easy photo-with-link system works.

The internet is still a new frontier and as more people get on and learn how to make use of it and carve a new world out of it, the more needed tweaks and corrections will be discovered.  Not much different from settling the wild west.  It’s still the land of opportunity.  At the same time, folks have to stand up for themselves and their principals.  Though hopefully we will manage to keep it a relatively free world for generations to come.



Filed under Editorial

26 responses to “Don’t Pin Me Bro! The Saga Of Copyright and Pinterest

  1. Thanks for this very useful article.
    I agree, there will always be people who will say – “you’re charging too much” and “I can make it myself”. I hear it all the time. And those who will want to copy, will do so. Unfortunately.
    I had this situation when I was working as a sales assistant in a store – a woman came in and asked if she could take a toy teddy bear (made by artist), draw a line around it on a paper so she can make it at home for her grandchild… I was shocked. But I had to deal with a lot of these kind of opinions and attitudes back then.

    • For some reason, there are groups of people who don’t seem to know better. I don’t know if it was the way they were raised or what. I guess it falls to the rest of us to make up for it somehow and set the example. I make a huge point of teaching my kids, that’s for sure!

  2. I just read another article on the same topic. It makes me stop and think about what I pin on Pinterest. I am on PInterest but I am not a huge pinner. I mainly use it as a place to put inspiration for ideas without cluttering my bookmarks. If I pin something from Etsy I make sure to let people know it is from Etsy and for sale.

  3. I like Pinterest, and I think it can be a great tool to get your work discovered…

    …IF people actually pin the source, and not just some Tumblr feed. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found things on Pinterest, thought “I MUST BUY THAT NOW”, only to be led to some useless Tumblr where, if I can actually find the image at all, there’s no information about where it’s from. ARG.

    • Agreed! That is part of the Pinterest etiquette, but people don’t always follow it. I’ve seen several complaints against Tumblr too.

      • I agree. The root of the problem lies far deeper than Pinterest — where proper credit is encouraged and laid out in the etiquette guidelines. What is causing that to not happen is the fact that so many individuals on Tumblr and other similar sites post pictures with no regard to who created them — and in the case of Tumblr, often the Tumblr will add their own link as a watermark-type text onto the image, making it look like they are the original source.

        I’ve seen a few Etsy shops adamant that they do not want their pictures pinned from their Etsy shops. But I’d MUCH rather have mine pinned from my shop…where someone can feasibly come and by it, where it is linked to me, its creator…than to have it pinned from where someone on some social networking site for the Netherlands has it on their private profile, where I, its creator, am not even privy to seeing how it is being used.

        Movements like the one against Pinterest aren’t going to stop those who are going to use your images for nefarious purposes. But it will stop well-meaning folks who like your wares and want to share them with others.

        • “Movements like the one against Pinterest aren’t going to stop those who are going to use your images for nefarious purposes. But it will stop well-meaning folks who like your wares and want to share them with others.”

          This is a really great point Kathy! It adds to my concern that in the process of trying to protect everyone, what we end up creating is a less free world. Thanks for sharing your comments!

  4. Great information! I have been hearing rumblings of this for a while now and it does make me thing twice before pinning. I do make sure there is a link back or I will write in the description where something comes from. Especially if I am pinning a pattern from Ravelry or an Etsy shop. Often it’s a pattern I’ve made and want to encourage friends to check out the designer. I unfortunately am not surprised by people’s behavior and had a similar experience at a show. Some people just don’t get it…

    • Thanks for your kind comments Lee! That’s the thing, I think it is a great way for Ravelry and Etsy shop designers to get discovered. I have spent hours looking for one pattern, click this link, then that link, then that link, click, click, click. And only a few minutes on Pinterest. By it’s very visual nature, you can’t help but discover things. However, I expect some of the magic to wear off as it becomes more commercialized.

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  6. Bridemaids And Flowergirls

    That is a nice post. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  7. Kathryn

    The most balanced opinion I have heard on this subject. Well done on communicating the perspective required on this subject.

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  9. Man Mattei

    I really enjoyed this post. You explain this topic very well. I really love your blog and I will definitely bookmark it

  10. I saw this on Kathryn’s link love and am glad I headed over to read it. I myself love Pinterest for many of the reasons you outlined. I think if people want to steal your stuff, they will find a way with or without Pinterest :).

  11. Pati

    Intresting article but here’s the thing. I love Pintrest. For me and my clients it is not a way to steal ideas but a way to organize ideas. I find as a wedding designer most people are very visual they don;t however have the vision that “Artist” people have. It’s been a useful tool in helping my brides develop a style for their weddings. My thoughts for the Etsy sellers is “Really” if you type in say “Baby Bloomers” which I did you come up with 214 pages of baby bloomers. Aren’t they just copying each other?? And really did even one of them invent baby bloomers?? Cause I have pictures of myself in ruffle butt bloomers when I was a baby and I am over 50. And who one Etsy invented baby hats, or paper flowers cause these date back over 5000 years to the Chinese. I have seen very few original ideas on Etsy I see alot of people selling the same thing or copies of that thing. I do love Etsy and I buy things off it but please don’t talk about copy right infindgements and Etsy in the same article

    • I do love Etsy and I buy things off it but please don’t talk about copy right infindgements and Etsy in the same article.

      Thanks for adding to the discussion Pati. I agree with most of your points. However I don’t understand the statement above. It is a valid concern for designers, even like myself. When we upload our photos of our kids modeling wares and such, and photos of our designs, we know where our images are. And whether or not you can look at one of my designs and think it looks like another, a trained eye in my field of expertise would recognize otherwise. However when another service comes along and allows our images to be copied and recopied, the game changes. This whole thing is especially an issue for photographers and painters. When Pinterest says they now have legal right to sell any image uploaded, you bet folks get concerned. And they have the right to be. That is the key in this entire legal argument. Etsy put “Pin It!” buttons on every Etsy store listing without consent or choice from sellers. No one at this point can opt out if they want to. Meaning if you don’t want your Etsy photos pinned, you pretty much have to close your shop. So that does make Etsy necessarily part of the discussion.

  12. Guest

    From what I’ve seen from my time on pinterest, a big part of the crowd doesn’t understand your concern and will ignore any copyright/ethical behavior. They pin things for inspirations they’ll never do, items they will never be able to buy etc. They don’t even understand what photoshop is or how to check if something is real (see Irish castle on Thai rock picture, everyone is gushing how they want to go to Ireland now though the ocean is clearly tropical). They are happy to pin “definitions” that are clearly incorrect. […political comment removed…]
    (yes, I used Pinterest and got bitter. why are you asking 😉 )

  13. Helen Fern

    Wow – I’ve been using pintrest – to organize some great ideas I’ve found and to promote my photographs. I had no idea they could sell the image – not I’m finding myself rethinking whether or not I want to continue using it. It seems that giving credit to the artist is less an issue than the possible sale – by pintrest – of the image. Hmmmm……
    I use images of reduced size of my own work – does this help prevent misuse?

    • I’m unsure if size helps reduce misuse or not. However, it is less likely to be re-pinned if it’s not as easy to see the photo at first glance. Pinning is definitely a spontaneous response to essentially eye-candy. I can’t help but think that Pinterest is going to have to reword their legal clause. That’s what I’m waiting to see. “Sell” has everyone taking notice of what most people don’t in legal use agreements.

  14. Loved the article and plan on sharing it with my peeps. My daughter and I were just discussing all of the Pinterest and copyright infringement issues last week. I am like most, I didn’t know the depth of the Terms either, but I do know the risk of adding my photos to any site, including my blog, they are up for public viewing and they can be taken.
    I love Pinterest and will continue to waste precious time there, sad but true and i will add that for some odd reason my sales have increased this month. I can’t begin to imagine why, the only thing I’ve done different is market my designs on Pinterest…do I dare dream that Pinterest might be bringing buyers to my Etsy shop?
    Here’s my thoughts in a nutshell…if you photograph your products and sell them online, there will always be a way for vultures to find, copy and yes steal your thunder, but what else can you do? You have to photograph your products…I do place my business name on each and every photo. Then I go about plastering that image all over the place to market my business. (Can you say; “prideful”? Ouch, that hurts to admit.) Of course, anyone can photoshop that out, but really? Sounds kind of silly to me.
    Copycats like you encountered at that show will exist until they day the world stops turning, nothing in the world can make people more ethical, they either are or aren’t.

    • Yep, and I’ve really been meaning to add my name to all my photos and haven’t yet. I really need to do that simply for branding’s sake. From a business standpoint, it’s more logical to see it as rather a matter of using the force that is (people like to share) to my advantage, instead of worrying and complaining. And you’re right, anyone desperate enough to photoshop someone else’s work? Wow, that would be kind of weird and desperate. Right?

  15. Lener

    This is all very new to me and this article really opened my eyes. Thanks for sharing with us.

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