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Pinterest and Copyright: How to Use Pinterest Legally

Candace has a broad range of interests that keep her head filled with strange facts, such as experimental cooking, games, and mad science.

Make sure you know the ins and outs of copyright law as it relates to Pinterest!

Make sure you know the ins and outs of copyright law as it relates to Pinterest!

Are Pinterest Images Free to Use?

Pinterest is a social media service that focuses on image sharing. With the heavy focus on imagery, there may be some concern over copyright issues. However, there is no need to delete all your boards as long as you know what not to do.

All you need to do is make sure that what you are pinning follows the legal guidelines of what you can share. And the good news is that a large percentage of the stuff on the web is safe to pin.

This article will cover some ways to legally pin stuff as well as some things you should avoid. I'll also delve further into the heat of the copyright argument with a discussion of whether or not Pinterest infringes on intellectual property.

Don't get busted—learn to use Pinterest legally!

Don't get busted—learn to use Pinterest legally!

Pinterest has a non-exclusive, transferable worldwide license for the content on the site. This means that any content posted there can be shared and saved by others. This applies to Pinterest only; it does not mean you can take content from there and post it somewhere else. Unless you are certain the image can shared (like if you have permission from the owner or if it is in public domain), you should avoid sharing the image outside of the site.

Copyright essentially protects any original work of authorship. This can be any type of artistic expression. If you have created something an have expressed in a fixed form, you automatically have ownership rights under copyright law. While you don not necessarily have to take any steps to own a copyright, you do need to register a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office to able to sue for copyright infringement, which is when someone steals your work.

Pinterest makes it clear in their Terms of Service that they take copyright infringement very seriously. Everything posted on the site is labeled as user content, which means that you are the owner of anything you post. The Pinterest license allows them to share your content. It also allows them to remove you content if it violates user guidelines. The site will act on any reports of copyright infringement. If you get many complaints, your account can be suspended.

You could potentially commit copyright infringement by sharing images on the site. For example, you might share an image that a user posted without the permission of the author. That would make you and that user liable for infringement. Pinterest's terms state that you are responsible for anything you do with an image.

How to Pin Without Violating Copyrights

While most people on the internet don't mind you sharing their content on sites like Pinterest, there are people who don't want their stuff pinned. If you pin something that is protected by copyright, you could get into serious legal trouble, mostly involving fines. People do get sued for copyright violations. But don't panic and delete your account yet. The chances of someone going to the extremes of legal recourse are very slim.

Typically, a violation is handled by the content owner asking that the content be removed. In this case, a pin that is a copyright violation would just be deleted—end of story (most of the time). Repeat offenders could have their accounts deleted.

That doesn't mean that you should feel free to pin whatever you want because you probably won't get into trouble. If people are careless with Pinterest, they could potentially land themselves in trouble.

To avoid potential legal problems with Pinterest, just be smart about what you pin and repin. There is no need to stop using the site for fear of violating copyrights. Learning what's legal to pin and what isn't is fairly straightforward. Just keep the guidelines below in mind when you are using Pinterest and you won't be breaking any kind of laws. It's that simple. You can check out this article for more general tips on using the site.

If you see this logo with an image, it is safe to pin as long as you credit the source.

If you see this logo with an image, it is safe to pin as long as you credit the source.

What's Safe to Pin

  • Images that you own: Pin stuff that you own. If it's legally yours, then there is no copyright problem. You can add your own pictures, videos, or links to stuff you have written.
  • Images with the Pin It button: It's okay to pin from sites that have added the Pinterest sharing button. If you see the "Pin it" button on a site, that means that the owner doesn't mind you putting it on Pinterest. So pin away!
  • Repin: It's also fine to repin a picture or video another user uploaded directly to Pinterest. These are the pins that say "Uploaded by user" when you click on them. There is one disclaimer with this; if the user who uploaded it isn't actually the copyright owner, then the image will be a copyright violation. Be sure to check that the original source is credited.
  • Creative Commons: Images and content can be shared if it is legally labeled with a Creative Commons license. Check for the logo (see picture above) and look for licensing labeled CC. It may have other letters beside it (like CC-BY). You will need to credit the source when you pin something from Creative Commons.
  • Free to use and share: You can do a Google advanced search to find stuff to pin that is legally licensed for you to reuse. Scroll to the bottom of the search form. Under the section "usage rights," scroll down and select the option "free to use and share." These will be images you can pin.
  • Public Domain: Old pictures, old books, and other things that are no longer under copyright are fine. Public domain means that it is free for you to use.
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"Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austin is in the public domain now.  That means I am free to take pictures like this one without any copyright worries.

"Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austin is in the public domain now. That means I am free to take pictures like this one without any copyright worries.

What You Should Not Pin

  • Nudity
  • Potentially harmful content
  • Hateful or violent content
  • Affiliate links
  • Content you don't have permission to post
  • Images that you don't have permission to use
  • Repin images that are not linked to a source

Precautions to Take Before You Pin

  • Be careful what you repin. Click on it to check out the link yourself to make sure it is okay. Don't assume that the original pinner did their proper homework. Report violations (especially spam) that you see to keep the site legal and to help maintain Pinterest's good reputation.
  • Fair use can be a bit sketchy, and no one seems to agree about what is allowed and what isn't. This includes book covers, movie posters, and pictures of celebrities. You are probably better off if you avoid sharing those types of images.
  • If there are no "Pin it" buttons, and especially if there are no other social media sharing buttons, then assume you don't have the owner's permission to pin it.
  • If it is something you really want to pin and aren't sure about, then ask for permission. The worst that could happen is that you get a no.

Pinterest Tips and Tricks

Proper Pinning Step-by-Step

Here is how you should go about pinning images.

When you are repinning someone else's pin

  1. Click on the pin to check out the link. Always do this! Don't just repin because it is pretty. Spam gets propagated on Pinterest when people repin without actually checking out the link.
  2. Make sure the link is valid, i.e., not a redirect to a spam site or just a link to an image search. Double-check the article or post to make sure it is something you want to repin. If it is a bad link or leads to spam, there is a button on each pin to report it to Pinterest.
  3. If the link is good, go to step 4. If the link is bad, and it is a picture you really want to pin or check out, you can do a search on Google Images to find the original source of the image. First, save the photo to your computer. Then, in the Google search box (make sure you have clicked images at the top), you will see a camera icon to the right. Click on it. Above the search bar, you will see "Upload an image." You can upload the picture, and Google will search the web for the image. You'll be able to see all the sites that have the same picture.
  4. Check the site for a "Pin it" button. It is usually near the other social media sharing buttons. If there is one, then you can repin the image. If there's not a button or other indication that it is okay to pin, then don't repin the image.
  5. If it is safe to repin, it is polite to give credit to the photographer or the site in the description. It's polite, but not mandatory.

When You Are Adding a Pin to Pinterest

  1. Check the site you want to pin. Do you see a "Pin it" button or a sign that pinning is encouraged? Is it marked Creative Commons? If yes, go on to step 2. If no, look for signs that the content owner doesn't want his or her stuff pinned. For example, do you see copyright notices somewhere around the images? Are there other social media sharing buttons? In cases where you are unsure, the best approach from a legal standpoint is not to pin it. Bookmark it on your own computer if it is a site you really like. If it is something you feel you must pin, contact the content owner to see if it is okay to share on Pinterest.
  2. If the content is safe to pin, then make sure you are on the specific post or article that you want to share. Make sure you aren't on the homepage. A lot of sites like blogs will add new posts, and if you link to the homepage, the specific item you are trying to share will get buried in newer posts. Be sure you don't link to Blogger, Tumblr, or any other homepage. If you link to the wrong blog, no one will be able to find what you have pinned.
  3. Now highlight the link of the specific page you are pinning. Or use the Pinterest bookmarklet tool if you have it downloaded on your browser.
  4. Search through the images and pick out the best one to pin.
  5. Select the board you want to add the pin to and fill in a couple of sentences for a description. It's polite to give credit to the source in the description. Just a word or two is fine. Name the photographer if appropriate, or name the website if that is what you are sharing.

Is Pinterest Harmful to Artists?

There has been plenty of hoopla about Pinterest and copyright. Basically, the controversy boils down to whether or not pinning an image on Pinterest is copyright infringement.

Some say yes because the site stores a copy of the image that will remain even if the original is removed. Others say that the site doesn't violate copyright because the images aren't being stolen; they are just being linked to.

My stance is this—if proper links and credit are being given, then I see no harm in the site. Pinners aren't stealing the work. They aren't trying to pass it off as their own. They aren't profiting from it. All they are doing is bookmarking it to reference later.

Many people bookmark sites on their browser or save images they like on their computer or even print off images. What's the difference, really?

I would rather someone pin my articles so that others might notice them than have someone print off my info and never return to my site.

I can understand where a photographer or an artist is coming from. If people can get the image for free, then why should they pay for it? Sites like Pinterest can create competing images, and other people can profit from the copies.

But there are measures to take without having to destroy a really great site (look below for suggestions).

But the fact of the matter is this—if you put something on the web, that means you obviously want to share it. I think content owners need to realize that this means that you are giving people the opportunity to interact with it. Most people are not trying to take what is yours. They are just fans.

However, there will always be thieves. If you put something out there, they will find a way to steal with or without sites like Pinterest.

Some people are under the illusion that shutting down popular sites like Pinterest is going to stop illegal image usage. Did shutting down Napster stop illegal downloads? Nope.

There is no internet police right now. Laws are way behind when it comes to the way people use the web. And until that changes, content owners should get smart about the web.

Instead of taking a stance against sharing on the internet, learn to benefit from it.

Streaming sites have the right idea. If people are going to watch TV shows and movies on the internet regardless of whether or not it is legally obtained, why not give it to them and actually profit from ads and commercials?

Many television stations have realized that the internet is the new TV. The most illegally downloaded shows are the ones that aren't offered digitally through either Hulu, Netflix, or similar streaming services.

I think photographers, artists, and other intellectual property copyright owners need to catch up with this trend as well. Whether for good or ill, the internet has become a place for sharing and the free exchange of ideas.

Pinterest can be a helpful tool in getting your work noticed.

Pinterest can be a helpful tool in getting your work noticed.

How Pinterest Can Help Artists

Sharing images and ideas can be a good thing. I want people to pin my articles. I don't care if my pictures are used to bookmark a link. It is exposure and traffic and backlinks for me. It's getting people excited and interested in what I do.

At least with Pinterest, the majority of pins have backlinks to the original source. With other sites, the original gets lost along the way most of the time.

If it's about money, maybe photographers should take a different approach. Some of the most successful photographers are labeling their photos for Creative Commons.

With sites like Pinterest, many artists, photographers, and other relatively unknown sites are getting great exposure. And isn't that the goal of an artist—to have his or her work appreciated and admired?

In an ideal world, money would be a secondary concern. But many content owners fail to realize that Pinterest can offer streams of visitors, which can eventually turn into customers. Many Etsy crafters have seen high sales. And if someone really likes a photo, they may buy a print of it one day.

How to Stop People from Pinning Your Content

  • Ask them not to. Just include a politely-worded message on your site asking people to refrain from pinning your content and sharing it on other sites. If this doesn't work, you can send a cease and desist letter.
  • There is coding that can be placed on sites to keep people from pinning it. National Geographic's website has this coding. If someone tries to pin from a site with the code, a message pops up saying that pinning isn't allowed from that domain. It is simple and easy to use.
  • You can make a members only section of your site. A lot of event photographers do this. Clients can log in to see the pictures from their event.
  • Add watermarks to your pictures. Create a business logo or just embed your web address from the photo. If your picture is posted somewhere else on the web, at least you will be properly credited.
  • If you don't want to share it with the world, then don't put it up on the internet. There is no way to 100% guarantee that your works won't get copied somewhere else on the internet. If that is a problem for you, find a different medium to display your work.
  • If you find your content used without your permission on Pinterest or any other site, report it. Most sites are quick to respond to copyright infringement issues.

Pinterest can be a tool for artists, crafters, and photographers to get their work recognized and to gain traffic flow which can lead to sales. What's the problem with that?

It's not the traditional model for business, so everyone is clinging to their content in a panic.

Obviously there is a line and some people do cross it. I've had my articles copied word for word on other sites before and had to report it. That's wrong. If someone is taking your photo and selling it in a calendar, that's wrong.

Keep in mind that shutting down sites like Pinterest isn't going to stop the people who actually do steal other people's intellectual property with a malicious intent. Maybe a tougher stance should be taken against actual copyright violators who are stealing content to turn a profit.

The way most users share content on Pinterest doesn't cross the line, though. As long as people are giving proper credit and linking to the content owner, I think it is a good thing. It is inspiring people to create and dream.

Pinterest lovers who want the site to remain the way it is for the foreseeable future should do their best to make sure that pins are created and shared legally. This will allow Pinterest to continue to be the really cool site that it is.

To Pin or Not to Pin?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Pradip Kumar on April 14, 2020:

I want's to make a you tube channel, can i uplode Pinterest app's image.

Jen on March 26, 2020:

I'm planning to make a YouTube channel and my content is Compilation of all pictures from Pinterest but I need to know first if when i do that is it copyright ? Thankyou in advance

Glaudia on February 18, 2020:

My question is.. Can you use pinterest images for painting, creating art? It looks like it is impossible to find the photographer for permission..

Chandra Leigh on February 16, 2020:

My question is (all help is deeply appreciated) I am doing a advertising piece for a friend who is opening a self employed computer repair business. I found an image on Pinterest that I would like to use for his business. Does anyone know the legal route (hopefully, there are some) to take before foregoing such a task? I found an awesome image and would like to be legal :) Thank you

Daisy on November 16, 2019:

I agree with Elaine. Original copyrighted illustrations, diagrams, charts, patterns are being shared/re-shared on Pinterest and posted on other websites. It is a big problem for original creators! Finished products made from the proprietary illustrations/diagrams are then reproduced and sold. I've often been told "I got it from Pinterest!"

Doris on August 23, 2019:

I am publishing a book and would like to use one of pinterest images. Publisher needs written permission. How do I go about getting that. The image is an older picture of Lee Barracks in Mainz, Germany, ca. 1970.


Elaine on July 20, 2019:

Some people are publishing Copyright knitting patterns that are downloaded from the owners site, for payment. The ownership of the pattern does NOT give the purchaser the ownership of the copyright - it is the same as someone publishing a book, thennthe person who buys the first copy copying it free to the world - wrong, wrong, wrong. It is theft from this owner. The people who do this are breaking the law, as is Pinterest for permitting it. I am reporting it to the copyright owner in the hope that he will be able to report these thefts of his Income (He designs these patterns for a living) and put a stop to it, and possibly sue for loss of income. #Pinterest should police it''s site better, and ban those who break the law in this way.

Glenn on August 29, 2018:

Your statement 'It's okay to pin from sites that have added the Pinterest sharing button. If you see the "Pin it" button on a site, that means that the owner doesn't mind you putting it on Pinterest. So pin away!' is not correct. Websites owners do not always have the permission of a copyright owner to display a photo with a pin button even if they bought a licence to use the photo on their website. It depends on the terms of the license agreement made with the copyright owner.

abhinay on July 12, 2018:

can i use pinterest images in my website?

any malpractice acts are there?

perifabeatz on June 25, 2018:

How Pinterest and other users may use your content You grant Pinterest and our users a non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sublicensable, worldwide license to use, store, display, reproduce, save, modify, create derivative works, perform and distribute your User Content on Pinterest solely for the purposes of operation, development, provision and use of Pinterest. Nothing contained in these Terms restricts other legal rights that Pinterest may have on User Content, such as under other licenses, for example. We reserve the right to remove or modify User Content, or change the way it is used in Pinterest for any reason. This includes User Content that we believe violates these Terms, our Community Guidelines, or any other policies.

If I understood correctly, I should not worry, if there is a violation do not blame me.

Gilbert Arevalo from Hacienda Heights, California on February 28, 2018:

Candace, you wrote a valuable reference article, when in doubt, re-check your piece on how to pin from Pinterest legally. Great information!

Lauri Arthur on February 11, 2018:

There is a site for crazy cats needlepoint, but I want to make a quilt with the cats and I have tried to contact the artist for permission to use these designs and even left my email address to communicate but there is a language barrier and no answer to my request. Can I go ahead and use these designs there is no copyright sign on them.

Jen on January 19, 2018:

Is it OK to use pictures on Pinterest as inspiration for my painting?

Phyllis on August 26, 2017:

I am currently in the process of removing every single pin of my art. It has become a daily chore of going through boards that are 'my next tattoo' or 'to paint' etc. and there is my painting! Now I could have continued and would have although some pins are upward of 600 pins and have never sold a print resulting from being pinned had pinterest not made it impossible to see where your pins are being pinned. (boards) Sorry, but as a hard working artist just trying to create and scratch out a living, too many vampires there! Especially the ones who have cropped my signature off and replaced it with their own....

Heidi on June 13, 2017:

I went ahead and took off celebrity pics. I had a couple.You say to give credit

Most of my pins have a name at the bottom of the pn pic.Is that automatic credit? Or should I be typing people's names of who pinned it in the comments box. I notice other people have alot.of contribibitors circles on their board tops. Is that from giving credit to every pinner they have pinned from or is that different? Sometimes when I follow someone's board a big bunch of other boards pop up to be followed

Are those every one who contributed?Thanks.

Gilbert Arevalo from Hacienda Heights, California on April 26, 2017:

I directed anyone who read my book review about "The Final Confession of Mabel Stark," to Pinterest if they wanted to see great circus photos of the famous tiger lady. I tried to find more public domain or fair use credit attribution photos of her and seemed to run into a dead end. Pinterest has lots of great photos of her. All Mabel's photos appear to be copyrighted. I agree with you, Stan, that it's better to be safe than sorry. Who needs to be fined? I haven't heard any news about Pinterest getting into trouble for pinning numerous photos. I'm not sure they're pinning all their photos within copyright law or not.

Stan Williams from NC TN or florida on April 26, 2017:

P.S. this is a great article well written and I agree with your thoughts. Well done!

Stan Williams from NC TN or florida on April 26, 2017:

After hearing so much about people being sued for pinning re-pinning lately, and as crazy and aggressive as copyright attorneys are getting I just now went to Pinterest and deleted thousands of re-pins, with dozens of board, even the ones I pinned that I took with my own camera , may as well if I had to the rest of them, well ALL except the ones a friends added me in and it is safe content , they created and music / movie, and projects we have been involved with together (a friend who owns a record label). That is SO sad too, i Loved Pinterest. Oh well.

Stan Williams on April 26, 2017:

AS crazy as copyright laws are now after reading all this I just went to Pinterest and deleted thousands of posts, dozens of boards . I'm not willing to take a chance that i may have overlooked even one . Sad I loved Pinterest.

Gilbert Arevalo from Hacienda Heights, California on April 20, 2017:

Very good hub, Candace. You've given wise advice about posting photographic images and accessing the source of copyright material. We are responsible for pinning things at our own risk. If credit attribution and creative common rights aren't available, it's best to just ask permission, like you say, the worst that can happen is to hear,"No."

Patricia on January 02, 2017:

Yes, I am wondering if ok on Creative Commons can you post it on your blog and emails? And also what Amal asked.

M L Morgan on August 04, 2015:

Great article and really, really useful too. I have made a mental note of all the information. Thanks for sharing this :) x

ddev on May 04, 2015:

I recently got nabbed for using someone's photo off the was from a part of the research I was doing for a theatre piece. I ended up paying them for infringement...and am taking myself out of pinterest....if I want to look at photos I like, I will keep them to myself. It's sad but I am really surprised Pinterest hasn't been taken to task for sponsoring this--despite what they say. I had no idea --many of my pins are from other pinners...

Kelly A Burnett from United States on December 08, 2014:

Very detailed and helpful! I have not used this tool much and this is top on my list. Thank you for a comprehensive hub o how to do it right.

Jacqui from New Zealand on June 16, 2014:

Thanks for this hub! I am just getting into trying to generate more hub traffic with Pinterest, and was confused about copyright etc. I've learnt a lot!

Candace Bacon (author) from Far, far away on April 01, 2014:

Ceres Schwarz - As of the current state of internet laws, yes. Pictures that are public domain are especially no problem. As long as you have attributions, then you should be fine including the Pinterest button. You have done your legal obligation.

Ceres Schwarz on February 21, 2014:

Thank you for the help. So, just to clarify, it's okay for me to have the pin button on my hubs and to have the images on my hubs pinned by other people and have the pin lead to my article?

I use images that are either CC:BY or CC:BY-SA or in the public domain and, for some of these images, I also add text. So, is it okay to have those images pinned and have them link to the article and not to where the image came from?

I do cite all the sources of my images, giving the proper attribution necessary. I either put the link to the image along with the artist name and license type at the end of the hub article or on the photo capsule itself.

Candace Bacon (author) from Far, far away on February 20, 2014:

Ceres Schwarz - If the image is any type of Creative Commons, then it doesn't really matter if the pin leads to the article rather than the photo. The definition of CC images is that people are free to copy, distribute, and make certain uses of them. So it is the responsibility of the author of the hub or article to make sure to give proper attribution for images and not the responsibility of the person pinning the article. If you follow the guidelines I listed above, you shouldn't have any problems with using Pinterest. Hope that helps!

Ceres Schwarz on December 11, 2013:

Thanks for this helpful hub. I've heard many things about Pinterest and how it can even help you get traffic to your articles but I've never made an account there because of all this copyright stuff, which can be really confusing. It is important to take note of all of these things regarding copyright so as not to mistakenly pin something you're not even allowed to pin.

If you pin an image with a creative commons license that you found in an article or hub, should that pin link to the article or to the artist of the image? If you modify an image with a CC:BY or CC:BY-SA license by adding some text to it, if that image is pinned should it link to the article where it was found or to the original artist of said image?

I just read a hub, which said that it was actually possible to remove the pin button in our hubs and I’m wondering if I should remove said button since I mostly use images that have the creative commons license. I always cite my sources but, from what I understand, if someone pins those images, it will link to your article instead of to the artist of the image. Is that allowed?

Candace Bacon (author) from Far, far away on October 03, 2012:

ros - Glad it helped. Happy pinning!

ros on August 30, 2012:

good reading on copyrights, just the one i ve longed been looking for. thanks

Candace Bacon (author) from Far, far away on August 01, 2012:

algarveview - Most people don't think about it when they pin. Thanks!

Robie Benve - That philosophy should be fine. Most people want others to share their work. Thank you!

Amy Gillie - Thanks! I wanted to give a quick guide to those who needed it and get more in depth for the people interested in knowing more.

adjkp25 - I agree 100%. People are just sharing things they like, not stealing it. Thanks!

David from Idaho on May 28, 2012:

The copyright card can certainly be played by some people because of this site. I agree that the majority of people aren't claiming the work, they are just sharing it. Giving credit to the original source should cover any issues.

Voted up and interesting.

Amy Gillie from Indiana on May 23, 2012:

This is a very thorough hub! I like how you explained everything, then went deeper into the discussion of the controversy.

Robie Benve from Ohio on May 23, 2012:

Oh no, I joined Pinterest recently and I was just getting pin-happy, and now you tell me it comes with homework? Oh brother!

I like the option of not worrying too much and if someone has complaints they can just contact me and I'll take it off.

Thanks for doing all the research and sharing though, great hub on a hot topic. :)

Joana e Bruno from Algarve, Portugal on May 23, 2012:

Hello, Cocopreme, interesting hub, I had never thought about this copyright problem with Pinterest, it's silly, obviously, but it never crossed my mind, I usually repin what I think is interesting... Will be careful from now on. Voted up, useful and interesting and sharing! Have a great day!

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