Pinterest and Copyright: How to Use Pinterest Legally
Don't Get Busted!
With all the copyright talk circulating around Pinterest, many people are getting scared to use the site, and that isn't necessary. There is no need to delete all your boards or to abandon the site.
All you need to do is make sure that what you are pinning is used legally. And the good news is that a large percentage of the stuff on the web is safe to pin.
Look below for a list of ways to legally pin stuff and some things to avoid. Then if you want to get into the copyright and Pinterest debate, the second part of this article delves further into the heat of the argument with a discussion of whether or not Pinterest infringes on intellectual property.
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 a copyright infringement, 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. So, a pin that is a copyright infringement 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, the site will eventually get into so much legal trouble that it will get taken down. And legal action with violators will start to become more common.
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 fine 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.
What's safe to pin
- 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.
- 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!
- 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. One disclaimer with this, if the user who uploaded it isn't actually the copyright owner, then the image will be a copyright violation. So just use your best judgement with these.
- Content from sites like YouTube and Flickr can be shared if it is legally labeled "Creative Commons." Check for the logo (see picture above) and look for licensing labeled CC. It may have other letters beside of it (ex. CC-BY). You will need to credit the source when you pin something from Creative Commons.
- 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.
- 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.
What NOT to Pin
- Potentially harmful content
- Hateful or violent content
- Affiliate links
- Content you don't have permission to post
Cautions and what not to pin:
- Be careful what you repin. Click on it and check out the link yourself to make sure it is okay. Don't take it for granted that the original pinner did the 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 would include book covers, movie posters, and pictures of celebrities. Pin these at your own risk.
- 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 you get a "no."
Pinterest Tips and Tricks
The Main Pinning Rule
Give proper credit!
This means link to the source with the pin and name the source in the description.
Proper Pinning Step by Step
When you are repinning someone else's pin:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 Google images search 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.
- 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.
- If you are safe to repin, it is polite to give credit to the photographer or the site in the description. Polite, but not mandatory.
When you are adding a pin to Pinterest:
- Check the site you want to pin. Do you see a "Pin it" button or other 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.
- If the content is safe to pin, then make sure you are on the specific post or article that you want to share. Mainly, 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. Especially make sure you don't link to blogger.com or tumblr.com or other main site pages. Link to the right blog or no one will be able to find what you have pinned.
- 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.
- Search through the images and pick out the best one to pin.
- 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.
Pinterest and Copyright
There has been plenty of hoopla about Pinterest and copyright lately. Basically, the controversy boils down to whether or not pinning an image on Pinterest is a 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 no, 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 rather than have someone print off my info and never return to my site.
On the Flip Side
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 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 and 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 are 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.
Sites like Hulu 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 are starting to realize 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 sites. The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and True Blood are all in the top ten list of most illegally downloaded shows and it is no coincidence that the current seasons aren't available digitally.
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.
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 as opposed to other sites, the majority of pins have backlinks to the original source. Whereas with Facebook shares of images or Tumblr shares or other image sharing 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. See the article at the bottom for a successful example of this.
With sites like Pinterest, many artists and 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 fabulous sells. 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.
- There is coding that can be placed on sites to keep people from pinning from 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 members only sections 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.
So Pinterest is a way for artists, crafters, and photographers to get their work recognized and to gain traffic flow which can lead to sells. 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.
And Pinterest recently (March 2012) changed their terms of service and took out the part where they are free to sell the content that is posted. They said that selling content was not the intent of the site. So don't fear that Pinterest is trying to steal your work to profit from it.
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 and Pinterest can continue to be the really cool site that it is.
More Against Pinterest
- Is Pinterest a Haven for Copyright Violations?
How Pinterest is a hotbed for copyright violations, and how these violations cause harm for photographers and artists.
More Pro Pinterest
- Why Photographers Should Stop Complaining about Copyright and Embrace Pinterest
A photographer discusses why Pinterest can be a good thing for photographers and artists.