The Perils Of Pinterest

Pinterest

Earlier this year I wrote an article called “ Pinterest and Why Crafters Love It!” Since then, Pinterests’ shiny image has gotten a little tarnished. Unclear and contradictory Terms of Service, the hijacking of affiliate marketing links, and the fear of intellectual property infringement are now causing artists and crafters to delete their pinboards and install the “No Pin” meta tag.

But should YOU?

Here to explain is guest-author Juliann Krute. First, a bit about Juliann herself:

Juliann Krute is a former intellectual property attorney who had to retire very early due to disability. She has a J.D. from the University of Texas and an L.L.M. in intellectual property and information technology (emphasis on copyright and the internet) from Queen Mary College, University of London. Now she spends her time as an avid crafter, tweeting daily as @TheSickChick and occasionally blogging on The Sick Chick’s Constantly Crafty
(http://thesickchick.com/crafts). Her current major projects include founding a charity to help chronically ill and disabled adults with arts and crafts. She is based in Austin, Texas.

And now… the Perils of Pinterest!


Pinterest has been growing by leaps and bounds, with a particular surge in recent weeks. With the growing interest has come scrutiny into Pinterest’s inner workings and concerns have come to light over their terms of use and how it will affect copyright owners. Because I am a former attorney with a specialty in intellectual property and the internet, I’ve been asked about this a lot lately. To help everyone out, I’ve outlined some of the questions that have been going around the net recently so that you have a better idea of what is going on and what you need to do to protect yourself.

Perils for the Pinterest User

I pin my own images, is there anything I need to know?

I admit it, even though I am a former lawyer I don’t read the fine print with every website I join. This time those pesky terms were not exactly standard and it was a big surprise to find out that I had agreed to this:

“By making available any Member Content through the Site, Application or Services, you hereby grant to Cold Brew Labs a worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free license, with the right to sublicense, to use, copy, adapt, modify, distribute, license, sell, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, stream, broadcast, access, view, and otherwise exploit such Member Content only on, through or by means of the Site, Application or Services.” (http://pinterest.com/about/terms/)

This may look like gobbledygook to you and just like what you see on hundreds of other websites, but there are some key differences. Most importantly if you pin your stuff you are giving them to right to *sell* your images. Now this is only in the context of Pinterest and any applications or services it may offer, but since we have no idea of the direction Pinterest may be headed in the future, we don’t know what sort of form this might take. They would not have to give you any of the money they make selling your images (or selling access to your images; I suspect this was written to cover paid accounts in the future but there is no way to know for sure). Also you can’t opt-out of any sales in the future because the license you are giving them is irrevocable, meaning you can’t undo it or change your mind later, not even if you take your stuff off Pinterest. Further, even if you remove the image from your website Pinterest is under no obligation to remove the pins to that image.

This has made me and a lot of other people seriously reconsider putting our stuff on Pinterest. I have no idea what they have in mind that might involve selling but I don’t think I want them profiting off my work and not giving me anything.

This is not the same as Facebook or Google or anyone else as none of the major websites I am aware of reserve the right to sell your images. I suspect they have used this language either, as I said, because they might introduce paid accounts in the future or they just have overzealous lawyers who want to protect them from any possible lawsuit. But in any case, this is what you’ve agreed to if you use Pinterest and we really don’t know if or how they might take advantage of these rights in the future.

I pin images I find around the web, am I doing anything wrong?

Pinterest’s pesky terms rear their head again. Although their help and etiquette guides tell you to go forth and pin things you find around the net, their terms say exactly the opposite:

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

In layman’s terms, this means you are only supposed to pin things you own and can give those broad licenses for I talked about above. It also means you promise not to infringe anyone’s intellectual property, even though you probably don’t realize that pinning someone else’s image may be infringing on their rights.

As a lawyer, my head spins. I don’t know what the legal ramifications are of telling users to do something while also prohibiting them from doing it. I do, however, know that Pinterest’s basic position is that any copyright violation is not their fault, it’s the fault of the user and that any blame or responsibility should fall on the user.

You may wonder why it matters if you pin someone else’s image. The issue here is the way Pinterest handles images: they keep a full size copy of the image you pin on their servers. This is different from how Facebook and Google handle images, those sites only display a thumbnail and make you click through to the original site to see the full version. Most of the crafters I’ve spoken to say they don’t care if their images are reposted by Pinterest as long as the pin links back to their site — they love the free exposure and additional traffic generated by Pinterest users who click on the image to read the accompanying blog post or see the Etsy listing. However many visual artists — particularly photographers and comic/graphic artists — I have talked to are very opposed to this. If you post a full sized image of a comic, there is not much incentive for the viewer to then click through and see the original image, after all they have already seen the whole thing. The same can apply to photographs and artworks but with the added problem that if a work gets too much exposure on the internet it can decrease the value to the owner. (Some people don’t want to pay to own or use an image that everyone has already seen or that has really made the rounds on the net, thus reducing what the artist can charge for it. Also some photographers and graphic artists will sell exclusive rights to use their images and remove them from their website once they are sold, but those images remain on Pinterest and the people who paid for exclusive rights may be angry about that.) So while most everyone agrees that copyright law needs to be changed to better deal with the internet I hope you will agree with me that it should be up to the person who made the image to say where and when it will be used.

A lot of people believe that once something is posted on the internet is it fair game for anyone to use in any fashion and that if people don’t want their stuff being used by all and sundry they shouldn’t put it online. But this is not the law, nor do I think it should be. So for now the mechanism of Pinterest is violating copyrights by making copies of images even though the owners didn’t give them permission.

So to make this very clear: when you pin something Pinterest’s system creates a copy of the image. Then because their terms say that you’re not supposed to pin anything you don’t own, they will get to blame you if the owner of that image complains or even sues. Pinterest will take down images if a copyright owner asks them to do it (see below) but this doesn’t mean that the process of pinning (as it works now) is not violating copyright to begin with. In fact they wouldn’t have to remove the images at all if what they were doing was completely above board. Worst case, you wind up getting sued because you’ve pinned images from a major corporation and they don’t like it. Even if Pinterest takes it down on their request they are still allowed to sue you, but they are not allowed to sue Pinterest. Got it? Sorry, I know it’s kind of confusing.

The chances of someone going after you in court over pinning their images is pretty small, I must admit. But those odds get worse if you are pinning from a business account. The only advice I can give you is be careful what you pin.

Am I responsible for any copyright violations if I re-pin an image?

Unfortunately the answer here is that no on really knows. If you are re-pinning an image that was originally pinned by the image owner, then you’re fine. However it’s hard for you to know if that is the case. If the image was first pinned by someone else other than the owner, I really can’t say if you’d be responsible. There are no clear rules on this matter. Probably no one will do anything about re-pins but this is one area where the law is just too vague to be sure. I can’t give you any guarantees that you’d be safe.

What about affiliate marketing?

Pinterest’s main way of making money at the moment (there will surely be more in the future) is to change the links in pins to insert their own affiliate codes. (This means that if you pin a book cover from Amazon they will add their affiliate link so if someone buys this book Pinterest will get a commission). There is nothing illegal about this and it is a way for them to make money without disturbing anyone. They say that if you have your own affiliate code in the link they will not change it to their own affiliate code, but some people have said that it has happened to them, so just be careful and check your link again after it is posted to be sure it hasn’t been changed. Also, if you are a business that uses affiliates to promote your own products and have been pinning links to your own stuff, please note that Pinterest is probably going to sign up to be one of your affiliates (they have a company that does this for them for almost any affiliate marketing program in the world) so you’ll have to pay them to use links you pinned yourself. If possible you may want to create some sort of affiliate code that is for your own company so that you won’t be paying Pinterest but you may still have to pay the processing fees your affiliate service charges. I don’t know much more about this so please consult with your affiliate service for more information.

Perils for the Image Owner

If other people pin my images, does Pinterest have the right to sell them?

(If you didn’t see my section above on pinning your own stuff it’s a good idea to read it now so you know what I am talking about regarding their terms and rights to sell images, etc.)

Legally speaking they do not have any rights because you have not given them any. But since we don’t know what Pinterest plans to do with these images that might somehow involve selling, it is impossible to say if they might try something and then blame it on the user who pinned your image if your work gets used in a way you don’t want. This is a really tricky area. They may also try to claim that if you give people permission to pin your images (see below) that you are agreeing to their terms but this would not hold up in court.

I don’t want other people pinning my images, what can I do?

Pinterest has in the last few days created a way for site owners to prevent people from pinning images on their sites. This means you put a certain code in your website (that is only seen by machines not people) that tells Pinterest not to pin anything. You can find more information about the No Pin tag on Pinterest’s help page (http://pinterest.com/about/help/) at the bottom under “What if I don’t want images from my site to be pinned?”

If your images are hosted on another site that you don’t directly control (like an image host) then you will need to ask your image host if they can help you. Flickr does not allow pins on certain images, such as those where sharing is not permitted. (For a good explanation of how Flickr is handling this please see this blog post by Aaron Hockley: http://aaronhockley.com/venturebeat-flickr-pinterest-copyright/) I hope that Etsy will soon follow suit but I don’t see that they have addressed this issue yet.

The No Pin tag is not foolproof, however. Experts are predicting that it is only a matter of time before someone comes up with a way to hack around it. But hacking around it is in the same category as people downloading your image, reposting it to another web site and then pinning it. Some people will go out of their way to copy your image, but the vast majority will respect your wishes. You can’t stop everyone, but this helps you stop the honest people who don’t mean to violate your copyright.

Pinterest has not said if they plan to remove pins linking to website that later use the No Pin tag. It would be a good thing of they did but for now your best remedy if someone has pinned your images from your site (or even copied your image to another site and then pinned it) is to follow the directions on Pinterest’s Copyright page (http://pinterest.com/about/copyright/) and tell them to remove your images. You can search for pins to your blog using this format: http://pinterest.com/source/**yourblogURL**/ (putting your actual URL in place of **yourblogURL**). Unfortunately I do not know of many ways to search for cases where people have posted your image to another website and then pinned them, but I know plenty of people have found their had been posted that way so there are some tools out there. If you know of a way to do this please comment below!

I don’t want people copying my whole blog post into the pin description because then no one will come to my site to read it. Is there anything I can do?

Pinterest have recently changed their software so that the text that accompanies a pinned image can only be a maximum of 500 characters, so unless your post is very short people will no longer be able to copy and paste the whole thing. (It should be noted that they are only “testing” this limit, it may change or even be removed in the future.) I don’t see anything to say that they are going to go back and change any pins that are already over 500 characters so if someone has already posted your article you will need to contact Pinterest (as I explained above) to have them remove it.

I like people pinning my images, do I need to do anything?

You’re not required to do anything to allow people to pin images on your web pages. However there is a growing number of people who are not going to pin without permission so it would be nice if you could in some way indicate to those people that it is OK to pin your stuff. One way would be to have a “Pin This” Widget, which is available for several blogging platforms. Another would be to find a way to say it on your site. Maybe someone can come up with a Pin-Friendly blog badge? I don’t know how you could handle this on Etsy or other image sites.

Also if you are comfortable with anyone, not just Pinterest users, reusing your images as long as they give you credit and a link back, it’s a great idea to say so. That way not only pinners but also bloggers who’d like to use one of your pictures when they blog about you would know that it’s safe to do so without getting your permission first. You might even consider using a Creative Commons (http://creativecommons.org/) license to make it clear what you are willing to let people do. Then instead of saying “Copyright 2012 by Me” you would have your site say “Copyright 2012 by Me, except where noted this work is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0.” (or whatever version of the license you choose, you can use their easy form to figure out what works best for you and they give examples of how to write your copyright notice). You can also use use a Creative Commons license on Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/creativecommons/) and many other image hosting sites. One small thing to keep in mind is that these licenses require attribution but not a link back. Many people will give a link anyway but this does not require them to. If the link is important to you do not use CC but write your own terms and post them somewhere on your website where people can easily find them.

Summary

I realize that this has been a lot to take in. Pinterest continues to be a vibrant community with much to offer to crafters, but we probably need to start taking a little more care in what and how we pin. At the very least it’s wise to follow good Pinning Etiquette and carefully consider whether you want to pin your images or want to allow others to do so.

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About Jenny Barnett Rohrs

Chief Craft Test Dummy, Craft Evangelist, Founder, Editor, bottle-washer, trouble-maker, and creative whirlwind.

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29 Responses to “The Perils Of Pinterest”

  1. Alita Creates Says:

    While the recent publicity hasn’t been great for Pinterest, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, the site as seen exponential growth and adoption over the last year. What may have been a boiler plate EULA that worked in the beginning is now under much more scrutiny. They need to address the issues, but it’s to early to assume nefarious intentions.

    Second, Pinterest’s primary reason for exsisting is sharing in an easy, enjoyable, high quality fashion. Unfortunately the reproduction of copywritten photos in full quality is both necessary for that goal and problematic going forward. We may have to come to grips with the idea that we may soon only be able to share thumbnails or something similar (the same way Google Images was able to get around these issues).

  2. Kristina Says:

    I understand your trepidation, and I can speak only for myself, but Pinterest isn’t exactly giving me *nothing* in exchange for the use and potential sale of my images. Over the last year or so, Pinterest has quickly become one of the leading sources of traffic to my blog. If they would like to monetize the service they’re providing me at no cost, and they’d need to use my content in order to do that, it would feel greedy of me to begrudge them that.

    Granted, anytime anybody puts something down in front of me that says “I can do whatever I want and you can never stop me,” it is difficult not to imagine all the terrible evil they might someday commit. But since the cost is some photos (photos I’m already offering for free to the world, at that), right now it seems like a reasonable risk to me.

  3. Opal @ Celebrate Life Says:

    Hi Juliann,

    Thanks for writing this article. I linked to it on Facebook. Last month, I joined Pinterest. I pinned only items that weren’t under copyright, but I soon stopped pinning anything.

    I did see a lot of copyrighted items pinned, and I know some of my friends were upset that some of their copyright items were posted. I’ll be curious to see how Pinterest addresses this, if at all.

  4. Juliann aka The Sick Chick Says:

    Kristina,

    What I meant by them giving you nothing was that you not see any additional benefit for the sale of your images over what you are getting now. If you are OK with what you are getting now, by all means encourage pin your images and encourage others to do so. The point I was trying to make is that people just need to be aware of what could happen in the future. I’m all for people doing whatever they want to with their own work, I just want them to know what they are getting into and not have an unwelcome surprise later.

  5. Juliann aka The Sick Chick Says:

    Opal,

    Thanks for your comment. Just keep in mind that all images are copyrighted by someone unless the creator has specifically given up his or her rights. Many are licensed under Creative Commons, but you would have to abide by whatever terms are involved. (Some don’t allow you to use them if you are a business, for instance.) But every image is copyrighted even if it doesn’t say so. Otherwise I completely agree with everything you have said :)

    We all just need to pay more attention to what we pin.

  6. Sandy L Says:

    So – I should delete all of the boards I have on Pinterest? There are those of us who have no malicious intent, and have no desire to steal or misuse others rights by posting onto Pinterest. I am very interested to see your reply, and I will do as you suggest. Thank you!

  7. Diane Says:

    Interesting article. I received a nasty note from a graphic artist. I always made sure the pins went right back to the source. Before I could go and remove the pin to her image, it disappeared. So she had evidently complained to Pinterest using their official complaint form. Then she decided to follow me! That was enough for me. I closed my account. Then I went in and checked. All my pins were gone, all my comments on other peoples pins were gone and I assume everyone who repinned things from me lost those pins but I’m not sure how to check that as I didn’t make a mental note of those.
    It could have been a great resource, but it was becoming boring what with all the repins, all the fingernail polish options, all the partially dressed exercise bunnies, and all the snide quotes that no one would ever say within earshot of their grandmother; I won’t miss it all that much. I’ll go back to using favorites when I surf.

  8. bee Says:

    Thanks so much for writing this – as I am pursuing some original designs and ideas, this issue has crossed my mind.

    I’m very grateful for the information!

  9. Sister Diane Says:

    Wow, Juliann, thank you so much for this well-researched and thoughtful take on the legal ramifications of Pinterest’s (rather scary, to my mind) TOS. I’m really grateful to have this to point people to!

  10. thezenofmaking Says:

    Awesome post! Thanks so much for writing such a clear overview of the issues and what they might mean bloggers.

  11. Opal @ Celebrate Life Says:

    Hi Juliann,

    Thanks for the comment. I guess I should have worded that better. Those that I pinned were under CC, but were free to copy if not for profit.

    I didn’t repin pins I saw, since at times it was hard to track down the original owner. However, as mentioned in my first post I stopped pinning completely. I’ve gone back to what I was originally doing, when I stumble upon something fascinating on one of my sites, I’ll link to it, if unsure of copyright issues. Some sites, request that you ask permission before doing so, thus far, the owners have been nice, and have let me copy and link back to their work. :)

    Thanks again for writing this post, it’s sparked some great discussion with my friends, and has made some of the ones that were simply pinning, to think if they’re actually pinning something they shouldn’t. :)

  12. Shannon at madiganmade Says:

    Thanks for shedding more light on this topic. As a blogger – I’m loving the exposure and don’t mind people pinning my posts. But I can understand how it could hurt photographers/graphic designers. It’s a shame that you have to ‘opt out’ of pinning vs. ‘opting in’… but at least the no-pin code gives those that want protection something.
    And, I admit, the long-term ramifications that they own the rights to my photos worries me a little.
    Thanks for this!

  13. Rachel Biel Says:

    Excellent article! I run an online textile and fiber arts organization which has a lot of eye candy. We just launched our new website (www.tafalist.com) a month ago and I noticed that we were getting lots of hits on Pinterest. We have a private group on facebook for the members and I asked if any members were pinning the other members on the site. Several were. How exciting!

    Until the discussion made a quick dive into copyright issues. This article was shared in that discussion by one of our members, as were several others, all very disturbing. One thing that doesn’t make sense to me: Pinterest becomes owner of all its content (including the images), but the pinner can get sued. It seems like a contradiction to me.

    There are quite a few of these curating sites out there right now. Craftgawker is another one that gets a lot of traffic, but the images all link back to the blog posts that were submitted. I have also experimented a bit with ScoopIt which I almost like better because it has the text with it and looks like a newspaper. But, it is clunkier and not as visually beautiful as Pinterest. These ideas all seem really good to me, especially when you can have groups join in the curating process.

    Another contradiction is that Pinterest wants you to pin other people’s content but it looks like if you want to be safe, you really need to stick to your own. That defeats the whole point of keeping a visual aid of ideas that might inspire you in your own projects.

    A big catch-22! Thank you for making the legal implications understandable in layman terms.

  14. Juliann aka The Sick Chick Says:

    Shannon,

    They don’t own all the rights, but they can use the photos is a lot of ways. You still have all of the other rights.

  15. Juliann aka The Sick Chick Says:

    Rachel Biel,

    Pinterest doesn’t own the images: they just have the right to use them more or less however they want. However you can still use them anyway you want too.

    The pinner who might get sued is the one pinning someone *else’s* images. You can’t get sued for pinning your own images.

    Pinterest has group-curated boards too, although I have not used them a whole lot.

    I agree that Pinterest really contradicts itself. That’s probably be most confusing part of it all. :(

  16. Rachel Biel Says:

    Thanks! I just read another article with loads of comments. My head is spintering!

  17. Lupin Says:

    If you want a button for your blog to say you are (or aren’t) happy for people to pin your images, there’s some nice ones here: http://alexandrawrote.com/2012/02/20/if-emily-posted-safety-pins/

  18. Lora Says:

    I found so many blogs through Pinterest. It brought me back to being creative and I have joined classes, started drawing again, bought tons of art materials and scrapbooking/card making items…so I think I’ll just keep pinning away and enjoying my boards as a way to keep up visually with the things that bring me pleasure. I don’t create boards for others. When I find a site that won’t let me pin I most likely won’t be checking in on them anymore. Collecting all those web sites on favorites was a waste as I rarely went back to them. I think Pinterest has great potential and I see pins from people I follow mostly, people and boards I want to follow…and I haven’t seen one pin of scantily dressed woman yet unless I’m searching under ART! :-)

  19. Mod Podge Amy Says:

    Good article Jenny! I appreciate that it was fact-based and calm, also that you pointed out solutions :D

  20. Juliann aka The Sick Chick Says:

    Hi Mod Podge Amy :) It took me over a week to write the article mostly because I needed to calm down first ;) I don’t think the world needs any more rants on the subject, there are plenty of those to go around. But we do need the facts, so that is what I tried to do :)

  21. Sofia Morgado Says:

    Great article Juliann! Since I have mostly been using Pinterest to gather stuff I want to do this piece started me thinking that I bether visit aal those pins and save the links and PAPs I want in order not to loose them! :P
    Right now that I was liking to clean up my favorites list… ;)

  22. Michelle Says:

    Thanks for the article – I too have enjoyed the fun of Pinterest but hadn’t read the fine print!!

    I shall be more careful in the future.

  23. Brandi Says:

    I love your article it address issues that may come up with pinteres. I’ve decided that I don’t want to use pinterest. I realize that my decision is based on this article but I am glad that you explained it as I’m no lawyer and some of the language is confusing.

  24. Jenny Says:

    Brandi- I want to chime in and state that I myself (the owner of CTD) will continue to use Pinterest. But I will NOT pin items from Etsy without the owners’ permission, and I do make an effort to pin source material and credit the blog. I’m happy that Pinterest sends me good-quality traffic and I’m not worried (personally) about image theft or Amazon codes (which don’t make me much $$ anyway.) -Jenny

  25. Juliann aka The Sick Chick Says:

    Hi Brandi,

    I’m personally on the fence about using Pinterest, but I wanted people to have the facts so they can decide for themselves. I really, really wish Pinterest had private boards so we could pin away without making copies visible to the rest of the world, but that doesn’t seem to go with their business model. I *love* the idea of having visually curated bookmarks, I’m just not sure if Pinterest’s way of doing business is right for me. I haven’t taken down my previous boards yet but I am considering it out of respect for the people whose images I pinned before I knew the potential harm. But I think I WILL use Pinterest for websites that say they are happy for me to pin their stuff :) As for my own stuff I don’t know. I can’t see my images being worth selling so I guess that will be an easier decision for me than someone with really good quality stuff :)

  26. Leeann Says:

    I love Pinterest – it is an incredibly effective tool at spreading the word about the all natural beauty products I make. I’m a beekeeper, not a computer geek. I click the “pin it” button on my Etsy page, and hundreds and hundreds of people see my stuff, and pass it along to others by posting my listings on their Pinterest boards. This is great! It is free advertising for me, and I’ll take all of that I can get. Pin away, people! Pin my stuff all you want!!! Woo hoo!

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