Are You Stealing Money From Artists By Pinning to Pinterest?

by wrylilt

Without knowing it, you might be stealing money from photographers & graphic designers by pinning to Pinterest.

Where Did You Get That Photo?

Just because a photo is on the internet, does not mean you are legally allowed to use it. 

Legally, you are only allowed to use photos labelled for reuse, in the public domain or that are marked as creative commons.

Are you Stealing?
Are you Stealing?

How Can Pinning a Photo Cost a Person Money?

Although the simple act of pinning a photo to your pinboard may seem unimportant, it can easily hurt the original creator's chances of earning money from it. There are three main ways this can happen (although there are probably many more):

  • Once the photo you pinned on your board is indexed by Google, the image will display in Google image search. Since Pinterest is a larger site than the average blog or personal site, it will rank higher in the image search than the original picture, meaning that the original picture will often get far less traffic.
  • Images can be imbedded into other sites. If those sites earn money from the pages where those photos are displayed, they are making money from them without any of that revenue returning in any form to the original image creator.
  • If you visit a site where the author has taken a photo from elsewhere, with correct attribution, you are still not correctly attributing. You are providing a link to the author of the article, not to the original artist. The only way to avoid this is to go to the original artist's work.

5 Reasons to Check Before You Pin

  1. If the photo is from a personal blog, the blog writer may prefer that their family photos stay private or at least where they can be aware of their context or re-use.
  2. If the photo is usually sold on some type of payment scheme (such as paid stock photos), you may be setting yourself up for legal trouble.
  3. You could be breaking the Terms of Use which you agreed to when joining Pinterest. 
  4. You may have a DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) filed against you for illegal use of photos.
  5. How would you feel if someone linked to images or writing that you owned, without asking your permission?

But Doesn't Pinterest Link Back to the Original Photo?

Yes, Pinterest provides a link back to the original photo (unless you download it and upload it yourself.)

However, legally (and also according to the Pinterest Terms of Use), you are not allowed to re-use photos unless they are designated for resharing or re-use, EVEN if you link back to the original photo. So by pinning a photo, you are legally agreeing that you have permission or rights to do so.

How often do you check copyright before pinning a photo?

What Pinterest Has to Say

When you signed up for Pinterest, did you read the Terms & Conditions (Terms of Use)? Yes, that huge and annoying page of legal jargon, which most people just click Agree on. Well maybe you should have. 

According to the Pinterest Terms of Use (Some parts removed for convenience):

You acknowledge and agree that you are solely responsible for all Member Content that you make available through the Site, Application and Services........ 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........... 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.

With the exception of "Made for Pinterest" photos, how often do you visit the site linked to a pinned photo?
  Display results
Each photo links back to the original site. But how often do you click these links?

How do People Make Money with Photos on the Internet?

Many people make a living by using their own photos and created images on the internet. Some of the most common ways include:

  • Using their images as a way to promote their website through image search results.
  • Selling items featuring their images through sites such as Zazzle.
  • Selling their images through stock photo companies.
  • Displaying images on their website to gain traffic and earn from advert clicks.

So What Photos Can You Pin?

There are plenty of photos that you can legally pin. Just make sure they fall under the following categories:

  • Labelled for reuse, creative commons or in the public domain.
  • Images you have asked the creator for permission to pin.
  • Images specifically made for Pinterest.
  • Images you have created yourself.

Further Reading

Feel free to pin any images on this page.

Please Check Copyright Before You Pin!
Please Check Copyright Before You Pin!
Are you Stealing?
Are you Stealing?
Updated: 02/18/2012, wrylilt
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Have Your Say

Freya Yuki on 09/19/2014

I've been trying to find more information about Pinterest before joining the site. From what I've heard, it's supposed to be fun and enjoyable. I also heard about the copyright issues with Pinterest so I really want to find out more about this. I've some questions about Pinterest but can't seem to find anyone who knows any of the answers though my search has led me to this article.

I see that there's a provided "pin it" button on this page. If a site or image has that button, does that mean that we are free to pin the pics in those pages without having to worry about copyrights? If an image has already been pinned to Pinterest, are we free to repin that photo without worrying about copyrights? I look forward to pinning / repinning the pretty pics I've been hearing about but I am concerned about the copyright issues.

You mentioned that we could pin photos that are in the public domain or that have the creative commons license. I write articles too and I use those kinds of images (I double-check to make sure they're really public domain / creative commons but don't really have the time to do that with pinned / repinned images (besides, I thought Pinterest was supposed to be fun and not work?) but I've tried to add some text (like the article title) on those pics.

From what I understand, if you pin a photo, it will link back to the article or site where you got the photo. So if I pin the pics here, the pinned image will link back to this page (correct me if I'm wrong). My question is - am I allowed to pin a public domain / creative commons image that I modified (added text, etc) and have it link to my article? I always credit and list the artist and source of the images that I used at the end of my articles (I provide a URL link as well).

brettb on 03/14/2012

People have been "stealing" my photos for years.

wrylilt on 03/12/2012

Eli I think you missed the point of the article in that case. The images on this page were MADE for pinning, which means you are legally allowed to use them. LOL!

Eli on 03/12/2012

I just pinned the images off this page because the article missed the point of Pinning so hard.

Joe Beasley on 02/19/2012
WordCustard on 02/08/2012

Pinning is going to be controversial as it's such an easy way to copy images and ignore copyright issues. People for the most part have little interest in stopping to think about whether they have the right to pin an image. It's good to bring these issues up for discussion, if only to make Pinterest users question whether they really should be pinning a particular picture.

sjlocke on 02/04/2012

"Pinning" violates copyright laws in the majority of cases :

fanfreluche on 01/23/2012

Currently I do upload mainly my stuff: either photos with a clear visible copyright, apublic domain found on my pages (adding public domain images to you pages is an easy way to pin something without any fear of violating someone copyright). I also pin books or products from sale pages (maybe that's not ok? I am unsure here). I also pin some stamps and coins, again I think this is ok. As for other's images, I did pin very few, many from Etsy linking back to they page for the product...of course now I understand that in the end it might end not linking to the original anymore. Complicated. I saw so many images there with no way to tell from where it came: they landed on google image.

wrylilt on 01/22/2012

I do agree that many websites appreciate it, Jimmie. In fact there's a whole generation of "Made For Pinterest" images with details about recipes/craft tutorials etc so you'll click through.

But there are still many pictures with copyright issues too.

Jimmie on 01/22/2012

Although I have an account at Flickr and set different licenses to my photos, I realize that if it's online, there is risk of its being misused. People need to be aware that there are truly no safeguards. As my mom says, "Locks only keep honest men out." We hope that people use integrity, but that is not always the case.
As far as Pinterest, I welcome people pinning my photos as long as they are linked back to the blog post or article. This is one reason for removing links from photos. If there are links, people will often pin the photo (.jpg or .png) URL rather than the article where the photo is used. I have seen loads of traffic from Pinterest.
If your photo is of a craft, a food, or something to create, people WILL come visit your article to get the directions.

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