Pinterest and Copyright Law, for Pinners

Basic copyright law

The basics the parts of copyright law that affect your actions on Pinterest, from a US perspective.

  • “In the public domain” means, “the creator has been dead for 70 years.” It does NOT mean, “on the internet already.”
  • Once created, any “original work of authorship” is copyrighted. The copyright is almost always owned by the person who created the object. In some very limited and specific cases, the person who paid to have a work of authorship created owns the copyright, called “work for hire.”
  • Copyrights can be registered with the US Copyright office for $35 and when they are registered, the owner acquires additional, more powerful rights, including the ability to sue for damages.
  • If your URL doesn’t end in *.edu, assume that “fair use” does not apply to you.
  • The Digital Millenium Copyright “Safe Harbor” provision applies to the host, not the user. In other words, it protects content sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Pinterest, but not you, the pinner or poster of copyrighted content to those sites.
Copyright for Pinners

Copyright for Pinners (in the United States)

For additional information and the actual text of the law, spend some time at the US Copyright Office’s website. It’s very user-friendly and pretty clear.

Applying Copyright law to your Pinning activity

Trace the source

Whenever possible, pin from the original source, rather than repining. Tumblr is almost never going to be the original source, and neither will goggle.com. When you trace to the original source of a pin, you can often get a sense of whether the creator has allowed, tacitly or explicitly, sharing and pinning.

  • One professional photographer on Flickr publishes the links to the picture to make it easy to link and provides information about how he wants to be credited in that flickr account.
  • Because Flickr has an easy-to-use copyright and permission labeling system, you can be reasonably sure he’s happy to share with credit, the images that are on Flickr.
  • A different photographer has a separate gallery of 30 different images labeled “Pinterest share.” In this case, I’d feel comfortable pinning from that gallery, and far less comfortable pinning any of his other work.
  • When you trace the source to a websites with a “PinIt” and/or a “follow me on Pinterest” button, you can feel comfortable about pinning an image. Understand that the website owner is nonetheless the owner of the content. Do not change the URL or modify the image and give as much credit to the site in the caption as you want to type.

If you don’t have time to trace a pin, “Like” it to save it until you can come research the original source of the image (using Google Image search).
If you find a site does not appear to support pinning, consider “Liking” the image to save it without it appearing on your boards. (Not clear if this would be considered a copyright violation that would charge to you.)

Pinning your own images

You can always pin images you created (as long as you’re not taking a picture of something that is itself under copyright protection, most often “art.”) The Pinterest app for your smart phone makes it easy to pin-on-the-run

  • I found one image of a chair that was painted with a copy of a famous work of art that is not in the public domain. (Da Vinci & Michelangelo works are in the public domain; Klimt’s work is, Picasso and Pollack are NOT.) I did not pin the image. The copy of the painting ON the chair is, probably, a violation of the artist’s copyright
  • If you paid a photographer to make the image (realtors!?!, interior designers with portfolio photography, brides), make decisions about who owns what and who can pin what when you sign the contract.
  • If you are the photographer, start discussing Pinability of your images in your contracts.

Pinning with the PinIt bookmarklet

  • Use caution; consider whether the website owner is likely to benefit from the Pin / additional traffic; consider where you are pinning the image (what type of board?). Paste the URL in the caption as well as in the “Link” field. Use a helpful caption, rather than “cute” or “awesome” or the useless “.”, which gets you past Pinterest’s requirement to put something in the description field.
  • IF you have any doubts, email the website owner and ask for permission. As a group, photographers have a mixed response to Pinterest. Some feel they will lose sales; others believe that additional traffic will bring them more business. It’s their call, not yours.

In one case, I emailed a website owner and she told me she loved Pinterest, had an account under her own name which wasn’t the name of her studio, and simply hadn’t figured out how to put the PinIt button on her website yet. Now we’re following each other. (And I saved her email…)

Stock Photo, National Geographic, and other blocked websites

Pinterest helps website owners who don’t support sharing to block pins from a site. Many of the stock photo websites installed this code, as did the National Geographic website.
Pinning when you have to do something devious to get an image from a blocked, unpinnable website is the same as shoplifting.
Some clients may be more aware of this application of copyright law than you are. Like grammar, getting it right is invisible and getting it wrong offends. (That is, a client who recognizes that you pinned a protected image is more likely to put you in the “shoplifter” bucket than a “clever person!” bucket.)

Researching images

Use “save image as” to save a copy of the image to your hard drive, then drag that image to the Google Image search box. Google will tell you where that image has been used. If Pinterest is the only source, you don’t need the pin.

Review all pins occasionally

When you get more familiar with Pinterest, take 10 minutes to look at all your pins. Make sure they all have links and that those links are legitimate.

  • I missed some curse words in URLs when I first pinned, and I have since deleted those pins.
  • You’ll develop a feel for images that should be credited differently. Beautiful, well-photographed images that are “uploaded by user” on an account that is not full of user-created beautiful images are suspicious.
  • If you’re not sure about a link or a credit, delete the Pin. Something better will show up.

Non-participants

If you don’t want to play, put the “don’t pin from here” code into your website.
Search Pinterest regularly for your important images. Pinerest has a clearly defined system for removing pins that should not be on the site. Use Google image search to keep track of your own work—drag an image to the Google Image search bar, and Google will tell you what sites have used that image.)

Pinees

If you do want to play in Pinterest: add the follow me and Pinit buttons to your website.
Pin your own images to your own boards as a starter. Although Pinterest claims to not be about self-promotion, it also wants to see user-created content. Distribute your images across different boards, depending on your subject matter.
Decide whether watermarks are worth the trouble: it depends on your industry and your skill at adding watermarks to your images. (Photoshop will add watermarks, as will an app like PicMonkey.)

Summary

Pinterest is a fabulous tool for sharing images with your clients, your friends, and friends and clients you haven’t met yet. Share your own images, and images that have been clearly “permissioned,” and you’ll be fine.

*Notes:

I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
I am not a lawyer, so I have hired them, and I have learned this: Intellectual Property (IP) Lawyers have a different focus than family practice lawyers. If you need to know more about IP law in a hurry, hire a lawyer who specializes in IP law. IP Lawyers cluster around research centers and universities.

Karen Tiede is a rag rug weaver and reluctant social media marketer who discovered Pinterest for Business and lived happily ever after. Now she weaves recycled t shirts into beautiful rugs and teaches people in the portfolio professions how to use Pinterest to market their work.

Martin Brossman & Associates is a Raleigh based firm providing social media training, workshops, management, talks and advising to micro businesses, small and medium sized businesses, professionals, associations and communities. Contact info@martinbrossmanandassociates.com.