In light of the overwhelming interest in Pinterest, plus the popularity of my recent post, “I’m Hooked! Why 10 Reasons Why Artists Love Pinterest”, I wanted to address the issue of copyright concerns.

How to Use Pinterest and Still Respect Copyrights

A while back I had my own artistic copyrights infringed via Facebook, How I Stopped a Copycat Artist on Facebook – you may want to see what happened to me. Nevertheless, fellow artist and Pinterest user, Wren Allen has researched and written this helpful guest post on the heated topic of Pinterest and our copyrights.

How to Use Pinterest and Still Respect Others’ Copyrights

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, just an artist who tries to follow the Golden Rule and respect other people’s copyrights like I would want them to respect mine. ~Wren Allen I joined Pinterest recently and am just as besotted with this new online past-time. Pinterest provides artists with the chance to share their art with others as it creates fun collages or ‘pinboards’ of all the beautiful imagery that inspires them. A big plus for me was that if used properly, Pinterest credits the images links back to the original source. It seemed like the perfect way to collect and enjoy all the gorgeous things I see online while still respecting the usage rights of other creatives. However, things aren’t that simple. Pinterest does indeed link back to the web page where the pinning member found an image, but thanks to the ease of copy, paste and post, that might not be the website belonging to the original artist, but an anonymous blog that doesn’t ask permission or give credit. After a close call with a re-pin that turned out to be unauthorized, I realized I needed to think out a personal pinning policy.
The most important things to think about when pinning an image are:

  • Does the artist authorize royalty-free, non-commercial “fair use” of their image in social media, including Pinterest?
  • Is the use intention “fair use”?
  • Will placing this image in the Pinterest image pool damage the artist’s ability to earn a living? Remember, the artist decides this one, not you!
  • Attribution or credit is not always enough! Many images are available only through paid licensing, if at all.

Using other people’s images in Pinterest hinges on whether these digital pinboards fall under the Fair Use provision of the US copyright law. Under section 107 of this law, copying and using small portions or excerpts of copyrighted material without payment to the original creator is permitted for a limited number of personal, informational and educational uses—as long as these small portions and reproductions of the original work do not damage the earnings value of the original creative work, nor damage the reputation of the original author or artist. ( )
The author or artist decides whether the excerpt or usage is damaging, not the end user. Since the Pinterest concept is clearly related to the bulletin boards and binders that everyone has used to collect printed imagery, the non-commercial, personal research, or educational use conditions for the individual user seem to be clearly met. The question is whether pinning an image onto Pinterest can damage the ability of the creator to earn a living by licensing that image. While some artists don’t mind non-commercial use of their images as long as they are credited, many others who license their images to publishers and manufacturers can’t afford to allow their images to be used in social media.
Where can you find images that you can safely use on Pinterest and in social media? Here is a list of the groups of artists who explicitly permit the use of their pictures on Pinterest:

  • Artist who are members of Pinterest.
  • Artists who have a Pinterest button displayed on their blog or website.
  • Artists who use a Creative Commons license ( ) to grant permission to the general public to use their work non-commercially in exchange for a credit.
  • Artists with an online Etsy shop. Etsy incorporates a “Pin it” button on their site, so pinners can pin as they browse.
  • Be sure you list credits in the caption, as well as the automatic Pinterest link!
  • If the image has a watermark, even better, as the artist’s info remains intact through re-pins.

There are quite a few other online sources for great Pinterest photos where permission seems to be given, as these sources are distributing their images through social media in hopes of going viral with their message:

  • The output of major media-like magazines and television networks. House Beautiful even retweets tweets made by fans of their magazine spreads! Nina Garcia extracts photos from the hundreds that Elle magazine licenses each month in order to build her own Pinterest page – to name just 2 obvious examples.
  • The social media output of cultural and scientific institutions. Some examples are NASA’s Astronomical daily photo and the New York Botanical Garden’s blog of “Daily Eye Candy” .
  • Retail web sites. Whether Amazon, Etsy or a bricks-and-clicks retail store, your pin functions like a tiny ad. Pinterest even receives affiliate reimbursement on some of these via Skimlinks. And as mentioned earlier, Etsy uses a “Pin it” button on their site to make pinning easier for fans and shoppers.

Who NOT to pin:

  • Artists who have a clearly marked traditional copyright notice with “All rights reserved” on their blog or website.
  • Artists who have not marked or indicated any copyright or usage permits on their blog or website. Assume they do not want their images spread through social media.
  • Artists who license their images to publishers or manufacturers.
  • Image licensing agencies such as Getty or Shutterstock. Pinterest may be negotiating a usage contract with one or more of these agencies, but until then, use of these images is by contract and payment only.
  • Anonymous Tumblr and other blogs. There are a lot of image-centered blogs out there that display beautiful photos and illustrations that are neither licensed nor credited. Avoid using!

Safe re-pinning. There are so many beautiful photos already in the Pinterest pin pool that are hard to resist re-pinning to complete that perfect board. Before you re-pin, investigate and follow the pin back to its source:

  • Is the source the original creator?
  • Can you link back from the source to the original creator? Does the original artist authorize royalty-free pinning or other non-commercial use of his/her image?
  • If so, try making a fresh pin from the original source.
  • If not, avoid the re-pin.

This certainly isn’t the end of the discussion on what sorts of images you can or can’t use on Pinterest. My own list of do’s and don’ts is still evolving. What is your experience and what do you suggest is a good way to enjoy this new digital social outlet?
Here are some more discussions about this issue:

Let’s also meet on Twitter,  Pinterest, and join in the fun at Fine Art Tips Facebook Fan Page! Please checkout my art too, ~Lori

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