Pinterest and Copyright Explained in Plain Talk – Part One: The difference between “pinning” and “uploading”

by Angelique on March 4, 2012

original pinterest icon by angelique of afmarcom pinterest icon pinned with a pinLately I’ve seen blog posts, Facebook posts and even Pinterest infographics that criticize Pinterest for quite ordinary business practices. The authors of these posts are unhappy that Pinterest exempts itself from blame if a controlled image is pinned to a user’s board. They’re also unhappy that they have to give Pinterest the “right” to use their work. If you’ve read any of these essays, they might sound reasonable to you, until you think about what Pinterest really has to do to provide us with a place to share images.

This is such a big subject that I’ve decided to divide my article into four parts. This week I want to make sure everyone understands the difference between “pinning” and “uploading.” The difference between these two activities is very important when you’re talking about the right to use images.

When we use Pinterest, we use the term “pinning” in a very universal way. Pinterst itself gives us the option to “upload a pin.” Nevertheless, there’s a very important difference between using the “pinmarklet” in your browser to “pin” something from a website and uploading an image from your own hard drive.

pink layer cake by Glorious TreatsWhen you “pin” an item from a website to one of your pinboards, what is actually being displayed is a LINK back to the original website. On Pinterest, this image looks like a photo of a pretty pink cake, but in reality, the image is a link back to the Glorious Treats food blog, where the blogger, Glory, shares her recipe.

You don’t need Glory’s permission to link to her blog. In the same vein, you don’t need permission to link to the website of an online store. Would someone be mad if you repin an item directly from their Etsy shop to your “Fashions I Love” board? No! In fact, you’re probably helping them make a sale. It’s just more free advertising for them. Anyone clicking on the image goes straight back to the original website.

ceramic bowl by Joan Pevarnik - original graphic by Angelique of AFMarComWhen you UPLOAD an image from your hard drive to one of your pinboards, there is no connection between the image and the original creator. If you’re not the original creator of the image or an item in the image, you have to stop to think, “Do I have permission to send this image to Pinterest, where it will be duplicated and Pinterest will profit commercially from it?”

Will an artist be mad if you download an image her artwork to your hard drive, and then upload it to Pinterest? That depends on a number of things: Are you including her name and a link to her website? Is this an image that she circulates freely for all to share, or is this a photograph that she might be selling? What does her website say about using her work?

If the image you’re uploading is of a person, you have to stop to think, “Do I have permission to upload this person’s image to a public website?”

tumblr flower with textBy now, you may have spotted the grey area here: What about the thousands of images that are “pinned” from those miles-long Tumblr accounts that are entirely disconnected from the original artists? How do they fit into the big picture? Quite frankly, I don’t think anyone really knows what it might mean to you, the Pinterest member. But I do know what it means to Pinterest: In such a case, if an artist did not want her work to be shared, Pinterest is not guilty of copyright violation. Why not? That’s the subject of next week’s installment!

UPDATE! Part Two of this series is out! Click here to read it!

Due to heavy spam, I’ve had to close comments on this series for a while. No, it’s not from people who didn’t like the articles! Just spammers attracted by the word “Pinterest.” I think I’ll be able to open it back up again in a month or so. Email me at if you want to say something about the posts!


Facebook icon   Twitter icon   Pinterest icon   Email icon


{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Al March 4, 2012 at 5:27 pm

I checked a pinned recipe.
The photo had been copied to the Pinterest servers and the name changed.
The photo from the Pinterest server is then used as a placeholder for a link back the the recipe blog.
The link is not to the original photo, but to a web page that contains the original photo.


In Touch Promotions March 12, 2012 at 7:03 pm

I like that Pinterest links back to web pages. It helps us little bizzes climb a bit in Google ranks when we get pinned. A new goal! Thanks Angelique :) ~Donna S.


Jo March 18, 2012 at 12:40 am

Look again. Check the URLs; all images on Pinterest are uploaded regardless of how you pin it. It’s not a link to the original, it’s a copied image on Pinterest.


Alison Gilbert March 31, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Dear Angelique,

I want to thank you for the information that your first blog post on Pinterest provided. It was so helpful that I documented it as ‘Special Resource’ material on a post I published called,

I discuss some of the current concerns about copyright law infringement and sponsorship of popular pinners as well as those earning straight income from this platform. Your post helped to clarify for me what was a very confusing, legal jargon heavy Pinterest policy.
I welcome you feedback, comments, discussion and suggestions.Sincerely yours,Alison Gilbert . . . in hot pursuit of blogging self-pinterest!


Gale July 27, 2012 at 10:30 am

Good article. But I don’t think it follows that if you pin something online, it’s just a link. Because, it uses a picture. I’ve read that there’s been cases when thumbnails have been allowed as fair use when they were used to think, but the pictures on Pinterest are pretty big, so it might be hard to argue that it’s a thumbnail. And when you click on a pin on the main board on pinterest, it doesn’t go directly to the website, it goes to to the pinterest pin page, where you see an even larger picture (which if you were arguing for a thumbnail, I think you would loose the argument then). And while I absolutely agree that most shops with products would like their products pinned (cause if people think its cool enough they may click through and buy it), there’s other cases where content providers might feel differently. Say you had a blog about beautiful cakes…and most people visited the blog just to look at the cakes, and that’s how you made advertising money…well, pinterest could really hurt you. Now, they don’t come to your blog and see the advertising too…they just see the pin, and most people don’t click through, they just repin the pin. And even if they click on that to see a bigger picture, it just takes them to the pin page…and very few people would take that second click to actually visit their blog (and also see the advertising which pays their bills). So that person could argue that their content is being stolen and it’s causing financial harm.

Now I love Pinterest…but I can see where someone might be pissed about that and have a case. I’m starting to be more cautious in my pinning. If I think there’s any chance it might be an issue, I look to see if they use pinterest themselves, and if not, I try to ask. When I can’t ask, and it’s the content I think is cool (not just the picture) I’m starting to pin the link, but use my own image (I’ll get a related image from a public domain source and upload it with the link). Now, when I started pinning I wasn’t so careful, so there’s lots of pins I still have that are not so “polite.”


Gale July 27, 2012 at 10:31 am

(oops…used to link, not used to think…sheeesh. oops)


Angelique July 28, 2012 at 10:18 pm

Gale — Thanks for commenting! I cover some of the things you mention here in the other articles in this series.

In the cake scenario you describe, Pinterest would not hurt the cake blog owners. The people who see an image of their cakes and don’t click through would not have EVER seen their cakes without Pinterest. The cake blog has not _lost_ a single view.

I think your method of linking to interesting articles with graphics you know are “safe” is a good idea for a few reasons. First, not everyone gets permission to use the graphics they use in their blogs (basically, they’re too cheap to pay a few bucks for images when they need to.) And second, a lot of blogs simply have bad images, or even NO images. Your image may attract more clicks.


Jane January 18, 2013 at 5:46 am

Um yeah – you DO need the blog/website owner’s permission to pin… Read the Pinterest TOS. If you are not the “sole and exclusive owner of all member content” and you don’t have a “worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free license” to the image, don’t pin it.


Nikevvfree September 14, 2015 at 7:36 pm

Amazing web page which you have for here.


ラジオシステムズコーポレーション 6V交換用バッテリー RFA-67D-18 2個入[LP] 【TC】【 October 3, 2015 at 10:42 pm



NECEFD10ED/7-E17-C2C 電球形蛍光灯 「コスモボール?ミニ」(電球40WタイプD形?昼光色) (EFD10ED7E October 4, 2015 at 4:14 pm



Leave a Comment

{ 3 trackbacks }