The phenomenal success of Pinterest has made it a must-have social media tool for your business. Like any social network, however, the true value of the platform cannot be fully realized by simply posting your own content. You have to post and share content from others. Therein lies the rub.

Every content creator has implied copyright protection over his or her content. In other words, when a person creates original content that person owns the rights to it. That person can decide where, how, and under what conditions that content can be used or reproduced.

Since it can often be very difficult to find the original owners of images that are available on the web, there is often a question as to whether you are infringing the copyrights of the image creators when you pin random images on Pinterest. This has prompted some people to cancel their Pinterest accounts to make sure that they’re not inadvertently violating other people’s copyrighted material.

Although this is one way to make sure you’re not in contravention of copyright, it is a little extreme and will exclude you from the marketing potential that a site like Pinterest offers. So, where do you stand if you want to use Pinterest but you also want to make sure your pins are legal? This article addresses some of the more common issues around using copyrighted images on Pinterest and offers some alternatives.

Review Pinterest’s Terms of Service

Pinterest has recently changed its Terms of Service (as of April 6, 2012). To get a better idea of where you stand with the pinning of copyrighted material, you should first familiarize yourself with Pinterest’s current and official position on the matter.

In addition to defining its policies regarding Pinterest etiquette and acceptable Use, the terms of service explicitly state that, “any User Content that you post to the Service does not and will not violate any law or infringe the rights of any third party.” Remember that the onus is on you to make sure that you have the legal permissions required to upload and pin images on Pinterest.

“Fair Use” Images

Copyright law allows reproduction of copyrighted material under very specific circumstances. If you are pinning images for purposes including critical analysis, satire, and news reporting this may be considered “fair use” of the images and may not require explicit permission from the copyright holder.

For questions surrounding the U.S. Copyright act, Pinterest itself refers to a website compiled by the University of San Francisco. To find out more about fair use guidelines and decide whether these provisions cover your use of images on Pinterest, consult the section entitled: “What is copyright infringement? Are there any defenses?

Creative Commons Images

In order to allow a freer flow of creative material in the age of the Internet, a not-for-profit organization called Creative Commons was born. According to its website, the mandate of Creative Commons is to “provide a set of copyright licenses and tools” that makes creative content more accessible and “compatible with the potential of the Internet.”

Content creators who designate their content licensed under “Creative Commons” maintain certain rights to their original work while permitting others to use and reproduce the content under specific conditions. Content creators can assign their work Creative Commons by displaying an official designation provided by the organization. Alternatively, content creators can choose to designate their work as Creative Commons on content-hosting websites like Flickr and YouTube.

Just because an image is designated Creative Commons does not automatically mean you can reproduce it anywhere — including on Pinterest. Review the various Creative Commons license classes, and search these resources for images that are appropriately licensed for use on Pinterest.

Only Pin Your Own Content

Notwithstanding the fact that Pinterest frowns upon pins that are overtly self-promotional, pinning only content that you’ve created is one way to ensure that your pins are legal on Pinterest. Of course, your content doesn’t have to be self promotional. You can upload a variety of content like nature photographs, lifestyle pictures, or portraits (assuming you have model releases for those).

You can also participate in the Pinterest community by commenting on and liking other people’s pins. Granted, you may be limiting your Pinterest experience if you’re not pinning images. An alternative to pinning your own images is to upload images from friends and colleagues who have given you express permission to do so (but who may not have gotten around to designating their images as Creative Commons).

You don’t necessarily need to be a photographer to pin your own content. Quotes are also pretty popular on Pinterest and these can be created relatively easily using just about any image editing application.


The article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. In order to make sure that you are adhering to all applicable copyright laws in your jurisdiction, we recommend that you consult with a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property and copyright law.

Have you ever been asked to remove an image that you’ve pinned on Pinterest? Are you a photographer who’s been surprised (or annoyed) to see your work displayed without permission on Pinterest? Let us know in the comments below.

[Image credits:, dpstyles, Beatrice Murch, Creative, woodleywonderworks]