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It’s the best thing since whiteboards in college dorms! It’s a breeding ground for copyright infringers!

Those strong statements sum up the debate currently raging like a wildfire among creative professionals. Two things are certain: neither Pinterest nor the debate about its value are going away. Just the opposite is true.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about Pinterest’s seemingly stratospheric social power. Nearly 1.5 million unique users visit Pinterest daily, spending an average of 15 minutes a day on the site. In January 2012, Pinterest drove greater traffic to websites than LinkedIn, Google Plus, Reddit, and Youtube — combined.

Why Creatives (Should) Care

Pinterest isn’t just a social network; it’s a creative ecosystem that’s sucking in consumers faster than a Black Friday sale! And not just any consumers. Women are the driving force behind Pinterest. And not just any women. Mothers are particularly passionate pinners. Fifty percent of Pinterest users have kids! That means Pinterest is a marketplace of ideas where mothers find inspiration that influences their household and personal buying behavior.

Marketers from big and small businesses alike are jumping on the Pinterest bandwagon, finding creative ways to get their products and services pinned to drive traffic, brand awareness and revenue. And it’s working!

Retailers like Nordstrom, Lands’ End and Etsy are adding Pinterest into their marketing mix. Michele Casper, PR Director for Lands’ End, confirmed that most pins link to products on the Land’s End website. “People get excited from the visual and then have the opportunity to purchase. It’s very engaging tool in that respect,” Casper remarked.

Meanwhile, Nordstrom took pinning upon themselves and created a board called ‘Holiday Sparkle.’ According to Social Media Manager Shauna Causey, Pinterest is “another way to engage with customers rather than marketing.”

So, what’s the big deal?

Why are some creatives charismatically calling Pinterest “potentially damaging to the photography industry?”

Some go as far as claiming that Pinterest is an enabler of illegal activity like Napster was in the late 1990s.

Acclaimed New York City photographer Christian Oth carefully composed his response in a post entitled, “The Wonderful World of Pinning and Infringement.” The full post is worth a read, and his decision to remove “Pin It” buttons from his website boils down to one principle: copyright.

“This is creating an entire network of photographers, designers, and other creatives who are seeing their work displayed without their knowledge or consent,” Oth said.

To be clear, Pinterest’s Terms of Service state:

By making available any Member Content through the Site, Application or Services, you hereby grant to Cold Brew Labs a worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free license, with the right to sublicense, to use, copy, adapt, modify, distribute, license, sell, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, stream, broadcast, access, view, and otherwise exploit such Member Content only on, through or by means of the Site, Application or Services. 

And that statement raises some eyebrows. Many professional photographers’ primary concern with Pinterest’s Terms of Service stems from one simple word: SELL. According to the above statement, Pinterest can sell the content you upload to their website.

For that reason, Oth has decided to exclude Pinterest from his social media marketing strategy, stating that “until Pinterest makes changes in the favor of the artists on their website, I will not be participating as a member or be utilizing the Pin It option on my website.”

Is the sky falling?

Maybe not, but a lot of folks are having healthy debate about how to interpret Pinterest’s copyright conditions. Some are going as far as opting out of Pinterest altogether by adding a small piece of code to the head of any page on their site, which displays this message:

“This site doesn’t allow pinning to Pinterest. Please contact the owner with any questions. Thanks for visiting!”

Are All Photographers Boycotting Pinterest?

No way! As a matter of fact, some are embracing it. Wendy Roe, for example, sees distinct value in Pinterest as a part of her marketing strategy.

“Pinterest is a gold mine for photographers, especially wedding photographers, because brides-to-be are there, pinning images from their favorite websites to showcase ideas while categorizing their favorite wedding cakes, details, dress and even their ‘something blue’ for crying out loud!,” Roe says enthusiastically.

Byron Roe

Byron Roe

Other photographers like Leanne Marie Golish have shared step-by-step tutorials showcasing how wedding photographers can use Pinterest. And many are actively – and adamantly – using it!

To Pin, or Not To Pin?

Every photographer should carefully consider their social media strategy, especially when it comes to freely sharing their copyrighted works. As Oth asks on his blog, “when and where will all this end? If the internet itself has changed the very face of copyright, can we (photographers) really afford to object to all web-based facilities?”

And while photographers continue debating, consumers continue pinning. The irony is, the prettier the picture, the more it will get pinned.


  • We’re definitely on the fence about it. We’re seeing a lot of our work pinned, but until we get an inquiry with Pinterest listed as the referral source I wonder how relevant it is to our industry.

  • Enna says:

    I don’t have time to do a lot of pinning. However, I think it’s a brilliant way for people who collaborate on photos with me to spread our work! For example, I am seeing some of our favorite hair and makeup artists, caterers, and event planners create boards called “My work” where they can pin work from various photographers – it’s a fluid portfolio of sorts, that doesn’t require their pulling the photographers’ teeth to get image files. I am also really enjoying seeing which of my pictures are pinned on Pinterest – I love the concept of a public-curated portfolio of my work. Lastly, i’ve seen at least one of our brides create an inspiration board for her wedding, and then she added our pictures of the culmination of her ideas onto the same board. I love how it can be used to document the creative process in this manner! YES, copyright and credit issues need to be sorted out, along with standard protocol. But I am very excited about this medium – for so long the internet has been full of static sites, but the fluidity that we see in social media is such an exciting element, i think we’re just starting to tap into this potential with sites like Pinterest.

  • Enna says:

    I do have concerns though – it’s not all sunshine and roses. This is what I just submitted to Pinterest via their support form:

    “I am very excited about the concept of Pinterest as a venue for sharing my work. I love the concept of a fluid and crowd-curated selection of my work. However, two things concern me. First, images can be downloaded. I am okay with seeing images shared virally on Pinterest with links back to the original source. However, downloading of images does not preserve the original source, and this is absolutely not okay. Second, I’ve noticed that some images disappear from the feed that is intended to show work pinned from a particular site: And, my images pinned by friends recently are not showing in this feed at all. In order to solidify my stance about whether Pinterest agrees to my own standards for maintaining the copyright to my work, I need to be able to follow how my work is pinned. Please contact me and let me know how to get a complete list of all images sourced from my URL, and also let me know what steps Pinterest is taking to develop protocol that respects artists’ copyright and image credit requirements.”

  • Tim Ray says:

    I can see where stock photographers would have a problem with Pinterest, but for the most part Pinterest is a wonderful tool for marketing wedding and portrait photography.

  • […] No doubt, you’ve been enjoying all of the Pinterest shitstorm goodness out there. If you’d like to read a great summary, check out the article on The Photo Life. […]

  • Spencer Lum says:

    Nicely balanced article, and very timely. I put up my two cents on my blog, but though I have no beef with anything anyone has said against it, I’ve gotta think it’s all going to blow over and turn out to be much ado about nothing. I’m going on the side of use it if you want to use it. I think the risks are too low. Some of terms are onerous, but no one has much regard for copyright anyway, other than the copyright owners. I don’t know if people ever did. But they certainly didn’t have the tools before. Some form of hyper-sharing is the future, whether it’s Pinterest or not. We may as well get ahead of it.

  • Rhee Bevere says:

    One great thing about living in Silicon Valley…very linked-in friends (and not like the site, I mean “for reals”). One of them posted this when I voiced my concern about pinning and copyright, and their very broad reaching TOS:
    “They are working on this. The woman who did a blog post about deleting her pinboards heard from the founder of Pinterest. Her update is interesting:

  • Darlene says:

    So just to be 100% honest and up front here, how many photographers do you personally know that have a pirated copy of Photoshop (or any software for that matter), or have broken into their iPhone to use beyond its original intent, or have done other such questionable activities? Maybe you yourself?

    I admit, I used to have a copied version of Photoshop but when I bought a new computer years ago and started doing more stuff on the internet, I realized how hypocritical it was of me to expect my clients not to copy and post my images on Facebook when I wasn’t respecting copyright and licensing myself. From that moment on I’ve always had licensed software – all of it!

    I pay for my music downloads from iTunes – not discount sites offering 10 songs for $2 (really?! the artists aren’t getting any of that, it’s pirated!).

    Let’s be honest here folks!

  • While I agree that Pinterest is directly and indirectly causing users to take a photographer’s image with out their permission. I believe we must be more worried about applications like Kaptur that allow a user to aggregate images easily and even suggests that they be used for other purposes. Professional photographer will suffer lost usage rights because of this. Pinterest at least champions the work of others.

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