Monday, January 20, 2014

Social Media Monday—Know What You Can & Can’t Legally Pin on Pinterest

by Edie Melson

Pinterest is one of the fastest growing
social media platforms around.
Pinterest is one of the fastest growing social media platforms out there. Although it’s still not on my list of sites writers HAVE to be a part of, it’s getting close. It’s a great way to connect with your readers. But with the added visibility it's even more important to know what you can and can't legally pin on Pinterest.

For those not familiar with Pinterest, it’s like a collection of virtual bulletin boards. It is also an image driven site. Which means the emphasis is on pinning pictures and graphics. Everyone who joins can build their own boards and then others can follow those boards. Here are just a few things that writers can share to connect with potential readers:

  • Build boards with your book’s subject.
  • Build boards that help you with world building or setting.
  • Share blogs from others who write in your genre.
  • Build boards from books you love—you can legally post the book covers and links to Amazon or the author’s blog.
  • Build a board and share the blogs you follow—as long as the blog has a picture you can post it.
  • Build boards with your personal interests, like knitting, sewing, bird watching, there’s no limit to the topics you can choose. 

BUT, you must still be careful about the images you pin. This is especially true when you pin from another Pinterest board, and not directly from a website.

Copyright Basics for Images

We still have to follow copyright laws on Pinterest.
Images—photos, sketches, graphics, any kind—are covered by the same copyright law as our written words. As soon as something is recorded in tangible form, it is covered by the law of copyright and belongs to the person who created it. This is true for images, graphics, photographs, everything. There are NO exceptions.

Unfortunately, there is lots of sharing going on over the Internet, and it’s not legal. When we pin or post images without permission, even when we acknowledge where we got it, we are stealing. I truly believe that’s not usually the intent, but ignorance is no excuse. If we’re going to work in the digital world, we need to educate ourselves on what’s right and what’s not and then lead by example.

How to tell if an Image is Legal to Pin
1. Look for a statement on the website inviting you to pin the images you find there. On my site, I share an image every Saturday. In the body of the post, I invite people to use the image any way they wish online.

2. Look for a PinIt Button on the website. If the website owner has a PinIt button, it’s a good bet they’re fine with sharing their images on Pinterest.

3. Email and ask permission. Even though I have that invitation for people to use my Saturday images and a PinIt button that pops up on all my images, I still get emails asking permission to use specific images. I never mind answering those emails. It shows diligence and respect on the part of the user.

Things to Avoid
You’ll notice that those three steps to find out if an image is legal to pin happen on the originating website—not Pinterest. That’s because you can’t often find that information on Pinterest.
  • You should never repin an image from a Pinterest board without going to the originating website first. I know it sounds like a lot of extra work, especially since it’s on Pinterest already. But the fact is, I have a lot of friends who have had pins removed—because of copyright infringement—by Pinterest. All of these instances have come through repining something without visiting the originating website. Pinterest has sent the user an email stating that a pin has been removed because of copyright infringement.
An image with a watermark is a sign that it's
not legal to use without permission.
  • You should never pin an image from a site that doesn’t have a PinIt button or link to Pinterest, unless you email and get permission. Don’t assume that it won’t matter because you’re linking to the originating website or that it will be good advertising. Some people do not want their images shared and that is their right.
  • You should never pin an image that has a watermark on it. Any image with a watermark is a copyrighted image and in 99% of the cases, it has been used illegally. Below is an example of a watermarked image:

SPECIAL NOTE: There is one other reason not to pin an image unless you’ve been to the originating site. I’ve heard of two instances where someone pinned an image and, when it was traced back to the original site, it was a small part of a pornographic image. That is not something you want the followers on your board to find. So take the time to verify every image you pin back to the original source.

Now I’d like to hear from you. Have you ever had a pin removed by Pinterest? Have you ever asked someone to remove an image that you own? Be sure to leave any questions and/or comments below.

Don’t forget to join the conversation!


Copyright laws are not suspended on Pinterest –stay out of trouble with these tips from @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

If you want to know more about copyright and where to find images, here are some posts that might be of interest to you:

Copyright 101, Part 1
Copyright 101, Part 2
Copyright 101, Part 3
Where do I Find Pictures for My Blog?
Where to Go for Free/Copyright Free Images


  1. I used to be on Pinterest but pulled out, because of these reasons. I'd like to get back on, but I'm a bit hesitant. What if I purchased the rights to a photo? Can I pit it? And I'd love to learn how you do the copyright watermark on a photo.

    1. If you purchase the rights to a photo, you have the right to use it (depending on what rights you purchased - I always buy all rights) BUT, other's don't have the right to repin or use it. The copyright on the photo above was done through an app on my iPad, PhotoMarkr. You can also use, an online site I love! Blessings, E

  2. I feel like Ane Mulligan, above. Recently I've noticed pictures disappearing from my blog posts and my Google Plus account. The confusing part of this is that nearly every single one of them is a picture I have snapped myself, or one that I've gotten from under "free to share and use commercially." Why might that be happening?

    1. Sherry, I don't know why your photos are disappearing. I've never had that happen. I'll do some research and see if I can see what's up. Blessings, E

    2. Sherry, a lot of folks don't know that all the photos on google accounts are stored in your picasa albums. You can access them here: If you've made any changes in picasa, like denied access or deleted anything, that would delete an image from your blog. Here's another link to a blogger forum with the 8 questions you need to ask to find what's happening.!msg/blogger/oM6S8twF3Jc/1WYiepeUYy8J
      I hope this helps. Blessings, E

    3. Thanks so much, Edie. I will check this out!

  3. I've been using the Bing images like you suggested, free to share and use commercially. Are you supposed to give credit or check on those?

    1. Jennifer, no those you can use without crediting the source or checking the copyright status. Blessings, E

  4. As far as I know, I've never had an image removed. I'm still on the fence with Pinterest. I don't get much writing use from it. I do, however, get good info for gardening. My wife pins all things food related. Essentially, if a photo tells the story, it's helpful. By the way, if you ever decide to raise chickens, the backyard chicken keepers are very prolific pinners. I never took the plunge. Decided it was too much work after all those pins.

    1. Ron, I know how valuable Pinterest can be for writers, but frankly I have enough on my plate right now. I think when I get a novel published, it will be easier to engage my interest. Blessings, E

  5. I've never had pins removed from my Pinterest boards. I LOVE Pinterest! Not only do I find great ideas for homeschooling but I recently found great websites that will help with research I am doing for an article.
    But, like Sherry B., even some of my own photos will not download through Google, Bing, or Picassa. Some will, some won't. It's aggravating.

  6. Edie, I have a question. I have a friend who's a freelance designer. He wanted to use quotes that he found on Pinterest in a design project. I told him he needed to be very careful because of copyright issues. Am I right?


    1. Deborah, using quotes is fine. Where you can get into trouble is when you the image that the quote is pictured with. I would warn your friend to verify the quotes from several sources. I've found TONS of quotes attributed to the wrong person on Pinterest and on Goodreads. Those are good sites to begin, but always verify with two other sources to be sure. Thanks for the great question! Blessings, E

  7. I love Pinterest, but it can be a huge rabbit hole! I've used it to gather ideas for my novel; I like your idea of starting a board for my genre. Will have to get to that... some day. There are so many social media sites, and I want to have time to do what I love... write!!
    I've never had images removed, but I appreciate your advice and will approach repins more carefully.

  8. Thanks for sharing this interesting post. I totally agree with you.Pinterest is one of the fastest growing social media platforms.