An Artist’s View of Pinterest

By Carolyn Edlund


Carolyn Pappas


Artist Carolyn Pappas has taken down her Pinterest boards. She didn’t delete her account, though, because she wants to be able to comment on boards where her art has been pinned.

One comment was made on a board belonging to a woman who pinned her work on “I Just Have 2 Make It.” Carolyn replied to her:


 “Hi there! I noticed that you pinned my artwork to a board of things you want to make yourself. I encourage you to make your own art, but please do not copy from any of my drawings or paintings, as they are my original works and are protected under copyright. Thanks.”

This small attempt to fight back is reflective of how many artists view the power, reach, and potential misuse of Pinterest. Carolyn agreed to share her views and concerns about this exploding social media phenomenon.

AS: What is your biggest concern with Pinterest?

CP: What bothers me the most is their terms of service (TOS). There is so much info out there dissecting the legal meaning of their terms, so I won’t get into that. But I am left with the feeling that the whole company thinks very little of the ethics behind copyright law (the “spirit” of the law, so to speak.)

Most people do not read through the TOS when they sign up for a website, but I am left with the impression that Pinterest itself (i.e., their CEO Ben Silbermann) let some lawyers write the terms without even reading it through first. The whole service is based around people breaking their own legal terms. That is a poor business model for sure!

I do not think that Pinterest would actually sell my images, but it bothers me that they try to usurp that right in their TOS.


Turquoise Sea by Carolyn Pappas


AS: Do you believe there is an effective way to protect your copyrights given the way images are being used online?

CP: As far as individual users, there are plenty of people out there with no scruples, or are well meaning but just plain ignorant. As a teenager, I used to be like that as well, and it wasn’t until I got serious about my artwork that I began to become more aware of copyright.

I put the “no pin” code on my website for about one week, but then decided to remove it because I don’t want to turn away potential fans. I feel conflicted about how to handle people pinning my work. I’ve toyed with the idea of watermarking my images, but I’ve seen so many bad watermarks that for now I’ve left them off. Right now I am just trusting that I have more to gain from people seeing my work than I have to lose.

I left the comment for the Pinterest user because I thought it was important to educate the person. She seemed nice, and I think she just didn’t know any better. I thought it might be better to educate and inform rather than do a DMCA takedown notice.


Apples and Pear by Carolyn Pappas


AS: Would you want your work shared on Pinterest if they changed the terms of service?

CP: If Pinterest changed their terms of service I would certainly have less of a problem with people pinning my work, but I’m not sure if I would want to use it myself. I really have lost a lot of respect for their upper management that they would have gone into business without making sure it was legal first. My suspicion is that they knew exactly what they were doing, but they took a calculated risk (even worse.)

What’s your viewpoint? Are you a Pinterest fan or not? 


  1. I really like pinterest. I think there is more to gain than to lose by sharing one’s work. I haven’t studied their terms of service meticulously, but I find that most 3rd party sites, such as Etsy, EBay, Zazzle, etc., have similar terms. It gives them permission to publish one’s own work, in their own store.

    The wording could be made clearer.

    Doesn’t everything link back to the original source?

    I doesn’t bother me if people pin my work to their board, if it seems from the title that they want to copy or try to make the item. Most never do. And if they did, it wouldn’t be exactly like mine- painting is like handwriting- no two are alike.

    Some might be better. Some might be worse.

    The one thing that did bother me about pinterest, was that my inbox was full of notifications about brown butter, bacon, and chocolate chip cookies. 🙂

    So I turned off the notifications, and all is good now.

    • Andy, I don’t believe that everything links back to the original source, which is a problem.

      Pinterest is new and fun and exciting and does drive website traffic. But many artists are furious, and I think they have a point. I deleted my own boards because I didn’t think it would be appropriate to pin the images from this site when I knew that some of my featured artists had issues with it.

  2. Anytime that you post images online you take a risk that your work can be co-opted and taken for illegitimate purpose. If you do not post online, you take fewer risks, but you also remain unknown. No one steals your work, but no one sees it either.

    Although I would like to see Pinterest shore up their TOS, I do not see it as a dangerous place for artists. I am already seeing it drive new traffic to my website, which is a good thing, I think. I do ensure that my creative works are posted from another source such as my website, Tumblr or Google+ page so that I am not directly surrendering rights to the work. It also serves to direct people to more of my work.

    I use Pinterest to share other artists work, not just my own. I see things that strike me as interesting or inspiring and share it with others. My hope is that it allows people to see into my own creative process as well as expose them to other artists and ideas.

    I sometimes pin other artists’ work on my “idears” board when their work sparks a creative thread for me. I do not copy their work, but their work does inspire a new creative process for me. ALL ARTISTS DO THIS, whether or not they are transparent about it on Pinterest.

    I am secure in the unique value of my work and do not feel threatened that others will be able to recreate it. They can try, but they will not be able to create a “BZTAT”. I have, however, been successful in selling my work due to a network of fans that share their love of BZTAT art with their friends.

    You choose your risks in business. At this juncture, it is riskier for me to remain unknown than to have an amateur try to copy me. I may change that perspective at some point, but for now, I think the benefit outweighs the risk whe it comes to Pinterest.

    • Bztat, Yes, I agree that you have to put your images out there to get publicity. And there must be some risk that your work could be misused.

      But do the onerous Terms of Service (that Pinterest has not yet changed) make any sense? I noticed on Twitter today that the Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann has deleted his own boards. I though that was pretty interesting!

  3. I am not on Pinterest myself. It seemed a bit risky to me when I first heard about it and I am glad that I held off jumping on the band wagon. Between Pinterest and Etsy, I have heard of too many artists who have found their images put onto coffee cups, tote bags and t-shirts and other “artists” selling them. The offending artists always say “I just found the images floating on the Internet and thought others would like to buy them on these items. I did all the work of ordering the merchandise,…”). Just absolutely no clue really as to how or WHAT copyright is.

    If we don’t protect ourselves, who is going to? Exposure is one thing, but not all exposure is good for us or our artwork. Each of us has to determine exactly what risks we are willing to take and how much time we want to spend policing our work.

    I did get a Google Alert about a week and a half ago when several of my artworks were pinned to an artist’s board. I did follow the link and check it out. She did have it linked back to my web site so that was good.

    My one concern was that she had it posted on her “board” under “great machine quilting patterns”. All of my work is quilted by hand without a sewing machine and the designs I use would be impossible to replicate with a machine as they are not in a continuous line format.

    A vast majority of the “pins” are not linked back to the original source but to where that person found it (could be another Pinterest board, etc). Also, Pinterest strips off the metadata information that is behind each image so you lose that as well.

    • Jean, I agree that you have reason for concern. Of course, the internet is so vast and so connected that it would be impossible to not take risks unless you didn’t have any images online. Hopefully there will be some clear resolutions that artists can feel better about.

  4. The TOS for LinkedIn are equally, if not more onerous, and no one has taken them to task. Facebook and Twitpic are the same.

    I think you have to consider what the potential damage would be. With Twitpic, they want to be able to use your work for their own purposes of media dissemination. I use them infrequently now for that reason. Facebook and Pinterest, though, have liberal TOS for the purpose of sharing across the internet. They want search capacity, not media dissemination.

    If the AP wants to use my image to put with their story, I expect them to pay me for it. That is media dissemination. Twitpic has sold high profile Twitpic images of newsworthy events to news outlets, and that I disagree with. If Pinterest and Facebook want my image to show up in Google, Yahoo and Bing search results, though, that is different. That search visibility is free advertising for me. They are not selling the image for their profit, they are helping me become more visible.

    But just in case, I make sure that my artwork images are posted from a web url, not a direct photo upload. I also have my signature prominent on each artwork so that people know where it came from.

    Yes, I think they need to clean up the TOS. But I also think a lot of the hubbub is overblown. I do agree with you, though, that you should respect the desires of your artists if they are uncomfortable with your own pinning of their work.

    • Bztat, thanks for your thoughtful reply. I can see you have really looked into the ways that your images are being spread across the internet.
      Plus, knowing you are a marketing maven, it must be hard to resist the resultant publicity!!

  5. I understand all the copyright concerns. However, once you put stuff online anywhere people can use it. Even if you state you don’t want something taken, it is still there for the taking. I’ve seen sites that have “Don’t copy” written into the HTML code. That is silly. All you have to do is take a screen print and you are good to go. It isn’t right, but it happens.
    As far as Pinterest is concerned, I just don’t like it because it is hokey. (My opinion, LOL) I don’t like the concept or the interface or anything about it. I was invited when it first started because a friend writes for the site. Once I saw it, I left quickly. HATE IT. So, I guess I don’t have to worry about that.

    • Thanks for posting your opinion, Sheree. I haven’t heard of many people who really don’t like the concept, but I can understand your feelings.
      I have seen articles on how to use Pinterest for quick effective online advertising, and wonder if that will be where the whole site goes.

  6. Before Pinterest, I would bookmark pages, websites, or blog posts that I want to be able to find later. I still do actually. I think I use Pinterest more for my personal use than for promotional purposes, as I turned off all notifcations as my Inbox was filling up too fast. I am not using it like it is a social media site.

    I am concerned that a lot of talk has been happening about how to use Pinterest for business as strictly a promotional tool. Similar to spam on twitter. If that happens, people will quickly grow tired of the site.

    There is a post from SXSW about why Ben deleted his board. I can see why he would delete his boards if nothing more than to not be a target for a lawsuit- legitimate or frivolous. I probably would do the same and go back to bookmarking stuff I find online.

    Ben seems like a really young guy, and if he says they take copyright issues seriously, and working on the problem, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and some time to see what they do.

    I think Pinterest will eventually be a paid subscription service like Flickr pro. That is just my opinion and I probably would pay to use the service too.

    I think it’s fine too if people don’t want to use Pinterest, for whatever reason.

    Do I think Pinterest is going to sell my artwork? No, not really. Not any more than Flickr, Etsy, etc.

    Zazzle’s term of use once said something about “right to reproduce images” and the artistic community took offense to that. But, in reality, the TOU said that so Zazzle could publish the artwork on the Zazzle site. Not that Zazzle was going to make posters and sell them on a corner at the street fair. I think they reworded their terms of use eventually.

    Here’s the article from SXSW-

  7. Thanks for the link, Andy. I understand your point about Zazzle’s terms of service being so they could publish images on their site.

    But recently I heard of a startup called Print-erest, which is offering to print your Pinterest boards as books or posters. They have a Facebook page, but got so many angry comments from photographers and artists that they were taking all comments down. When I saw the page, it only had 15 “Likes.” I’m sure if they had a “Dislike” button it would have been very popular.

  8. I removed ALL the images I had stolen from other sites, and now only post my own images. I’m not worried.

  9. Oh, print-erest. Yeah, now, that is not cool.

  10. I really use pinterest as a personal visual board. I did pin at website link to highlight my mom’s art. I was not comfortable in posting her work that could be repined as someone else work.

    I am guarded in using images of artwork. I have a few art pieces that are found works from 2nd hand stores and I say that. Here is an unknown artist piece that I found and love. I really like the concept but as in all social marketing sites, I pick and choose what to share.

  11. Having a localized art website, Pinterest is a handy tool in promoting local art work. Typically the people who view my boards are local as well. Win-win in my situation, and I always mention the artist and link back to their webpage. If I was contacted by an artist to remove thier work, I would – it wouldn’t stop me from pinning others work though. Pinterest frowns upon you promoting yourself (@Andy) if that is what you are doing. I am completely assuming your are an artist, and I could be wrong.

    • Britt, I agree that Pinterest does frown on self-promotion. It’s interesting to see how many articles out there on “how to promote on Pinterest” are actually totally focused on doing just that.

      Will be interesting to see how it evolves!

  12. PRinterest is stealing images for profit. That is different than PInterest giving you tools to share images that truly is not that dissimilar to Facebook and Google.

    I don’t see major brands complaining about their images being ripped off. They are liking that their designs are getting more exposure. If Hallmark and American Greetings are not complaining, why should I?

  13. Hi Carolyn and all- I saw this post on the Pinterest blog about them changing their terms of use and thought I would share it here.

    • Andy, Thanks for posting this! Obviously, Pinterest has had to be responsive to the outcry from many people about their terms of service, and is starting to do the right thing. I firmly believe that when artists and others take a stand, they are heard.Definitely a step in the right direction.

  14. I use Pinterest as a personal inspiration board – and as a way of sharing other people’s work with friends and other followers. I always try to credit the original source (which can be hard to do with repined items). Sharing is different than selling. One thing that bothered me about the featured artist’s comments to the person who pinned her art… it’s OK for individuals to reproduce a work exclusively for their personal, private and non- commercial use. I do it all the time. But I wouldn’t promote it as my own idea. And I wouldn’t even share it online unless I said, “look… I tried this person’s awesome DIY and here’s how mine turned out.” The using of artwork on items for resale is illegal and the companies printing the items should be held accountable. But Pinterest is not doing that.

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