Some More Pinterest Detective Work

I’ve been following a few threads on the net that I’ve found that have linked to my various articles on Pinterest and the copyright issues it faces.  One of them led to a discussion on Linked In, which I joined.  One poster mentioned that Pinterest usage is “fair use” and isn’t doing any damage, since they aren’t making any money off of the “pinned” image.  I disagreed, and the poster mentioned a specific business and that Pinterest “is a wonderful way to comunicate the brand universe”.   Sounds like a commercial usage to me, and I’m always up for a challenge, so I dug a little deeper into this one.  As with the other example where I did detective work, this is nothing against the business – they are probably not versed when it comes to things like this, but it provides a good warning for others.

Sher-Locke Gets Busy

The Pinterest business page is “Barcelona Flats“.  Ironically, it is an online travel agency, which is the example I’ve been giving when talking about how a business is getting commercial benefit from “pinning” the creative works of others: “Barcelona Flats is an online vacation rental service for people looking for choice, high quality service and inforgetable stay in the Catalan Capital.”.  This business has several “pin boards” dealing with “shopping” and “fiestas” and “where to eat tapas”.  I’ve found food images are notoriously “pinned” from anywhere the “pinner” can find them, so I looked into that board.

I looked for a good “stocky”-type image.  Something you might find on a stock agency, as that is usually the kind of thing people like to “pin” without licensing correctly.

First, I tried to track down the hamburger in the image above.  This image was “pinned” or, actually, “re-pinned” from Sandwich and Friends on Pinterest. Clicking the image link on that page brings you to a 2048×1365 pixel sized image, hosted on Pinterest.  A google search brings up nothing with regards to this image.  Looks like Sandwich and Friends is actually the creator of that image.  Why they put a huge un-watermarked image like that on Pinterest, instead of something reasonable, like 600×600, I have no idea.  However, they knew what they were getting into when they uploaded it, so all seems to be good.  The creator uploaded an image, following the Pinterest terms, and someone else “re-pinned” it.

Next, I looked at the image of the sangria.

A click on the image should bring you to where the image was “pinned” from, which looks to be “Ashley Smith”‘s Pinterest page.  However, here’s where things start going bad.  This image links to the business’ web page, instead of the source of the image – you can manually edit the “pin” and change the link.  I then tried to view the data on the image to see if there was any copyright info:

No meta data.  Well, we know that Pinterest removes meta data when it resizes images, so that could be the source of the problem.  Or, wherever this was “pinned” from had removed the data.  Onwards to Ashley’s page.  Let’s see if we can find where she got it from.  On her page, switching to the images she has pinned, I eventually find the Sangria image:

Clicking into that “pin”, we can see that it was “pinned” from an off site blog, ChewOnThat.

Luckily, the link to the offsite blog is still intact – this user is practicing proper “Pin Etiquette” and linking to the source of the image, or at least where she found it.  Is it possible we’ve found the owner, or at least someone who has licensed this image or gained permission to use it?  Not in this case.  You can see the link to “source” next to the image:

The “source” in this case, is “Insider’s Passport”, which appears to be a promotional travel blog/site for several East Coast cities.  The page in question is an article on Sangria, which you can see here.  This looks like an official, legitimate business site – the kind that would license stock images from the source.  Let’s check for the meta data on the image again.

A-ha!  We’ve found something.  The photographer of the image in question is “Michael Grimm”.  Let’s head to Google search again with that knowledge.  A search on “Michael Grimm photographer sangria” brings up a quality hit.  I think we’ve found the official source:

That looks like trouble.  Our image in question is actually represented by Getty Images.  Also, it’s a Rights Managed image, which means that it is priced based on each usage.  So, I priced out what it would cost to use this image on Pinterest.  Web – Social Media.  One year use.  United States.  The travel and tourism industry.  These attributes price out at $630.  However, our “pinner” is using it, commercially, for free.  It’s no secret that Getty Images does not like to see its represented works being used for free – they send out collection letters quite often, and a Google search will bring up many complaints about these letters, like : .   So, how do they feel about someone using their represented works commercially on Pinterest?

Coincidentally (?), CEO of Getty Images, Jonathan Klein just recently commented on Pinterest and its collection of hosted copyrighted works.  Tech Crunch says:

… when does Getty snap into action? The moment that a website starts running ads alongside those images.  …  The second that Pinterest starts making money of its own, intellectual property owners such as Getty Images will have the right to ask that Pinterest pay up — or start deleting pinboards.

So, Klein et al are concerned with the obvious – Pinterest itself directly making money from ads run alongside the content it hosts.


However, are they missing the hidden usage – that of Pinterest’s users monetizing others’ works in a commercial marketing way?  Is this any different from lifting an image from a blog and putting it on your blog to advertise and draw in new customers?  Is Pinterest any more than a visual blog with a social network attached?  We know the new terms of Pinterest still pass the liability for uploaded content onto its users.  I covered that a few days ago.  So when will Getty and any other creatives notice these usages in enough numbers to make them want to take action?  Will they?  Am I just imagining that this usage is a violation?  Here, our photographer, Michael Grimm is out $630 – although it is unlikely someone would pay that just to put it on Pinterest.  Which is slightly ironic – the image holds enough value that they want to use it to attract attention to their business, but they place that monetary value at zero.  That also goes back to the original thought that pinning is not doing any financial damage – even if this “pinner” is not willing to pay the licensing fee, there may have been others who would have, but who decide to just “re-pin” it, because that’s how things are done.

What do you think of businesses using copyrighted works without permission on business related “pinboards” as well as Pinterest eventually trying to monetize the vast cache of works they have collected?


19 thoughts on Some More Pinterest Detective Work

    • Yes, you can do that for any stock agency. I thought this was particularly interesting because they didn’t “pin” directly from Getty, but from someone else, from somewhere else, etc. etc …

  1. As a print designer who regularly licenses right-managed images for use from Getty, I’d like to point out another potentially complicating issue. Assuming they have not yet been licensed for use elsewhere, any rights-managed photos in Getty’s collection are eligible for “exclusive rights” agreements with end users. For example, if I use a rights-managed photo of a woman on beach on a book cover, I can negotiate a price with Getty that grants exclusive rights to my publisher for a specific duration of time (usually 10 years in my case). That means that no one else within the stipulated territory can license that image for use anywhere else. Period. The image will still exist on Getty’s site, but if another user attempts to license it, their representative will tell them it is unavailable.

    Exclusive rights on rights-managed images are a BIG deal. If I clear an image for use with exclusivity, it’s usually because the author is prominent, and we don’t want to see the same stock photo used in 20 different places. That kind of thing often happens with royalty-free and non-exclusive RM images, and it’s more than just embarrassing—it can damage an author’s image.

    How can Getty possibly assure me that I am indeed securing exclusive rights to an image if it’s simultaneously being distributed through Pinterest? They can’t. And considering the number of blogs I see these days crediting photos as “via Pinterest,” it’s safe to assume that there are plenty of people out there who regard Pinterest as a resource for free stock.

    It’s a huge, sticky mess, and the implications for the stock industry are just huge.

  2. LOVE your Sher-Locke skills. I have a question for you or for us all to ponder. On your image in question the gal who pinned it found it on a blog. The blog site cited source but citing source does not give you permission to use an image. It just means you credited the source.

    I think Getty might want to give you a kickback for finding potential illegal use (the blog site). You said you found the image on “Insider’s Passport” a promotional travel blog/site for several East Coast cities. The licensing for the image there may be more expensive than an outlet of social media which is still being tested by Getty. So I am curious if Insider’s Passport licensed it.

    I am a Pinterest user but also the owner of a technology company and designer of 25 years and I get copyright and derivatives. Been ripped off myself. The digital age is just making this all too easy. It is like music, they say it is impossible to compose 6 original notes anymore, I hope our creative genius is not also dried up the same. I have a question for you… maybe you can touch on it a bit?

    So Ashley Smith, our Pinner. She no doubt reads that blog often and more than likely was just sharing her craving for a good sangria with friends. She is visiting a site that is commercial that she assumes has the legal license to use the imagery that is shows. Ashley then in good faith takes a quick “pin shot” of the store (just as if I was at a brick and mortar and took a quick pic with my camera) and shares it with friends on Pinterest (just as if I uploaded the pic from my camera to Facebook). Is Ashley to blame? According to Pinterest terms, yes. According to Pinterest terms Ashley is the one saying she has the right to post that picture.

    I think that part of the issue is that the common user has no idea what the terms really say. They do not realize that heading over to the Cooking Channel and pinning their fav receipts or setting up their future wedding is going to cause trouble. Any thoughts? There is a huge push now for business and nonprofit use of the site and I am a bit concerned. I am doing it for fun and having a blast but really limit what I pin.

    So I have 2 more questions:

    1) may I pin this article.
    2) may I reference it in a blog I am working on trying to explain to our nonprofit clients that they need to REALLY, REALLY, REALLY be careful before they jump on board with Pinterest.


    What are we to do? So many sites (saying this as the owner of a tech company who does nothing but develop web software) do nothing but say:

    Share This
    Send This
    Tweet This
    Facebook This

    Pinning it is not a far stretch. It is Pinterests retaking vs. just linking to the image that is causing issue.

    • I already found businesses (in my example an hotel) putting images from stock agencies on their Pinterest page, with obvious clues that they did not buy a licence to use it there. If not even business people understand legal terms, then it really is time to worry.

      The scariest thing: It took my only about a minute to find my random example and I am very sure I would find many more if I would look for them.

    • That is bizarre! “Hey, I’ve saved you the time of finding works to infringe upon. This way, we’ll both end up in court!”

  3. I am really enjoying this thread, but I really want your actual OK to add to my board on Pinterest 🙂 I could just stick you up there and use the same default logic that you want to have the item shared as you have the social media icons for sharing embedded in your site (which has been defined to open you up to a legal argument that you want the article shared). Anyway, seems like 2 Pin or Not 2 Pin is a hot topic.

  4. I’ve just spent the last 5 hours reading terms of usage on various stock sites trying to find images that I can pay for to use on my website that then can be repinned. The problem is I’m trying to honor the rights of photographers (on a small budget) but there is absolutely no info to support me. The terms of use do not address social networking at all. I’ve contacted several companies directly. I spoke with several representatives from a large stock site and NO ONE had ever used Pinterest. I asked about thumbnails that come up when a link to my blog is posted on Facebook or LinkedIn and they had no idea what I was talking about. Doing a search on Google for “royalty free images for Pinterest” brings up ads for stock photo sites – which is misleading if their TOS exclude this usage. BigStockPhoto is currently running a Pinterest contest – So I’m trying to be “legit” but there is no info to help me. I’m also willing to do some creative work to the original source – such as adding some headline text to make it unique – better promo for my blog and also making it unusable as a source – but I can’t find any info on that either. I looked on the forums for istockphoto and the thread discussing Pinterest has been closed. So what am I supposed to do?

    • Interesting point. The problem with using stock images is that by uploading to Pinterest, you are basically giving anyone in the world permission to repin ( ie. use for their benefit ) the image you paid money for. Not to mention, as far as Pinterest cares, anyone is free to embed, or use on their own site, anything they find on Pinterest.

      This basically goes against any stock agreement, as redistribution is out of the question. I can see why this is a sticky subject for them.

    • Your best bet might be to look through Flickr. I believe a Creative Commons license that just asks for attribution would work for you.

  5. Sean, you are aware of the fact that you just put a Getty photo on your site without having permission? Don’t you do technically the same as a pinterest user is doing?

    Besides where do you guys think you are losing money when somebody pins or repins one of your photos? Just curious.

    • These screen caps would fall under editorial fair use.

      As for why people would lose money or don’t like their work used without permission, I’ve covered that repeatedly already in the articles.

  6. It’s willful infringement to remove copyright info from an image and that’s what these sites like Pinterest are doing automatically.Of the hundreds of images I find in a month,a random opening up in Photoshop shows me my copyright info and all IPTC info has been stripped.

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