Pinterest Ettiquette Main

By now, you’ve probably heard of “visual bookmarking” site Pinterest. It’s hard to avoid thanks to its rapidly growing user base and the nonstop parade of trend pieces about it in the media. But despite the exposure, there’s still a lot about Pinterest that’s unclear to many. This article is split up into two parts. The first is aimed at the photography community in an effort to help use it effectively while keeping your images protected. The second part is meant to be shared with the non-photography folks we know. It’s just a few simple tips to help prevent them from becoming intellectual property offenders of the latest social media phenomenon.

“I have no idea what Pinterest is”

That’s OK, it’s pretty simple. The first step is to get an invitation from a current member since that’s the only way they allow you to sign up. Once you have an account, you put a small button in your browser that says “Pin It.” When you find an image or a link on the web you want to keep for later, you press that button. It takes a photo from the site and puts it on one of the virtual bulletin boards you create on your page. Going to shows you your stuff as well as things that have been “pinned” by your contacts. You can then comment on their stuff or “repin” their stuff to your boards. It’s a lot like Tumblr if you’re familiar with that.

It has found tremendous success in fields that typically rely on look books or style boards. Think fashion, wedding planning, interior design, and even recipe organization.

If you’re not a photographer, it’s time to skip to page 2. If you’re a photographer and you want to use Pinterest and protect your work, keep going on this page.



Like any new fast-growing social network, Pinterest has the potential to get your work in front of many eyeballs that would otherwise never see it. That’s a good thing, as long as they see it in the right way (covered a bit later in the “How to protect your images” portion of the article). For the best results, you should keep an account yourself and follow people and boards you like. Social media tends to work a lot better if you’re, well, social about it. Plus, if you decide you want to sign up later, it’s a drag to find out that your name or your company name have been gobbled up by someone else. As with most things on the web, it pays to be early.

It’s also important not to be sleazy about it. If you’re constantly begging for people to follow you or trying to be too aggressive, it’s going to turn people off. That holds true for every channel, though. Just use the site in a way that comes naturally and you’ll likely see growth.

**Inspiration **

While marketing may be the primary concern for many photographers, the whole point of Pinterest is sharing inspiration. Keep boards of photos, articles, and tutorials you might want to come back to later. It’s actually a handy tool that’s a little easier to navigate than some more full-featured clipping apps like Evernote. And it’s much easier than keeping magazine clippings in a binder.


The primary concern for many photographers on Pinterest is the lack of control one has over the dissemination of their own images. It’s a valid concern, and the terms of service have been updated several times now in an effort to address the issue. But, there are some things you can do in order to keep your work as safe as possible.

Understand what you’re giving up by uploading

Often times, the Terms of Service for sites like this can be a scary place, and Pinterest is no different. By uploading your images, you’re not giving up ownership of the photo. You are, however, giving them license to use it in a variety of ways. The original terms (which are in effect until April 6, 2012) give them the right to sell images uploaded to the site. They have gone on record to say that they never actually intended to and the updated have taken the word “sell” out of the equation. What’s left is extremely similar to what you’ll find on other popular sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Since Pinterest will be opening itself up to an API, it’s entirely possible that any image uploaded to the service will end up on a variety of other platforms. This too is similar to other social networking sites. If you want to protect your best images but still partake in the exposure Pinterest can offer, it might suit you to upload outtake images that can generate interest and then link back to your site for the rest of the photos. That way you’re not giving up a license to your best images.

Add a watermark

Watermarks are a polarizing issue. Yes, they often detract from an image, but in the time of Tumblr, Pinterest, and Imgur, it’s one of the most effective ways to ensure that you get the credit that you rightly deserve. A photo might get literally millions of views, but if your site or credit got lost somewhere in that giant game of digital telephone that is online photo sharing, it won’t be doing you much good from a business or even a personal standpoint.

Looking through some popular Pinterest boards, it’s not uncommon to see images with watermarks being shared. Yes, dropping a giant mark over the middle of your image will hurt your chances, but subtly adding your URL or logo to the bottom of an image probably won’t hurt your appeal.

Be the first to share your images

When someone re-pins one of your photos, the original link to your hosting site stays intact, so if you’re the first one to post the image and it grows, there’s less chance of your info getting lost in the shuffle. Why infringe when it’s actually easier to do it the legitimate way?

Make it easy to share photos the right way

Some sites like Flickr have started blocking Pinterest from picking up on photos if users select that option. That sounds like an effective method of protecting your images, but it’s less secure than you might think. If someone hits print screen and uploads the image themselves, now your photo is floating around without any of your information when it could be driving people back into your page to see more of your work. The same goes for photographers who have sites built entirely in Flash.

Getting your images removed from Pinterest

Even if you don’t plan on getting an account, it’s worth checking out the terms of service over on the Pinterest page. They have put a fair bit of work into the process for getting one of your photos removed, so it’s relatively straightforward. But, it’s overall efficacy isn’t clear yet at this early juncture. If anyone has had extensive experience with the Pinterest takedown process, we’d love to hear how it went for you.

If you decide to delete your Pinterest account, your boards will be removed from the site, but any images that have been repinned by other users will stick around. So, before sharing anything, be sure that you understand that there’s no getting that proverbial toothpaste all the way back into the tube.

Continue to the next page for some tips on not being “that guy/girl” on Pinterest


Once you’re signed up for Pinterest, the next step is using it as courteously and thoughtfully as possible. Whether you’re a photographer or not, the work that goes on your page needs to be handled respectfully, so here are a few tips for being courteous on Pinterest. If you’re a photographer, you know that it’s the right thing to do. If you’re not, remember that we’re the ones with the cameras and we can make you look just horrible in pictures that will later be tagged on Facebook. You’ve been warned.

First things first: The only way to operate on Pinterest without the risk of running into copyright issues is only to pin your own work. Once you pin something from another site, you’re stepping into an intellectual property scenario that is still playing out. Pinterest operates under the idea of fair use. Their users are commenting on the images, which, for the time being, makes them fair game for the site. That hasn’t been tested in court, though, and it almost certainly will be in the future. Until then, know that the copyright situation surrounding Pinterest is a tricky one and thanks to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, all of the liability for violations falls upon the users who do the uploading (or in this case, the pinning). Will you get arrested or sued for pinning images? Very unlikely. Will this get more complicated going forward? Almost certainly.

Always try to preserve the original source link

Sometimes, when you’re browsing images online, it’s not always possible to tell where they came from. Especially with Imgur links, which are common on Reddit, there’s often no way to find out who shot it. But, re-pinning an image like that is just further spreading an image for which the photographer is getting zero credit. Refrain from reposting stuff from sources that don’t link back to the original. And if you’re willing to take the time, don’t be afraid to find the image on the photographer’s own site and pin it from there if they allow you to do so.

Don’t eschew safety precautions

As I discussed earlier, it will often be in the best interest of many photographers to enable Pinterest sharing from their own site so people don’t just upload it somewhere else. But, if they have disabled sharing, don’t run for the print screen button. You’ve basically just been told that the person who owns this intellectual property doesn’t want it shared, and going around the protection and doing it anyway is disrespectful and possibly illegal.

Put the photographer’s name in the caption

Many users cruise through images at warp speed and only a small fraction actually go to the source site from the image, so putting their name in the caption helps ensure that credit is given where it’s due. That little thing could really help a photographer with stuff like his placement in Google search results.

Never EVER crop off a watermark

As I mentioned before, watermarks are a polarizing issue. They make some people downright mad. But, the fact of the matter is that the person who created the image put it on there and you have no business taking it off.