Is a Pinterest inspiration board photography copyright infringement?

Feb 10, 2015

Topic:  Copyright
Time Investment: 5 Minutes
Suggested Product: Ultimate Copyright Kit


You’re hammering away at your client workflow and planning the session with your client.  It is going to be killer.  Awesome location.  Capable and fantastic hair and makeup artist.

But it all comes to a screeching halt when it is time to have your clients visually show their vision of the session.  You wonder to yourself… “is a Pinterest inspiration board photography copyright infringement?”

In the past few years, online style boards and inspiration boards have quickly gained widespread popularity. Just as quickly as these type of inspiration boards appeared, a dialogue about potential copyright issues surrounding the use of these boards became a hot-button issue.


How do Inspiration Boards Work?

Through websites like Pinterest, users are able to ‘pin’ or save images from anywhere on the web to their personal boards. These boards are used to organize the saved pins or images onto the user’s personal boards, and each image is intended to contain a link to the original source. They are commonly used to collect recipes, children’s ideas, clothing/outfit inspiration, professional photographs, home décor ideas, and more.



You might think that if your saved image has a link to the original source then there is no legal problem, but in a lot of cases that is not true. In order to explain what the potential problem is, let’s start with what ‘copyright’ means. Copyright refers to the legal rights of the copyright owner over their original work. The original copyright owner is the creator of the work. For example, a copyright protects the legal rights of a photographer over an original photograph and the legal rights of an author over their writing. These legal rights give the copyright owner control over how their work is ‘copied’. In other words, the legal right to determine who else may use or ‘copy’ their work and in what manner it can be used.

Copying copyrighted work in any way without permission from the copyright owner constitutes copyright infringement. To avoid this, before a copyrighted work can be reused the ‘copier’ must first gain permission, or license, from the owner. A license can be given for a charge or for free at the will of the owner. Each license sets the details of how a work may be copied. This can include setting a specific term for it’s use, the jurisdiction it may be used in, the manner in which it is used, etc. One of the most commonly used licenses for creative works is called the Creative Commons license.

A license to use copyrighted work is not always required. For example, a copyrighted work may be used without license if the use is determined to be a ‘fair use’. A fair use includes educational purposes and commentary printed in an editorial. It is not always clear what a fair use is, so this exception may be tricky.

Another exception is work that is considered to be in the ‘public domain’. Work that falls under this category may be used without a license because it does not have a copyright owner. This might be because the owner has given up their rights or the owner has been deceased for a legally set number of years.


Copyright Issues Using Inspiration Boards

Another note, Pinterest has an “opt out code” for websites to make their copyrighted images “un-pinnable”. Potentially if you are not using the code, you could be considered to be giving implied license for all of your images! A similar case with Google found an implied license by not using the code. This potentially means that any user of the boards who has pinned or saved that image is infringing on the copyright.



Legally Using Inspiration Boards

So if you want to share images of outfit ideas with your client for an upcoming photo shoot, can you do so legally? Yes, but it is important to take steps to ensure you are doing so legally. The safest way to do this is to share saved or pinned images that you created and hold the copyright to. It is also safe to share images that you have license from the copyright owner to use in that manner. If you don’t have a license, you can always ask the owner. Many copyright owners are happy to give permission for this type of use in order to promote their product/business.

Although the above are the safest way to ensure you are not committing copyright infringement, there are several other ways that are most likely safer than blindly pinning and saving. One way is to pin or save images that have a “Pin this!” button, which implies permission from the owner is being granted for this type of use.  If the first person to pin has license, then by pinning they give license to users, so re-pinning is okay. Another way is to always give appropriate credit to the original source and not utilize the image for your own profit. As these boards are new and the copyright issues are largely untested, it is important to remember that these methods are not fool proof. When in doubt, consult a lawyer!


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