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Why I Deleted My Pinterest Account

Less than three weeks after I set up a Pinterest account and began happily pinning up lots of cool images, I've deleted all my boards and my account as well. I wasn't happy to do either of these things, but it was necessary.

A Hubble image - public domain!
I loved Pinterest. It was basically electronic scrapbooking, a place to pin up all the colorful images I ran across, share and pass them around among friends, sometimes with commentary, sometimes not. For a visual person like myself, it was like being in a candy store. And I loved it.

A lot of Pinterest users set up boards about jewelry, clothing, home decor and food (pins to people's food boards seem to be especially popular around dinnertime) but I chose to use Pinterest to pin up cool images from science. I had a board on fractals, a board on spirals, a board full of astronomy images, largely Hubble photos, but others too, and was thinking about adding one on beautiful microscopic things we can't see with the naked eye, like crystals. They are all gone now.

So why did I delete all my beautiful boards? (I am still sobbing about the demise of my boards, especially the spiral board, but that's another story.) Simple: the Terms of Service (TOS) for Pinterest are set up in such a way that users are in danger of being sued by copyright owners of any images they may pin to their boards. Pinterest will not protect the users from this, so you're on your own if you get sued.

I didn't immediately realize this, even though I actually read the TOS for a change. I was only initially thinking about pinning up my own photos, and I was fine with releasing them into the public domain, so at first glance the TOS looked fine to me. I'm not a professional photographer and never expect to make any money on my photos, so I don't really care if people take my photos and post them on their own webpages. I'd like to get credit, but I'm not going to hassle people who forget to do that.

However, this past weekend I read two posts, here and here, that convinced me I should reconsider. One of these posts was written by a lawyer and is full of important information that we all should pay attention to. So, read it! Seriously, for your own good, if you are using Pinterest, read these two posts and see if it still seems worth it for you to stay with Pinterest.

Despite the fact that I'd initially meant to only pin my own photos, I quickly started including public domain photos from NASA and other government entities. Before long I was also including great photos of the moon, of gorgeous landscapes, of all sorts of images that were floating around Pinterest and I soon realized that I had no idea where these images had come from.

I don't know if I violated any copyright laws by posting the things I did, and while I personally believe that if you post an image on the internet (!) you ought to expect people to help themselves to copies of it, I know that others don't see it that way.

So, I started deleting photos that I thought might be in violation and before long, very little was left on my boards -- and I decided to pull the plug on the whole thing.

I'd been planning to write a post about the changing social media landscape in general, Google+ and Facebook and Twitter included, but that will have to wait for a later post. Stay tuned!


  1. This is an interesting, scary post, Raima. I'm just trying to get my head around Pinterest. If the image has a link back to its source (as it seems Pinterest does) is that insufficient acknowledgement? I quite often use images on my blog. I try as much as possible to give the source of such an image. This is certainly a confusing area. I have seen images I have created on Pinterest - that was a little concerning - but the image is linked back to my blog. I would be unhappy to find my images stolen without reference back to me. But I have found whole texts I've written taken and used on sites (and even in a book!) without any reference to me. Plagiarism, any body?!



  2. Yes, Bosco, you are beginning to experience the dangers of posting things on the internet - it is very easy for people to take images or text and use them without the author's permission. I don't think that linking back to the originating URL is enough, actually, since that bypasses the "seeking permission" step. I see you have a copyright notice on your blog that lays out your policy very clearly and states if and when people need to seek your permission. By the way, I had the same thing happen with my blog posts (the entire text copied, without any indication that I was the author) so I posted my own Copyright notice in response (not sure how well this has worked, but at least I'm making my position clear!)

    Not everybody is as lenient as you are, though, and this is where Pinterest is beginning to experience difficulties. Even if you find an image on a website and link back to that URL, it may not have been the originating source. Professional photographers seem to be the most concerned, but as I said in my post, I really think they shouldn't post images on the web if they don't want people to help themselves to copies. Some photographers are more enlightened and have chosen some images to release into the public domain asking only for a link-back so that viewers down the line will know who took the photograph and may end up buying other photographs from that artist.

    The reason I got concerned and decided to bow out while the legalities are being hammered out is that several lawyers posted about this and said that the situation was identical to what had happened with Napster early on, and "innocent" (or maybe naive) users were actually sued for large sums of money by music corporations who didn't want their files shared among users. It is very possible that this will happen here, given the alarm being expressed by many photohraphers, and the TOS for Pinterest won't protect you as a user who merely pins up a copy of an image that you happen to like.

    Anyhow, good luck, and be careful! I'll be interested to hear your experiences after you've had some time to explore the site a bit more.

  3. Thanks Raima for this great piece of info! After reading this post i am all set to pull off my profile and all the pictures from Pinterest. I never realized that re posting would create such a mess ; not to mention i never intended to take credit of the photos as i did post the pictures along with the due credit to the person who's actually the owner!
    But really that is scary!

    1. Thanks for your comment - and I agree. It IS scary! Maybe someday an image-sharing service will be developed that overcomes all these copyright issues and we can go back to happily sharing pictures with each other. We can hope!

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