Friday, 24 February 2012 13:29

Pinterest - three reasons for not using it

There has been a vast amount of internet chatter about Pinterest of late in which both those in favour of and against this latest user driven content website have given their views. We have been asked recently for our own opinions. While our posts on social media should have made clear that we have a considerable number of concerns about this site we have decided to publish three specific reasons for not using it, and for blocking its access to your own website.

Pinterest is simply another website with a business model which expects to profit from the use of others content. It invites everyone to post any content they find on the internet to its website. Much of the recent chatter has been about the Pinterest terms of service, and while we do have concerns about their terms of service our first and most serious concern has nothing to do with Pinterest's terms of service.

All Metadata is Stripped

The Artists' Bill of Rights Campaign is a supporter of the Embedded Metadata Manifesto and we are listed as one of the many organisations which supports their aims. The five guiding principles of the manifesto as set out on their website are -

  1. Metadata is essential to describe, identify and track digital media and should be applied to all media items which are exchanged as files or by other means such as data streams.
  2. Media file formats should provide the means to embed metadata in ways that can be read and handled by different software systems.
  3. Metadata fields, their semantics (including labels on the user interface) and values, should not be changed across metadata formats.
  4. Copyright management information metadata must never be removed from the files.
  5. Other metadata should only be removed from files by agreement with their copyright holders.

Note in particular principles 4 and 5. We set up our own page on Pinterest to check what it did with metadata. We used the testbed image created by Controlled Vocabulary for their social media survey. The testbed image has both the legacy IPTC and XMP metadata fields filled out and provides a comprehensive test.

Firstly we uploaded it to our Metadata Test Board on Pinterest and used Jeffrey's Exif viewer to check for metadata in the image displayed online. We then pinned it direct from the Controlled Vocabulary website to our copyright board. In both cases all the metadata had been stripped, even the copyright metadata.

With what possible intent do organisations such as Pinterest delete copyright metadata? Pinterest say on their copyright page that "Pinterest ("Pinterest") respects the intellectual property rights of others and expects its users to do the same." Deleting copyright metadata does not demonstrate respect for the originators work, an originator would expect their wishes to be respected as expressed in the copyright notice embedded in the metadata. Note that this will also affect authors who have put a creative commons license in the copyright notice field, their license data is deleted as well.

It should be noted that the stripping of metadata by Pinterest doesn't make them stand out from their peers, Facebook, TwitPic, Twitter and countless other websites do the same, this despite complaints being sent to them. Google+ is a notable exception. Given that the internet companies and tech industries in general make such an issue of making data freely available to all, why do they delete this specfic type of data?

We don't know because they won't tell us. For example, we wrote to Twitter about deletion of metadata and they sent an automated acknowledgement saying they were a small company and were unable to respond to every email.

Opting in to Copyright Protection

Pinterest have published the following on their help page

What if I don't want images from my site to be pinned?

We have a small piece of code you can add to the head of any page on your site:


When a user tries to pin from your site, they will see this message:

"This site doesn't allow pinning to Pinterest. Please contact the owner with any questions. Thanks for visiting!"

This seems to have been accepted by the media and some bloggers as Pinterest responding to concerns. It is however, entirely the wrong response.

It requires the owners of every website in the world who do not want their work to be 'pinned' to update their website with this piece of code. Firstly, it is likely that many if not most website owners will be unaware of this, but there is a more serious point to be made. Secondly, by doing this Pinterest is treating copyright as an 'Opt In' system! In other words you don't enjoy the benefits of copyright until you put this piece of code devised by Pinterest on your website.

Copyright requires permission from the author of a work before it can be reproduced and this Pinterest device undermines that principle. What Pinterest should do is to enable website owners to embed their URL in the Pinterest website if they want their work to pinned to Pinterest, i.e. get permission, now that would be respecting copyright, i.e. the authors wishes.

Pinterest can sell pinned work

At the heart of the Pinterest terms and conditions is this paragraph -

By making available any Member Content through the Site, Application or Services, you hereby grant to Cold Brew Labs a worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free license, with the right to sublicense, to use, copy, adapt, modify, distribute, license, sell, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, stream, broadcast, access, view, and otherwise exploit such Member Content only on, through or by means of the Site, Application or Services. Cold Brew Labs does not claim any ownership rights in any such Member Content and nothing in these Terms will be deemed to restrict any rights that you may have to use and exploit any such Member Content.

There is a great deal we could say about the above, but in this article we will just focus on one of the above words, the one highlighted in red. What does this mean? What it says, Pinterest can sell the content you upload to their website.

We've read countless other articles about Pinterest recently, many referring to this 'sell' provision but disregarding it on the grounds that they don't think Pinterest really means that. Oh really? On what grounds did they think they didn't mean that? It's never stated, and if Pinterest really didn't mean that, why have the word 'sell' in their terms of use? Before these terms of use were published Pinterest would have had sharp eyed lawyers closely scrutinise them, and if the word 'sell' is in there by mistake we'd advise Pinterest to sack their lawyers!

This 'sell' provision also overrides the wishes of users who have licensed their work under creative commons where they have specified no commercial use.

UPDATE 23 March 2012: New terms of Use have been published by Pinterest which come into force on 6 April 2012. The right to sell has been removed from the new terms. For further commentary read our Pinterest Change their Terms of Use article.


We will contact Pinterest with our concerns and hope they respond positively to our proposals.

In the meantime if you share our concerns as expressed above we recommend that you use the Pinterest code to block pinning from your website.


We received a response from Pinterest to our complaint. We have published the first of a series of new articles entitled Pinterest versus Ethics and the Law in which we refer to the Pinterest response.

The first part of this series gives an overview of how the Pinterest business actually puts its own members at risk of serious legal consequences for carrying out the activities encouraged by Pinterest. This first article is specifically designed to be a self help guide for anyone considering becoming a member of Pinterest. It offers advice to keep you safe if you decide to become a Pinterest member. It also reveals that the images copied to the Pinterest website by its members are actually stored on Amazon's servers. For full details read Pinterest versus Ethics and the Law Part 1. founded the Artists' Bill of Rights in 2007

Pro-Imaging is a worldwide support group for professional photographers
who are pro-active in defending photographers rights.