On Pinterest

I’ll admit, I’ve been slow to jump on the Pinterest bandwagon. It seemed like one more social network thing to keep up with (I already gave up on Google+ for just that reason), and to be honest, the older I get, the more I realize time away from a digital screen is important.

But I couldn’t ignore the traffic Pinterest sends me thanks to kind people pinning my photos, and I’ve seen some really fabulous ideas pinned by friends that have inspired me for decorating when I get back home, and recipes I want to make.

Then someone showed me how to see what pins have been pinned for your domain name (http://pinterest.com/source/yourdomainname.com/).

I was astounded and dismayed to see a bunch of pins with my entire recipe (ingredients AND directions) copied into the pin text.

I had two problems with this:

1) Repins of pins with the entire recipe in the pin text give little reason for someone to visit my site for the original content, meaning lost traffic

2) While ingredient lists aren’t copyrightable, recipe directions are. My copyrighted material was being taken, with little regard for me, or the fact that by doing that, both Pinterest and I might get into issues with Google and duplicate content.

There has been quite a lot of controversy surrounding Pinterest lately with regards to how they store photos, how repins work, and whether it’s copyright infringement to pin a photo at all without emailing the photo owner first.

On that last point, I’ll say this – I’m providing a “Pin It” button on my most recent posts. As far as I’m concerned, that’s my blanket permission for you to pin my photos. But if another blog doesn’t do that, you might want to refrain from pinning their photos, and bookmark the page instead.

Hoping to address this issue in a proactive way, Pinterest just this last week introduced a way for you to prevent people pinning from your site. Check out this article for more info.

But my main issue was those pin texts. It really got my goat that the posts I spend hours on were being copied and pasted willy-nilly, with little regard for me or my feelings, or the cost of maintaining this blog.

I don’t make much off Bluebonnets & Brownies – enough to cover my hosting and some ingredients. If you calculate in the cost of my new laptop (my old one literally DIED a death), my nice camera, the baking supplies outside of flour, sugar, butter and vanilla extract – I’m in the hole quite far.

I’m okay with that for the most part because B&B has been a hobby for me for quite some time. But since I’ve been laid off, money is tight, and any little bit I bring in from B&B is vital.

So yeah, it really – frankly – pissed me off that someone would think it’s okay to copy and paste my recipe into the pin text.

Just like it’s never okay to copy an author’s work word for word into your research paper without attribution, it’s never okay to copy and paste an entire blog post for your own uses either.

After a few tweets about the issue, I saw that a lot of my fellow food bloggers were feeling the same way. My personal solution (and I’m not the only one to think of it) to the issue: a character limit on the pin text.

I get that a lot of people on the internet just don’t know better. But Pinterest does (or should, it’s their responsibility as a company to know). So it’s in their best interest – in terms of time spent policing pins and copyright infringement lawsuits – to help us out.

A quick poll of people out in internet land found that while some people got quick responses and removals of pins, others did not. Back then, I didn’t know if this was because of Pinterest’s incredibly fast growth, or simply a lack of caring that caused the inconsistency.

Which is why I logged on to SignOn.org and created the “Character Limit on Pinterest Pins” Petition.

Some folks actually felt I was being ungrateful to Pinterest by creating a petition, and told me so. (I guess because petitions have a negative connotation?)

In my opinion, if an entity is making money off your content, you have a right to ask for limitations to protect your own interests. That’s not ungrateful, that’s just good business.

It’s also really hard to organize that many bloggers without a central location for sentiment – a petition seemed like the easiest solution.

Following my mantra for life, “First you must always be nice”, I did my best to word the petition politely and thoroughly, simply asking that Pinterest help us protect our content by imposing a character limit.

I started the petition around 10 p.m. on Sunday night, February 12th. By 10:30 p.m. on Monday night, we had reached just over 500 signatures from bloggers around the world. I downloaded a PDF of the petition then and there with everyone’s signatures and comments and sent it to Ben Silbermann, CEO of Pinterest.

As of February 15th, Pinterest instituted a 500 character limit on pin text.

With Ben’s permission, I am sharing the response I received this past Saturday:

From: Ben Silbermann
Date: Sat, Feb 18, 2012 at 11:15 AM
Subject: Re: Copyright Infringement in Pin Text
To: “Bracegirdle, Amber”

Hi Amber,

Thanks a lot for your thoughtful note. I just wanted to let you know that there is now a character limit in place on pin descriptions. We think it goes a long way to addressing the concerns you brought up.

We noticed that really long descriptions were bad for everyone. They interrupted the visual flow of pinboards and, as you point out, reduced the need to click through to the original source of a pin. A goal of Pinterest has always been to help people discover new things out on the web and out in the world that they’ve never seen. It’s so exciting for us to hear that that Pinterest is driving meaningful traffic to publishers.

To create a character limit we weighed a lot of factors. We reviewed pins that had generated complaints and also looked at longer descriptions that were written by thoughtful pinners. We took a look at other character limits on Google search results, News descriptions, and Twitter (It was cool to learn that Twitter picked 140 partially because it let people SMS every single tweet!)

A few days ago, we put in a 500 character limit. We thought this was a good starting point. For instance, the recipe section of your Ghirardelli Brownies (which I totally want to try) is about 2,400 characters. So, I could write about how delicious they look, where I want to eat them, and who I want to make them for, but couldn’t paste in the whole recipe.

It’s only been a few days but we think it’s a good start. So far, it helps address the individual pins that site owners were concerned with, but also preserves longer descriptions that Pinners are writing about why they love a particular pin.

We really appreciate the feedback. Thanks so much for using Pinterest and have a nice weekend.


My thoughts:

Pinterest is clearly a user-driven company. They care about the user experience, and want to resolves any conflicts that arise. The Pinterest team took the time to read our petition and evaluate the best possible solution for both content creators and Pinterest users. Any lack of response was probably down to an overwhelming amount of emails.

They did not take offense at the petition, but rather were happy that we cared enough to tell them how important this issue is to content creators. By using a petition, we were able to be one voice, one email, one message, making it easier for Pinterest to act on our behalf.

I’m so happy that Pinterest is a company that appreciates their growth as something that was, in part, driven by content creators who are also users.

As with any start up company, there will be growing pains – issues that arise that you couldn’t foresee when you started.

I’m happy to see Pinterest facing those growing pains head on and head up.

If you’d like to read more about this from Ben, check out the Pinterest Blog.

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    • says

      Thanks, Annie. Like I said, plenty of other people thought of it before, but no one was getting a group together. I find that bringing a group of people together always affects change faster than on your own..

  1. KatieEE says

    I’m a strong supporter of freedom of speech, small groups making big change, and the power of thoughtful citizens, so I think that it was great that you voiced your concern and were heard. However, I do think that maybe you took what some pinners were doing a little too seriously. I have been a Pinterest user since the beginning, and I don’t know of many people who would actually decide to make an entire recipe from the 9 point font description box instead of going to the website. I also don’t think it is fair for you to say that if someone doesn’t have a “Pin It” button then you should refrain from pinning their website and bookmark it instead. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of Pinterest, with the idea of categorizing and sharing the cool things you find with other? If the author didn’t want their pictures seen or website visited, why would they be openly posting it on the internet? The great part is that no matter what, the author is being given credit because you are taken to their website with a click of a picture.

    With that being said, I do think that a character limit is a great idea and I’m glad to know that Pinterest is willing to work so openly with their users. Congrats!

    • says


      I respect your opinion and your comment – but whether the user decided to actually make that recipe from the pin, there is still the issue of google and duplicate content. Pinterest gets far more traffic than I ever hope to – which is one of their deciding factors in whom the content belongs to. That in itself makes me nervous enough to think it’s a big issue.

      I get your point about my bookmarking comment, I really do. I wouldn’t have some of the traffic I have if people hadn’t pinned my photos before I had a pin-it button.

      However, putting something on the internet does not make it part of the public domain. Copyright still pertains, even though it’s ridiculously easy to take a picture off someone’s website and use it as your own, or even simply using it on your website to help fill content. Giving credit with a link back is not enough (and that’s not my opinion – that’s copyright law). That photo belongs to the photographer, and you should *always* seek permission before using it on your own website, even in the case of a recipe round up.

      Or in the case of Pinterest – a lot of people don’t know that Pinterest downloads a full size copy of the image that is pinned. No big deal to most of us that aren’t good enough to sell our photographs. But what about folks like Lori from Recipe Girl, or Helene from Tartlette?

      They make a regular income off their photos by selling them. They can’t grant full and exclusive rights of a photo to a company might want to buy after seeing it on their website just by taking it off their website anymore. Now they have to figure out if that photo has been pinned or repinned, contact Pinterest to have it removed, etc. That’s not a hassle they, or some other professional photographer, asked for simply because Pinterest exists and someone else chose to pin their photo and send them traffic (unless they have a Pin It button, like I said, then all bets are off).

      Putting your image on the Internet simply does not mean that it’s fair game, and I refuse to go along with that sort of thinking, even if it is a popular opinion. I do thank you for taking the time to comment in a fair and cohesive manner, and for opening up the dialogue. It’s great to have different opinions represented so that everyone can consider the multiple sides of this issue.

    • Peter McPeter says

      “I also don’t think it is fair for you to say that if someone doesn’t have a “Pin It” button then you should refrain from pinning their website and bookmark it instead. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of Pinterest,”

      Given that pinterest is premised on massive copyright infringement, it’s “purpose” should be defeated.

      “If the author didn’t want their pictures seen or website visited, why would they be openly posting it on the internet?”

      You are free to see them at the author’s site. That doesn’t mean you are free to take them and copy them to pinterest’s server. And pininterest damn well knows it. Their business model is somewhat like early youtube. We’ll commit massive copyright infringement first and ask permission later. Hopefully we get big enough that everyone eventually allows us to pin their content.

      “The great part is that no matter what, the author is being given credit because you are taken to their website with a click of a picture. ”

      You don’t get to copy someones work and then say but I gave you credit. If you’re unlucky the lesson can be learned after paying to defend a copyright infringement suit. In this case ignorance of the law while not a defense to copyright infringement can be considered in lowering the amount of damages. Unfortunately you’ll still be paying the same legal fees.

      • says

        Peter, thanks. You made some great points that I was trying to do as well, but also trying to be nice. You were nice, but made the point better than I did.

  2. says

    This is a really interesting post, and it’s great to see that Pinterest took your comments on board, and took them in the way they were meant – i.e. not as an attack, but as a suggestion of a way to improve. Thanks for the petition! :)

  3. says

    Pinterest was considering this action prior to your petition as many people I know had already contacted them regarding this same issue but I’m with KatieEE; I never worried that a this action would keep someone from actually clicking through to a blog post so thought more was made of it than should have been. Of greater concern to some; especially professional photographers is the fact that saved Pins mean those images are stored on Pinterest servers and many felt concern over some of their contractual language as to who owned those images once they were pinned.

    So, in addition to character limitation, they have also given individual site owners the ability to insert code on their own sites that prevent pinning, instead delivering a message that the site is not participating. I think both of these actions go a long way to show that Pinterest is listening to it’s users. I for one am simply a most grateful user; no matter the efforts of either scofflaws or innocents, the traffic they deliver to my site each day is enough that in the long run, it’s only been a positive experience.

    • says


      I’m fully aware that Pinterest was looking into this before I started my petition, however, my email exchange with Ben indicated that it was our petition that caused them to flip the switch and turn on character limitations. Ben encouraged me to write this post to help with understanding how they came to their determinations, and also to help with the thousands of individual emails they were getting before the switch.

      Not only of concern to me was the click-through, but also how Google might index Pinterest and consider duplicate content when the entire recipe with directions resides in both places.

      I completely agree with you that the storing of the full-size photo is a real issue. Like you, right now, for me, the added traffic I’m seeing is worth the knowledge that a copy of my photo resides on Pinterest’s servers. But not everyone feels that way, and they should have the right to say so. I’m glad that Pinterest has added the “non-pinnable” code, but I also hope that by writing this post, I’m encouraging people to realize that not everyone is savvy enough to know what to do with that, and to consider the blogger’s feelings before they pin a post, if there’s no reference to Pinterest anywhere on the site.

  4. says

    THANK YOU!!!! I can’t believe that some people told you that they thought you were being ungrateful for Pinterest. So strange. I really appreciate you taking the time to take action as we all sat around and complained about the cut/pasting of our recipes :) And what do you know… it worked! Love that Ben responded to you personally. Bravo to you, Amber!

  5. says

    I just have to say thank you for taking the initiative to start this petition! Even as I signed it, I was wondering if we truly have the power to change anything, and it’s wonderful to know that with companies as dedicated to the user experience as Pinterest is, we can indeed. Congrats! :-)

    • says

      Tracy, I think we should always take a stand when we believe in something, whether we can affect change or not. The worst they can tell us is “no”, and then we’re only in the same place where we started, right?

  6. Jen says

    I think what you did is fantastic, and it really makes me happy that pinterest responded to your (very reasonable) request so quickly, and so personally. I had noticed the character limit a few days ago, and didn’t know the reason for it. I’m glad that I read this post, because not only does it explain it, but it makes me think more about what I’m pinning, and how that can affect the owner of the original post and pictures. I’m so glad that pinterest is bringing you traffic, since it is well deserved!

    • says

      Thank you, Jen. Such kind words! I’m glad you stopped by, and that the post helped you understand the Pinterest changes. That’s what Ben and I both hoped it would do.

  7. says

    I found this post via Pinterest. To me, that speaks tons.

    As a former journalism/mass comm student who had to suffer through endless lectures on proper attribution and mass communications law, I’ve always been leery of sharing images and content from other people on my site. That’s why nearly all my photographs on my site are either taken by me, from a shopping web site and attributed, or from a creative commons source and attributed. I may not always get it right, but I’m serious about doing my part to protect intellectual property.

    I noticed the 500 character limit and was relieved for different reasons … so many of my friends were repinning pins with lloooooonnnngggg descriptions and it was driving me nuts. I always like to go to the original source and find even more information on that site. This was cluttering up my screen, instead.

    I was not aware until I read the article you linked to (http://llsocial.com/2012/02/pinterest-offering-code-to-block-pinning/) that Pinterest can claim our photos and content listed in the description as their own. From one of the comments on that post: “[…] you’re also granting Pinterest rights to your image which they in turn can sub-license without your OK. …” I was not aware of that and it does concern me greatly. I’m curious to see how they will handle this issue.

    That being said, when I release my content on the web, I love to see it being shared on Pinterest because it drives traffic to my site. Outside of web searches and some link parties I’ve participated in in the past, Pinterest is my next largest referral source. I like the traffic it brings, so I am glad to offer “Pin It” button options to my readers.

    After reading this post, I’m definitely seriously reconsidering my decision to not watermark all images. I’ll have to figure out if that is worth it to me, or if I prefer to trust that original links will be used in pins and any other social network share.

    • says

      Thanks for your comments, Andrea. I agree with you on all accounts, having sat through many of those lectures myself in similar classes. Watermarking is definitely something to consider.

  8. says

    I am SO proud of you Amber!!! I gotta tell you, you are a person that makes things happen and I know that I personally really appreciate you making this happen. Your concerns were something I hadn’t even considered and I’m so glad you brought this problem to light. Thanks!!!

  9. says

    I love pinterest, but I use it for what I Thought it was suppose to be used for, a VISUAL bookmarking area. I am able to quickly bookmark your post with the picture I choose and the name of the recipe onto my board. I would never THINK to put a recipe up there because to me it is the SIMPLE photo that reminds me “OH YA I wanted to try that recipe!”

    Glad there is a character limit and I totally understand where you are coming from! I try and watermark all my images as I know that though not up to par with your blog I am a photographer and do not want my stuff shared willy nilly. I have a paid for service that embedds it in the image info and I also just pay a transparent signature with a copyright date. At any rate, I also figure if I am putting it up there there is always a chance. My blog makes ziltch, but I am in no way as good as yours!


  10. Celeste says

    I completely agree with KatieEE. I believe in citing the source, but would not say that we should refrain from posting from a blog that is missing a “pin it” button. I would think bloggers would be flattered, as long as the photo directs them back to their site. I’ll make sure not to pin from your site, “pin it” button or not. I think, at this point, i would rather just not go there.

    • says

      Celeste, I hope that you’ll read my response to KatieEE, which further clarifies why I said what I said. I’m not really sure what I said to incite such nastiness from you – I don’t think it was necessary to get your point across. But I do thank you for taking the time to read my post. All the very best to you.

  11. says

    Amber, thank you again for taking the initiative on this petition. I’m one of the many Pinterest lovers out there (my husband calls us obsessed, but he’s just jealous) and want to continue to use and support the site. I’m glad Ben and his team are responsive and handle constructive feedback in such a positive manner – and I hope they continue to look at issues like the question of copyrighted work with the same thoughtfulness!

    • says

      Casey, you’re welcome. I agree with you about Ben. His email (the one I posted, and others he sent) were incredibly thoughtful and really showed caring for us as content creators as well as the growth of Pinterest. I’m a big fan.

  12. says

    Ever since I first contacted Pinterest back in 2010 about my concerns with their TOS and the way permissions were granted, I have had nothing but respect for the way Ben and the folks at Pinterest have taken into account user feedback and been willing to not only listen but also engage in discussion about concerns of their users and those who’ve been pinned. I chose not to sign the petition because I thought 140 characters was too restrictive (and I have yet to see anyone attribute a loss in ad revenue or traffic due to their images being on Pinterest), and also I prefer to contact people directly.

    The petition may have helped an issue get noticed by other users and I’m glad that through it more people became aware of some of these issues, but in my mind a petition is inherently a one-sided conversation – it does not give the other party any real options other than to respond or not to made demands – and as Pinterest is so willing and able to participate in that discussion and has such an easy and accessible way to contact them on their help page, I think it most productive to engage them in that conversation and I encourage others to do the same. Despite some lingering concerns about their current TOS that I believe still need to be addressed and some features I would love to see implemented that I believe would help protect photographers and their work, I feel they are trying and at the moment am willing to wait and see what comes of it. Because of how well Pinterest has handled themselves in my own dialogues with them, I really have come around from my initial opinions and am confident that they will address and respect the concerns of users and photographers as they continue to grow.

  13. says

    Great job! That is so awesome that the petition made such a big difference!:) I think that will go a long way in helping make Pinterest even better. I love pinterest, it’s such a great way to store and share great ideas in one place. However, I had no idea they stored and save the full sized images. Hopefully they will find a solution to that very soon and work to protect original content. Thanks for making the blogosphere and pinterest a better place!:)

  14. Shannon says

    Good for you! I’d see those long descriptions and think, you couldn’t think of something short and witty to say? What a nice email he sent back to you, also. Totally out of character in this day and age. I really enjoy your blog, keep up the good work! :)

  15. says

    I think a character limit is a great way to manage Pinterest! I think it is a great way to share amazing photos and bookmark recipes (the link to where the blog post resides). I don’t think entire recipes should be copied and I think credit should be given where credit is due.

  16. says

    Thanks for your eloquently written account of being ripped off. You are obviously a very gracious person and I admire your ability to stand up and make a change for the greater good of others, not just yourself.
    BTW-I never knew about the domain name thing to find out what has been pinned from your blog/website. what an eye-opener!
    Thank you again, and good luck for the future.

    • says

      Michelle, thank you for your lovely comment. I’m very much a “let’s just fix it” kind of person, but as I said in my post, I always try to be nice, no matter what. Thanks for taking notice of that. Not everyone did.

  17. says

    Amber, you’re awesome. Thanks for taking your concerns and putting some muscle in them, but with politeness and active listening – always the best frosting for any trouble cake. I am glad to know that Pinterest is so committed to a positive pinning experience for everyone.

  18. says

    Found you via Twitter. Good for you for speaking up and getting others to do the same. It’s outrageous that people put entire recipes up there. I do think, as you noted, that some of that was pure lack of knowledge about blogs, copyright, etc. I have a blog, twitter account, etc, but many of my “real” friends are on Pinterest and they’re not savvy about that stuff the way those of us who frequent “the internets” are. That said, you’re SO right that it’s the company job to put some protections in place. So glad they did.

    Great post!

  19. HopelessInTheKitchen says

    Such a smart, simple solution to the problem. Congratulations on the impact and difference you have made! And good on Pinterest for listening and acting.

  20. Susan says


    This is the first time visiting this blog. It was on sweet sugar belle’s board: blogs I read. I was really blown away that the president wrote such a nice email, and included the recipe he liked. I’ve gotten a removal notice from one of my pins. I don’t know why. I always include where the pin came from, because repin of a repin doesn’t include this information; especially if the next pinner deletes my description and writes their own. There are many pins that I want to know who made this dress, where did this item come from, but since it was not included in the 500 words, information is lost forever. It’s very annoying to me, and I understand how frustrated it must make you feel as a food blogger.

    I am new to this cookie thing, and I noticed that every blogger links up to another fellow cookie decorater. So I have been hopping and skipping around this cookie community all of you are part of. I am getting plenty of inspiration to make lots of my own cookies. That said, I actually haven’t seen any of your cookies yet because this letter post was on top and I felt a strong need to respond. So I’m going to leave and go hop and skip around your site. :)

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