Be Careful What You Pin

Yes, just like any other social site, your Pinterest content could open you up to legal trouble. Here's how to be safe.

October 3, 2013

You knew this was coming: Yes, there are legal concerns when it comes to pinning photos on Pinterest. As much as real estate is a photo-centric business, you have to be careful where you get your content for your Pinterest page. Grabbing photos from the Internet for which you don’t own the copyright and pinning them, for example, could leave you open to legal action by the rightful owner.

Kyle-Beth Hilfer, a New York–based advertising law attorney with Collen IP, says agents are safe pinning photos that are their own. That means photos that the agents took themselves. But what about photos that they hired a professional photographer to shoot? That can get a little murky.

“Assuming the photographer is working as an independent contractor and not an employee, the agent would need to have the photographer sign what is known as a ‘work for hire’ agreement before the work is done, or assign the copyright to the agent,” Hilfer says. “In the absence of one of those documents, the photographer owns the work. In the alternative, the photographer could license the copyright to the agent as part of the compensation package. Without ownership or a license to the copyright, the agent would have no right to pin the photo on Pinterest.”

Even re-pinning photos can come with a risk. Pinterest’s terms of service state that users who pin photos to their pinboard automatically grant other Pinterest users the right to re-pin their content.


“It's not a high risk to re-pin the photo, assuming — and this is a big assumption — that the original poster had rights to the photograph in the first place,” Hilfer says. “On the other hand, if the original poster pinned a photograph to which he had no rights, your re-pin could theoretically be a problem. … The problem for the agent is that it's impossible to know who owns the copyright, what resources the owner has, and his level of litigiousness. Therefore, the safest option is to use photographs of listings to which you, as the agent, have a license or ownership rights.”

Hilfer offers a possible solution to the issue of copyright for all real estate agents wishing to post and share content on Pinterest, albeit a little cumbersome.

“One long-term solution is for the industry to create a database of listings with photographers submitting official photographs of listings for which they have been compensated, and agents pinning from that database,” she explains. “This would take some organization and long-term planning on the part of REALTORS® in certain geographic regions. It may not be realistic to plan for this kind of solution unless or until an industry member is caught up in a lawsuit.”

Graham Wood
Senior editor

Graham Wood is senior editor for REALTOR® Magazine. He can be reached at