Sunday, April 8, 2012

Pinterest, Ancestry and Copyrighted Images

Can you post this Census image on your Pinterest Board?
What about Facebook? Your blog? or Twitter?
Check out the little "share" button on the green bar first.

After my last “Pinterest for Genealogists” blog post, I have had second thoughts about using Pinterest for genealogy.  I was concerned about creating a Pinterest “bulletin board” for an ancestor, and then pinning a census image from Ancestry to that board.  Although clicking on that image links back to Ancestry, and although I had cited the image source as I wasn’t sure if I was violating some sort of term of agreement with Ancestry.  I had seen bloggers post an image to a blog, but was this the same at Pinterest? 

Then last month Pinterest introduced new code for websites and blogs that want to block the pinning of content from their sites. Obviously some websites must have complained.    Is it fair to pin without asking permission or opinions of the originators of that image? I haven’t seen everyone credit their source of an image when they pin to a board.  Are people assuming that a click driving traffic back to the original source is enough?

I decided to drop a line to Ancestry’s customer service form online.  Three days later they wrote back and referred me to an email address in their media relations department.  So, I guess customer service had no clear answer either, just like me.

Another three days later I received a replay from Matthew Deighton at Ancestry stating “I have forwarded your email to our legal department for review.  I want to make sure my answer is fully backed up by our legal team.  I should have an answer to you soon.”  I guess customer service was not the only person without a clear answer!  Matthew didn’t sound very sure either.

Finally!  Three weeks after our last email, I heard from Matthew Deighton again.  Here is his message:

“I have been working with our legal team concerning this issue. The issue is not rooted in, but more so the archives where the records were collected. Some agreements allow the use of their images on Facebook and the like. Other agreements forbid the use of their records on other outlets. The issue becomes complicated quickly, but if you see the “Share to Facebook” link on the left side of a document, you should be approved to share that image on other social sites as well.

I apologize for taking so long to get back to you. Working through legal takes a while.”

I took a quick look at my Pinterest boards.  I had pinned up US Census records, a copy of a city directory and a naturalization record on a board for my great great grandfather, Professor Caleb Rand Bill.  On this board I also had some scanned photos from my own family albums.   When I went back to Ancestry to see the Census images I saw the SHARE button at the top with the little Facebook, Twitter and email buttons.  Good, it is safe to share the Census images on social sites, and according to Matthew Deighton, this would include Pinterest.

A quick look at Caleb Bill’s naturalization record on Ancestry had the same SHARE button, as well as the image from the 1895 Beverly, Massachusetts City Directory.  I hadn’t violated any copyright issues.  And I now know what to do in the future when sharing anything from, and now you know, too!

Click on this link for my first Pinterest blog post 

Would you like to see my Pinterest board for Professor Caleb Rand Bill?  Click here:

Copyright 2012, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. Great post, Heather. I often wondered about this. I like to use images to break up the text in my blogs, but I only use my own images, or items that I know are not copyright. I have posted Scottish documents online, with permission, which takes a while to come through. Not as long as it took you to hear back from Ancestry, though :-) Jo

  2. Thanks for posting that information. I have posted some things on my blog, giving Ancestry Credit, but I was really afraid if I was violating a copyright. Now I have the answer.

  3. Very useful! Thanks for taking the trouble to find out about this and to share what you learned. I have used some Ancestry images on my blog, but I have tried just to select the relevant portion and not to put up tons of images. It is nice to know how to tell what can be share and what not.

  4. Thank you so much - this is great information!!

  5. Thanks for this official answer. I asked about something on this at RootsTech, but did not receive an answer I like the simplicity of the rule. If they offer sharing it's ok! Actually, I think I will use this for most pages. Copyrights have gotten sooooo complicated.

  6. Heather, there is so much about Pinterest that we all need to delve into. I am wondering--for those whose pictures are deemed "shareable"--whether incorporating a watermark with one's website or blog address on the edge of the picture would help. That way, wherever the picture goes, your credit automatically will follow. Although, oh, what a great amount of work it would be to go back through all those files already online to add those insignia.

  7. Thanks, I too have been leary about posting any images from downloaded sources. I usually just post a snippit of the image.

  8. I just started using, and while I know to ask permission to copy pictures on, I hadn't considered the issue in regards to Your post heightened my awareness to make sure I am pinning images to my boards legally. Thank you for taking the time to research this subject and to share what you learned with us.

  9. Excellent timing as I have been curious about this. Thanks!

  10. This is great news. I removed from my blog a transcription of a newspaper article I found at Ancestry, once I learned it was a syndicated article, and the original newspaper wanted money for the use of the text. The newspaper article has a share button, so while I'm not going to return the transcription to the post, I feel comfortable with including the image of the syndicated version.

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