Pinterest and Copyright Infringement

pinterest copyright abuseThe extremely popular social networking site Pinterest has been the subject of a bevy of criticism lately concerning its potential lack of safeguards against mass copyright infringement. While the extent of their liability remains to be seen, the site’s management has continually responded with efforts to assure users and copyright holders that they are, at least, taking the copyright issue seriously. For those with a penchant for legalese, check out their virtually unreadable Term of Use.

Bottom line is that by posting any content to the site, users are indemnifying Pinterest and representing that each individual user has complete ownership to the copyright of anything they post. While this is a not so thinly veiled attempt to insulate Pinterest from any and all coming legal challenges, I doubt that it will work as even Pinterest knows that most posted content comes directly from 3rd party websites using their numerous browser plugins, rather than desktop uploads. Users specifically grant to Pinterest rights to posted content, but only for the purposes of distribution through the site itself.


Launched in early 2010, Pinterest quickly became a runaway social media success. In less than two years, it has become one of the top social networking websites, and was reported at the end of 2011 to be directing more traffic to advertisers than YouTube, LinkedIn, and Google+.

The site allows users to network by attaching images to one or more virtual “pinboards.” However, most of the images are actually posted from other websites, rather than user-created, which is why the site has come under fire lately.

It was recently reported by Experian Hitwise that the site receives 11 million unique visits per week. With such a high volume of traffic, Pinterest and its manager, Cold Brew Labs will certainly claim that they are unable to monitor every image that is “pinned.” Amid the resulting copyright backlash, they issued a statement through their blog on February 20, 2012 to address concerns. In this post, they stressed that they understand the difficulties of copyright law in an era of ever-increasing technological connectivity. They reminded copyright holders to submit complaints of suspected violations, and offered a new code that could be embedded on websites to prevent content from being re-posted on Pinterest.  While this does supply copyright holders with some means to “opt out” of their being re-posted, it leans in the direction of offering content owners a means to protect from copyright violations, rather than allowing them to “opt in.” This problem is not new to the world of social media, even forcing Facebook to assure the powers that be that it will never do a “default opt in” ever again.

Stopping short of acknowledging any wrong-doing on their behalf, the post did mention that Cold Brew Labs was working with “experts” to understand the gray areas of copyright law and “Fair Use” – the legally acceptable appropriation of another person’s creative property.

Now, with all of that said, I am very excited about Pinterest and believe that it presents professional photographers with a very powerful, image rich social media marketing channel, and will follow this post with many more Pinterest focused posts. However, to get photographers off on the right foot, for the moment, I recommend taking the following steps:

  1. Make sure that all images on your web sites carry bitmapped copyright information. This will protect your ownership and supply valuable attribution, no matter where your images might appear.
  2. When uploading images from the desktop, make sure they carry the same bitmapped attribution and once the image is uploaded, click “Edit” and enter your website URL in the Link URL field. This will take any user directly back to your website, no matter where the image manages to go within Pinterest.

Finally, if you do take the time to look at Pinterest’s terms, bear in mind that you are only granting rights in order to allow Pinterest to distribute your images via their site and all other rights are retained by you.

While it remains to be seen how this legal conundrum will play out, it highlights an increasing problem in the Digital Age: how can one maintain intellectual property when the internet gives media an unprecedented fluidity. And although Pinterest is currently taking steps to protect itself, this is a situation likely to be resolved in the courtroom.

Guest video post by Georgia McCabe – As an author, speaker, trainer and social media and photography evangelist, her perspectives on social media appear in print in her newest book entitled “SocialMorphosis – Transforming Your Business through Social Media”. Georgia is also a co-author of the book “The Relationship Age”, with social media guru Mari Smith. Georgia is a frequent guest blogger for our professional photography lab.

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