Copyright Infringement on Pinterest

My bulletin board (for inspiration) by Monica Arellano-Ongpin

There’s a strong possibility you’re committing copyright infringement on your Pinterest board.

For the sake of full disclosure, I’m not on Pinterest. I don’t need another internet addiction. From what I hear, everyone who’s on it, loves it. Essentially, Pinterest lets you create “boards” where you share pictures of things you like. As you visit various websites, you “pin” things that you like, and add them to our Pinterest boards. Then people who visit Pinterest can see your boards and everything you like.

So Where Does Copyright Come Into Play?
Copyright protection is extended to any original work of authorship that is fixed in a tangible medium. You don’t have to register it with the U.S. Copyright Office to get this protection. When you have a copyright in a picture or other work, you have the exclusive right to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work and to make derivative works based on your work.

If you take a picture, you have the exclusive right to decide where it will be displayed, including on which websites. When someone pins your picture and adds it to their Pinterest board, they likely made a copy of it without your permission. That’s a violation of the Copyright Act.

What About Fair Use?
The Fair Use provision of the Copyright Act allows you to copy a work for the purpose of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, or research. Pinning something on your board probably doesn’t qualify as any of these things.

Is Pinning Someone’s Work Ever Ok?
Absolutely! You can pin someone’s work without worrying about being sued if they’ve given you permission to do it. Look for works that come with a Creative Commons license. You may be required to give an attribution to the author when you pin their work. If a work doesn’t have a license, you could always ask the author for their permission to pin their work.

Should I Be Worried about Pinterests Terms & Conditions?
Probably. Have you read them? A woman who is a lawyer and a photographer recently deleted her Pinterest boards after reading them. According to her, Pinterest users agree to some strongly worded terms.  If you are a Pinterest user, you’ve agreed

  • You own or have permission to use everything you pin on Pinterest;
  • That nothing you pin violates or infringes on any third party’s copyright, trademark, or other intellectual property or rights to publicity or privacy;
  • You will defend, indemnify, and hold Cold Brew Labs (Pinterest’s creators) harmless against all claims, damages, and expenses (including legal expenses) related to your use of the site or violations of the site’s terms and conditions; and
  • You accept all the risks related to using the Pinterest site “to the maximum extent permitted by law.”

So, if you and Pinterest get sued for copyright infringement for something you pinned on your board and you lose, you’re required to pay your and Pinterest’s legal fees and the fine assigned by the court. The fine for willful copyright infringement can be up to $150,000. (Hat tip to Cold Brew Labs’ legal counsel on drafting such great terms and conditions!)

What Do I Do If My Copyright’s Being Infringed on Pinterest?
You have three main options when your copyright is being infringed on Pinterest:

  1. Nothing.  If you don’t have a problem with it, do nothing. I think a lot of people select this option because Pinterest exposes their work to a larger audience.
  2. Sue for copyright infringement. This can be a long expensive process, but it’s your best chance for a financial gain.
  3. Send a DMCA takedown notice. If all you want is for your work to be removed from someone’s board, send a Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notice to Cold Brew Labs’ statutory agent. The Copyright Act tells you what information you have to include in the notice, or you can find a local attorney to do it for you.  Once Cold Brew Labs gets the notice, they’re required to remove the work that allegedly infringes your copyright.

From what I know of Pinterest, I suspect copyright infringement is occurring on most Pinterest boards. You have to decide for yourself how much risk you’re willing to take. If you need help assessing the legal risk related to your Pinterest boards, contact a copyright attorney in your area.

UPDATE (3/26/2012): Pinterest announced its new terms of service will become effective on April 6th. They allegedly make it easier to report copyright infringement.

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  1. I’m always careful to make sure my pins lead back to the original content… does that not matter? 

    • It’s a good start, and may be enough for someone who only wants an attribution. If someone wants to control where their work appears, they have a strong argument that your board contains an copy of their work that they didn’t authorize, which is a violation of their exclusive rights as the copyright holder.

  2. I wonder if the EXIF remains embedded inside of the images pinned … also, I do like that it links back to where it’s pinned from. FB strips EXIF which I hate, but I do like Pinterest link back. I’ve found a photo I made of Joan Jett at Pride Fest 2010 all over Tumblr but every time it links back to my Flickr. I am ok with that one. Wonderful article.

  3. I’ve been wondering about this for a while and one question keeps coming up for me:

    If I’m re-pinning an image from its source at the owner’s site host (wherever they store the image online), is that really an infringement? Is that really duplication? That’s not intended as antagonism, I’m just curious.

    • It’s a valid question. A copyright holder has the exclusive rights to make copies and distribute their work. Pinning appears to be making a copy of an original work, and if you don’t own or have permission to pin the work, you might be at risk of being accused of copyright infringement.

      The Pinterest terms of conditions say you must own everything you pin or have permission to pin everything you put on your boards. All that suggests to me that pinning an image without permission could be infringement. If your concerned about whether you’re committing infringement on your boards, consult an IP attorney in your community.

  4. Pinterest has become notorious among copyright owners for losing both EXIF data and accreditation and link backs.  Thus, it can’t drive traffic to your site if no one knows who it belongs to. Few people know how to, or care to spend the time to, do ‘reverse image searches’ to find other locations and figure out the true owner of an online image.  Copyright owners use reverse image searches and other methods to ferret out infringements.  When infringements turn up on Pinterest, they can send a DMCA notice to the site.  I’ve done so many times and they do tend to take it down fast, but you have to follow up and make sure they take down ALL the reported images including the image url (location of the image itself on their servers which you get by right clicking it and going to the image info). is who they end up going to but I believe there’s a fill in the blanks form on the site as well.  If you use the email you still have to have proper DMCA takedown wording, and the email has the benefit of being able to report multiple infringements in a single communication.

  5. Rsenlep says:

    Nice post, and yes, Cold Brew Labs’ lawyers did a pretty good job, didn’t they?  😉  I guess the only complaint you could really lodge against them is that they were perhaps overzealous.  The provision that Pinterest could sell any of your posted content really rubbed people the wrong way (once it was discovered, anyway), although that’s been taken out since they updated their ToS (as noted in the big overview post we wrote about the issue: ).  Pinterest seems to have recovered from these PR issues but I wonder just how many mistakes it has left to make before people lose trust in the brand.  Ease of use is one of the main things that distinguishes Pinterest; that quality is going to disappear if people feel they have to thoroughly read the ToS whenever they want to post something.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think Pinterest has recovered pretty well from that misstep. I haven’t heard any bad press about it lately.

      • Rsenlep says:

        Thank you for your reply.  I agree that it’s been fairly smooth sailing since then, but I think it’s only a matter of time before they run into trouble again.  There’s still plenty of opportunity for a person or company to file a lawsuit against a Pinterest user for copyright infringement…the way Pinterest is set up makes that inevitable IMO.  I don’t think there’s been any high profile cases like that yet and how something like that affects the site and its users will be interesting to see.  In other words I guess I’m still wondering if Pinterest is sustainable.

  6. Despite adding the NoPin tag to my site, the Pinners are still at it — transferring my entire site one image at a time to Pintrist.

    I wouldn’t mind if it actually brought traffic to the site, but it only
    drives a few hits a day, and sometimes none.  And when you consider how
    much of our content they’ve taken it’s not at all to our benefit.

    Thank you for writing about the DMCA form, I didn’t know about that. I guess it’s time to get familiar with sending it.

  7. Hmm. I recently posted about being sued for using images without permission and I paraphrased Pinterest’s Terms and Conditions. Many commenters said they’d deleted their Pinterest accounts to be safe. I also advised my readers to follow your blog. I will link to this post soon.


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