Posted by Ann Smarty

Pinterest is gaining popularity as a social networking hub. However, many artists have cited copyright infringement. Here we take a look at Pinterest Liability.

Pinterest Liability
In the last year, the social media site Pinterest has gone from being a little known niche on the web to a massive photo sharing sensation. Pinterest users are loyal and traffic between just January and February of 2012 grew by an astonishing 85%, with steady growth ever since. There is no denying its popularity as a unique social media site with an innovative idea behind its creation.

However, there is a slight stain on Pinterest’s reputation. Mainly due to the many artists who have cited copyright infringement. The concept of Pinterest has users sharing content from all over the web. Images can be pulled off of nearly any website with the ‘Pin It’ button, no matter who originally created the image.

Because of this, and the language used in Pinterest’s Terms of Use, there is a ton of paranoia about using the site. How much of a risk is there of sharing content if it turns out there is no permission for Pinterest use? Does following by the rules take the fun out of using it in the first place? Is giving credit enough to side step legal issues?

The Terms Of Use

First, we should take a quick look at the Pinterest policies that have caused so much fuss. There are two parts that seem to be quoted most often.

The ALLCAPS paragraph stating Pinterest Liability (or lack thereof) is the most noticeable. It states:


That is only a partial excerpt, but yikes! It’s no wonder people get nervous when they see it. Essentially, the excerpt is saying that Pinterest sees nothing, and knows nothing. It is the Colonel Klink of the social media world.

More alarming – but less eye catching – is the indemnity clause, which says that you “agree to indemnify and hold harmless Pinterest” and anyone who works for Pinterest in any capacity free of any claims or costs of those claims. Or, in simpler language, if you get sued for copyright you will have to provide all legal counsel for both yourself and the site, and then pay any legal fees on behalf of you both, on top of anything awarded to the plaintiff.

The Artist’s View

You might be thinking, “Yeah, alright…but a lot of sites have frightening language in their Terms of Use. Just because Google says they will cooperate with authorities, doesn’t mean they have handed over emails from my mom to the FBI.”

Fair enough, but it does raise a question of how likely an artist or photographer is to file a claim against people using their work on Pinterest. For some, they have already uploaded their work, which is then internally repinned for the sake of promotion. This eliminates the risk to you or anyone else who reproduces their work in this way.

Others have agreed to have their work pulled from their original site if the ‘pinner’ provides a link back to the source and gives full credit with a copyright symbol in the description. Again, this eliminates any liability to the user for posting it.

Some artists have been very vocal about their anger at finding their work getting ‘pinned’. Sure, it could mean more exposure for them if they are properly credited. But it should be their decision on whether or not to allow it. Because it’s impossible to regulate on a site that so quickly repins content, it’s easy to understand why some artists are reluctant to use it as a tool. Especially since the laws surrounding that kind of copyright are still so shaky.

The truth is, most users only run a mild risk of lawsuit. But that doesn’t mean the threat doesn’t exist –more strongly so for well known users.

What Can You Do?

Don’t go running off to delete your account now. Pinterest is still an excellent site with much potential for both practical and fun use. It is just a new medium that has some legal hiccups to work out. Until the law catches up with the technology (which will be a few years) there’s little that can be done on that front.

So users have to be diligent about what they are posting. Perhaps the most crucial element of this is making sure you have permission.

Many artists are now posting their own work on Pinterest with watermarks that allow you to repin. Other sites have added a disclaimer saying whether or not it can be shared. There is also a cool feature on Flickr that lets you pin a picture with full credit, which offers you a partial license for fair use.

The rule of thumb is simple: if you don’t see permission on a third party site, don’t pin it.

Ann Smarty is the search and social blogger operating My Blog Guest, the free community of guest bloggers preaching the high-quality approach to guest bloggers.

Images credit via: 1, 2, 3.