Start-Up Launchpad Blog

Pinterest Copyright Concerns: Potential Pitfalls - August 28, 2012

Emily E. Harris, Patent Attorney

Pinterest, the hot startup founded by Des Moines-native Ben Silbermann, allows users to create online bulletin boards by collecting ("pinning") images from the web. Pinterest's explosive success led to copyright concerns arising from the site's aforementioned basic premise. These issues affect not only Pinterest, but also the site's millions of users.


For example, the instant a photo is taken, a copyright exists and the owner has the right to prevent others from using or copying the image. When a Pinterest user pins an image that they didn't take or have permission to use, a copyright infringement claim arises.


Pinterest mitigated its own copyright liability through its Terms of Use Policy (the contract that defines the relationship between a website and its users; terms are usually agreed to simply by a user's use of a site). The site's Terms indicate that it follows the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which shields websites from copyright liability if they provide an avenue for content owners to file a complaint alleging infringement has occurred and any offending content is then immediately removed. Through the Terms, users also agree to indemnify Pinterest, which requires that the user pay for Pinterest's legal liability, plus any costs stemming from the user's pins.


So, while Pinterest has drafted the terms to protect itself, how do users protect themselves and still make use of the site? Although this question has not been fully resolved, taking certain steps can help alleviate risk. First, start by reading Pinterest's Terms. Pinterest has purposefully written its Terms in layman's language and described pinning best practices.  When possible, users should pin their own content to avoid copyright issues entirely. Pinterest encourages users who pin others' works to pin from the source, give credit and include a "thoughtful" description, probably to give users a "fair use" infringement defense.