1. What is Pinterest?

Pinterest, launched in 2010, is a virtual pinboard designed to “organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web”. This social network consists in two things: ‘Pin’ images on a pinboards and ‘Re-pin’ or comment from other pinboards. The pictures being pinned are taken from a variety of sources on the web, and are therefore generally not owned by the ‘pinner’.

As a matter of fact, Pinterest activities raise issue regarding copyright infringement. The Business Insider wrote, “Pinterest might be the most illegal network to hit the Internet yet. More illegal than Napster. More illegal than MegaUpload”.

2. How does Pinterest work?

When users click on pinned images they are directed to a web page through an in-line link. Due to thumbnails and in-line linking, Pinterest raises the same issue of direct liability than retweeting, Facebook sharing, and other forms of linking works. Nevertheless, the level of copyright violation is superior with Pinterest, since this specific social media is based almost exclusively on individuals’ willingness for, or ignorance of, infringement.

In fact, until 2012, it was expressly stated by the famous social network that users should not pinned their own pictures, but should rather post outside images. Indeed, the watchword of Pinterest is ‘Pin up anything you find online’. “While Pinterest users may now more freely pin user-generated content, the site still relies primarily on user-found content, and therefore is likely filled with unauthorized copies of and links to copyrighted content”



3. The inconsistencies of Pinterest Terms of service

Like most social media containing user-generated content or user-found content, Pinterest’s terms of service are not consistent. While the rationale behind this social media is to share outside material as much as possible, the terms of service requires user to pin merely materials that they have the right to post, otherwise they could be held liable for copyright infringement.

Following criticisms highlighting the inconsistencies of Pinterest Terms of service regarding infringement, Pinterest was the target of a serious backlash from users. In response, the site initiated an ‘opt-out’ option whereby other websites can prevent material on their websites from being pinned. However, this is not a relevant solution. Not only, an image that has been blocked in the site of its owner via this opt-out policy can still be ‘pined’ by a user from Google Image. But most importantly, legally speaking, the opt-out is not a solution that is in line with the copyright rules. Indeed, copyright system requires a preliminary permission from the right holder, so as the proverb ‘silence implies consent’ does not apply to copyright.

This opt out option is in fact an attempt of Pinterest to escape from liability, while the site still relies on copyright infringement as a basic premise, apparently placing all liability on users.


[1] Gutierrez Alm J., 2014.”Sharing” Copyrights: The Copyright Implications of User Content in Social Media, Hamline J. Pub. L. & Pol’y. 35, p. 124