What are the risks of copyright infringement on Pinterest?
Copyright infringements are widespread on Pinterest. People very frequently 'pin' pictures that they just plucked from the internet, without giving any regard to possible copyright consequences. The problem is that those pictures often are under copyright protection, and are not freely available under Creative Commons or similar licenses. If you 'pin' a picture on Pinterest, this basically means that you copy the picture and republish it on the servers or website of Pinterest. If you do not have the rights to do this, this constitutes copyright infringement
In its terms of service, Pinterest mentions that its users are solely responsible for the use of copyrighted material on its website. Pinterest does not assume any responsibility if problems occur. However, the question arises whether Pinterest has not a shared responsibility (and liability) for copyright infringements on its platform. Some people claim that Pinterest in fact actively encourages its users to commit copyright infringement or at least takes insufficient steps to avoid infringements. Unlike other social media platforms (which most often require their users to confirm that they have sufficient rights before uploading a picture), Pinterest does not ask you to confirm your rights when you 'pin' a picture. What's more, the entire business model of Pinterest seems built on the re-pinning of as many photos as possible.
For now, there have not yet been any major court cases in connection with copyright violations on Pinterest. This is partly due to the fact that the rights-holders in most cases do not suffer major damage because of the re-pinning of their pictures. In fact, rights-holders are often quite happy with the distribution of their photos on Pinterest.
However, this situation may well change in the future. It is likely that both individual users and Pinterest itself may be hold liable for copyright abuse on Pinterest. This means that you should be careful when you 'pin' a picture that is under copyright protection. You should especially watch out when you 'pin' pictures for commercial or business reasons (individual users are probably less at risk). The terms of service of Pinterest clearly mention that if you use Pinterest for commercial or business purposes, you should be prepared to indemnify and hold Pinterest harmless from and against any claims, damages and attorneys' fees. This is not mentioned for private users.
In practice, the risks for users are rather limited, and the above text does not mean that you have to close down your Pinterest account. The point is rather that you should be careful with what you share and 'pin' on the Pinterest website. To avoid problems, the safest option is to 'pin' only your own pictures or pictures for which you have permission or a license to use them (check the exact terms of the license - even if the license is a 'Creative Commons' license). This may be unworkable for private uses of Pinterest, but I believe it's a good advice when you 'pin' photos for commercial or business purposes. Photos with a 'Pin this' button are basically safe to use, as well as pictures of which you are sure that they are in the 'public domain'. When in doubt, it never hurts to contact the owner or publisher of the site where you found the photo.
Moreover, it's good to know that Pinterest developed a notification system that allows you to notify Pinterest of infringements of your copyright entitlements. Pinterest promises in its 'Copyright Policy' to investigate any complaint it receives and, if necessary, to remove 'pins' from its website. In case of repeated abuses, Pinterest reserves the right to close down your account. If you think your 'pin' has been wrongly removed, you can do a 'counter-notice' that will be passed on by Pinterest to the complaining party. The complainant then has 10 days to confirm that he or she will take legal action. If no legal action is taken, Pinterest will in all probability re-publish the 'pin'.
To avoid possible copyright problems, Pinterest has also developed an HTML metatag ('nopin') that websites may install as an opt-out against the use of their images on Pinterest. For instance, Flickr already implemented this metatag as a standard setting on its platform (meaning that, in principle, you cannot use Flickr photos on Pinterest). Pinterest also installed an automatic attribution system, following which the name of the author and a link will automatically appear in connection with photos and images that originate from channels such as YouTube and Vimeo and in connection with 'opted-in' photos from Flickr. We believe that these tags are a step in the right direction, but it remains to be seen how effective they will be to prevent abuse of copyrighted material on Pinterest.
For more information on social media and Belgian copyright law, read my previous blog post.
You can find an essential guide to Belgian copyright law on my previous blog post.
Do not hesitate to contact me if you want more information regarding the above, or if you are looking for a lawyer or attorney specialised in Belgian or European copyright law and intellectual property law in general.
Author: Bart Van Besien
Attorney - Lawyer - Belgium - European Union (E.U.)
Specialized in intellectual property law (copyright, trademarks, patents, domain names, etc.) and media law.
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