In 2012, Choire Sicha at The Awl voiced a concern about Pinterest being entirely dependent on copyright infringement — calling it “delightful, addictive, and theft.” Sicha also commented on the platform presenting an even greater problem than Napster and Megaupload. Bold statement, right?! Is there some truth to it?

Serving as an electronic cork board of crafts, photography, recipes, style, and just about anything else that sparks a great idea, Pinterest, founded in 2010, has acquired over 175 million monthly active users and over 50 billion “pins.” Pins are what results when a Pinterest user “pins” something to their virtual corkboard for future reference. From extravagant wedding planning boards to fall fashion inspiration and motivational gym quotes that users spend hours upon hours “pinning,” because… you know… what else could be more important at this point?!

Pinterest has become one of the most popular social platforms in the digital space, but its fame has provoked controversy about it being the epitome of copyright infringement. 

How Pinterest Works 

From home renovation projects and makeup tutorials to learning how to start a successful blog, individuals use Pinterest to explore and save their favorite ideas to customized boards. A “pin” is included on each image, along with a description and a link back to the image’s source online. When people click a pin’s URL, they can learn more about the idea and act on it, or simply save it to their virtual pin board. 

According to the platform’s Terms of Service section, Pinterest allows you to post content, including photos, comments, links, and other materials. Anything you post is made available on Pinterest and is referred to as “user content,” which the owner retains rights to. 

However, there’s just one tiny loophole: any content posted grants Pinterest and its users a “non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sublicensable, worldwide license to use, store, display, reproduce, save, modify, create derivative works, perform, and distribute the user content on the platform.” In other words, if you post content on Pinterest, they can show it to people and others can save it. But, what happens when someone pins a photo that was never supposed to be on Pinterest to begin with? Hello copyright infringement!

Why Copyright Infringement is a Problem 

Pinterest prohibits its members from posting copyrighted material without the owner’s permission. However, a ridiculous amount of Pinterest’s images are being pinned by those who did not create the content. Users are neglecting the rules and an absurd number of pins are being added to the platform without the consent of artists, bloggers, graphic designers, photographers, and others. 

There’s no question that Pinterest encourages re-pinning community photos. After all, the platform was built on the idea of sharing and collecting digital objects. But the goal is to ensure users pin from the original source, providing credit to the content owner and including a detailed description. Disputes occur when an image is taken directly from a website and uploaded to the platform’s server without approval from the owner. With a growing number of unsourced pins being saved to user boards and profiles, copyright holders are being directly impacted. Images on the platform are being exploited for commercial gain, and the personal work of artists is being stolen.

How to Avoid Copyright Infringement 

Pinterest is an inspiring, enjoyable, and completely addicting platform for users, businesses, and creatives alike. And while members are probably not intentionally violating copyright laws, it’s vital to understand how to use the platform without violating the law or hurting creatives’ pocketbooks. As such, we’ve compiled a few tips for successful and worry-free pinning:

  • The best way to use Pinterest is to pin images or content you already own. From pretty pictures to DIY projects and personal recipes, if it is legally yours you will never face copyright issues. 
  • To make things a little easier for its users, Pinterest has a sharing button that is shown on various sites. If you see the “pin it” button on the image, this means the owner is granting permission to add it to your Pinterest board. 
  • Pinterest offers an opt-out or “no-pin” code for websites and artists looking to protect their content. If you do not see a “pin it” button, it’s quite clear the owner does not want the image distributed elsewhere. 
  • Never change or delete the source link when pinning or re-pinning an image. Not only does this prevent future users from being able to locate the original source, but it also gives others a false idea that the image belongs to you.

Platform responsibility plays a critical role when it comes to social networks – regardless of whether you’re sharing, liking, tweeting, or pinning content. Sure, Pinterest includes Terms of Service, Community Guidelines, and Copyright pages to inform users how to properly use the platform and educate individuals about copyright infringement, but sometimes that’s not enough. 

We know it’s easy to get lost in planning your imaginary wedding or pinning 10 different ways to make avocado toast, but it’s important to pin with precaution, be mindful when saving images to your boards, and always practice good etiquette!

Header image: tanuha2001 / / CreativeFuture