Pinterest is one of the world’s most visited sites, arising interest in and attracting both individual and business users.  As of December 2011, Pinterest entered the top 10 social networks in terms of hitwise data, with 11 million visits per week.  Today, it closely rivals both Twitter and Facebook in popularity.  Unlike, Twitter and Facebook however, Pinterest isn’t about user-generated content.  It’s about acquiring third party content, and therefore, presents an issue for intellectual property owners and users alike by its mere function.

Pinterest’s sole utility is to provide a network of electronic pinboards and a means for its users to “pin” photos to them.  In essence, when a Pinterest user electronically “pins” an image to their mood board, they are copying a full sized photograph to Pinterest’s servers.  A quick look through Pinterest’s various user pinboards demonstrates that the vast majority of these pins are copyrighted works, not in the public domain, and not licensed under Creative Commons or a similar free-to-distribute regime.  For these reasons, Pinterest is not only rapidly attracting users but also the copyright law spotlight.

To date, Pinterest has found comfort in the DMCA safe-harbor.  And it has apparently worked hard at doing so.  With a designated copyright agent in tow, an adequate display of the DMCA notice and takedown procedure, and a clear copyright policy to boot, Pinterest has shielded itself from copyright law’s harsh glare thus far.  While apparently doing everything right under the law, one must wonder how Pinterest would withstand in a copyright infringement proceeding where it must essentially claim that it was not aware of facts or circumstances from which infringing activity was apparent

Until any such determination is made, here are some useful tips for copyright owners:

  • Include copyright statements on your website
  • Include script in your website that prevents ‘right click’ copying
  • If you believe a Pinterest user has infringed your copyright, file a complaint with Pinterest
  • Utilize Pinterest’s “nopin” metatag for website owners
  • Consider including a watermark on your images

And finally, for those seeking to perfect their pin etiquette that may have not familiarized themselves with Pinterest’s Terms of Service, be advised that it requires users to:

  • not infringe IP rights
  • indemnify and defend Pinterest in legal claims
  • submit to the laws of California
  • be bound by changes to the Terms

Simply put, a user opens the door for a lawsuit and the above related costs whenever it pins or copies an image containing someone else’s copyrighted work without their permission.  In order to avoid this liability, users should only pin items that are their own or that they have permission to use.  Websites containing the “pin me” tab are also seemingly benign, seeing as they provide permission for such use.

Following this copyright protocol does not guarantee that you will not be a party in any future Pinterest copyright proceeding, but hopefully it helps you to have good copyright manners.