Pinterest: the legal issues

Pinterest, the latest player in the social media field, continues to generate a lot of coverage, not just in the tech press but also in mainstream media. The site appears to be going from strength to strength and last week, Shareaholic announced it has just passed Twitter in terms of referral of web traffic; astonishing when you consider the huge discrepancy between the two sites in terms of total number of users.

However, not all the press Pinterest has been receiving is positive. Over the past few weeks there have been increasing concerns about the legality of the site in terms of copyright infringement.

Some legal commentators have claimed that Pinterest users may be vulnerable to legal action. If that does occur they should not look to Pinterest itself for support. The site’s terms and conditions clearly state that the individual is solely responsible for the items they pin; furthermore, they also require that individual users indemnify the company against claims and liabilities.

It has been claimed that the legal issue will ultimately lead to Pinterest’s collapse. However, others feel that this is highly unlikely for several reasons. Firstly, Pinterest themselves have reacted to the debate by producing a piece of code that can be added to websites which prevents sharing. Secondly, they have also made it very clear they will remove material quickly where copyright holders object to their images being used, although according to the company this has only occurred in a small number of cases. The company has also produced best practice guidelines to legal pinning for its users.

However, and perhaps more important, is the fact that sharing is becoming an accepted means of content dissemination across the web for many kinds of material – especially blogs and images. Many content producers are actively trying to get material shared as a way of promoting themselves. When a Pinterest user pins an image from the web, by default the image links back to the original source which is what is driving the Pinterest referral numbers that everyone is lauding. For many content producers, this is exactly what they are looking for and they are unlikely to be raising objections.

My advice to clients using Pinterest is that if you want to avoid the legal issue you should only pin material  that you own, where the copyright has lapsed or where you have the explicit permission from the rights holder.

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