Copyright Issues

Pinterest has always had a tumultuous relationship with copyright law. While the site has improved its Terms of Service policy it is still necessary for libraries interested in using the site to fully research and understand their rights and responsibilities on Pinterest.

A Complex History

Pinterest has a history with confronting copyright issues. In 2012 lawyer and photographer Kirsten Kowalski published a blog post,“Why I Tearfully Deleted my Pinterest Inspiration Boards,” expressing concerns about a pinner’s legal liability for thir content. According to lawyer Chris Pothering, she had every right to be concerned. Pinterest’s orginial terms and conditions required pinners to  Kowalski was concerned about a pinner’s legal liability for their content. Rightfully so. According to lawyer Chris Pothering, the original terms and conditions required that the pinner either owned the copyright to the image or had permission from the owner to pin it (21). Under these terms, if a library had pinned a resource from a third party to a research guide board without express permission from the owner, they would be violating copyright law and Pinterest’s Terms of Service. Many, many people were infringing on copyrights without even realizing, a particular concern for photographers like Kowalski.

Fortunately, Pinterest was responsive to Kowalski’s claims and reconstructed their terms and conditions. Still today, the only requirement of pinners is that pins cannot violate a third party’s copyright (Pothering 22-23). While this does not prevent all copyright infringement on Pinterest, it makes it easier for users to pin appropriate content. Libraries, for example, could pin content covered by a license they may own. Copyright guidelines for academic libraries can be found below.

Today’s Terms and Condition

Awareness of copyright issues is still necessary for pinners today. When users pin an image, they create an actual copy of an image that is saved on Pinterest servers. Under the most recent Terms of Service, the legal burden of responsible pinning is on the users (Russell n.p.). makes this clear in their Terms of Service:

Anything that you post or otherwise make available on our products is referred to as ‘User Content.’ You retain all rights in and are solely responsible for the User Content you post to Pinterest.


Pinterest takes no responsibility and assumes no liability for any User Content.

Libraries becoming involved in Pinterest need to completely understand that they are responsible for any content they pin. For example, If they pin a book review for one of their new books they need to ensure their use is covered under copyright law. In addition, Pinterest has a one-way indemnity clause. If a user does violate copyright, they are responsible for any and all resultant legal fees. Below are some guidelines for responsible Pinterest use.


Before joining Pinterest, The University of Regina Library researched copyright issues and created concrete guidelines for their library’s Pinterest account (Hansen, Nowlan, and Winter 45).

  1. Is the work protected by copyright? (When it doubt, assume yes).
  2. Do we own the copyright of the work?
  3. Is the work in the public domain?
  4. Is the image under creative commons license?
  5. Does it fall under fair use?
  6. Is the content creator using Pinterest?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no” a library should not pin content. Question number 6 provides a sticky grey area. Often, online content creators will encourage visitors to pin their websites, images, and blogs by including a “Pin it” widget directly on their website. If this is the case, users may consider this permission to share. If the creator itself is on Pinterest, users may be able to “repin” content instead of creating a new pin. However, these guidelines are only suggestions. Overall pinners (especially libraries) should use their best judgement and pin responsibly. When in doubt, do not pin.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s