Copyright Infringement Issues from Pinterest Pinning

Posted by David Rothschild on Apr 11, 2012 3:19:00 PM

pinterest logoFrom a search engine ranking perspective, social media sites tend to do well because they promote sharing content among users.  Pinterest, the newest craze in social media, doesn’t exactly seem to fit into the same mold. Users are more often than not “pinning” images that are not theirs to post, an act that is viewed by many as plagiarism, and potentially seen by stock photography agencies as copyright infringement.

Does Pinterest have protections in place to prevent plagiarism?

If you read their Terms of Service, you’ll find that the business is legally shielded, but users aren’t necessarily protected. According to their guidelines, “Anything that you pin, post, display, or otherwise make available on our Service, including all Intellectual Property Rights in such content, is referred to as “User Content.”

In other words, Pinterest takes no responsibility for it.

Not only does Pinterest put the responsibility on the user, but they also claim rights to any content posted once it’s on their site. Their terms of service ask for “non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use, display, reproduce, re-pin, modify (e.g., re-format), re-arrange, and distribute your User Content on Pinterest.”

In a recent statement made by Pinterest CEO, Ben Silbermann, claims that Pinterest is going through “growing pains” and that “changes are coming.” The statement comes on the heels of a blog post by Kirsten Kowalski that dissects federal copyright laws in regards to Pinterest Pins. Essentially, copyright laws award reproduction rights of photos and images to the creators.  They clearly state that use of any copyrighted material is an illegal act. 

So, is Pinterest promoting plagiarism?

It’s an interesting question, one that will come up on a number of occasions for Pinterest, and they are not alone.  There are a number of other link aggregation and social media sites that promote similar content sharing structures, such as and  As the practice of re-using content grows exponentially, how difficult will it be to curb misuse? Will crediting the original creator be enough or should copyright agreements be required for use of any image? That approach would definitely put a damper on all the Pinterest hype. Most users have no idea of what the copyright issues involved are.

Another issue with Pinterest pins, highlighted in a recent post at a site called “Oh My! Handmade Goodness” called “Ethical Pinning: The Golden Rules of Pinterest”, is the use of images for DIY projects that have not been created yet. This is a clear case of plagiarism for profit. Do-it-yourselfers post images of creations from other artists and use them to advertise projects they will take on for a fee. Credible artists in the DIY market are outraged by the practice.

Better editorial processes may help curb this problem or perhaps a way to credit sources. Pinterest and its users could continue to alienate artists, and perhaps even see future legal challenges.


Bailey, Jonathan.  "A Word of Caution for Pinterest Users."  February 29th, 2011.

Dhapola, Shruti.  "Does Pinterest Promote Plagiarism." March 21st, 2012.

Hepburn, Jessica. "Ethical Pinning: The Golden Rules of Pinterest." September 29th, 2011.  Terms and Conditions. March 23rd, 2012.

Topics: Social Media