Russell Hebets March 2, 2012

If you haven’t heard, the new social networking site called is the hottest thing on the block. At the heart of this site is sharing pictures with the public. However, many people are beginning to wonder if their activity on Pinterest is legal or if the website itself is legal. While most copyright cases usually do not involve criminal law this blog will explore what possible laws might be involved with the use of Pinterest, and how you can protect yourself.

To begin there are two main ways that using Pinterest may violate copyright law. First, according to 17 USC § 101 you cannot display a work in public or any place where a substantial number of persons outside a normal circle of family is gathered. Since all Pinterest boards are open to the public and searchable this means that pinning a copyrighted work may violate the work by publicly displaying.

A second potential liability, and the main source of criminal prosecution, is from changes the NET Act made to copyright law. This act defined copyright so that if you receive anything of value (such as a copy of a picture of a copyrighted work) you have a financial gain. Pinterest makes copies of the pictures you pin and stores them on your board. There is a very good argument that this could be considered receiving a copy of the picture. Additionally, according to 17 USC §506 if you distribute copyrighted material electronically that has a total retail value of $1,000 or more, you may commit a crime. Pinterest clearly distributes the material electronically, and if you pin enough things in total you may be at risk here.

So what does this mean should you close your Pinterest account? The copyright infringement associated with Pinterest is similar to downloads of copyrighted music, where prosecution of individuals is rare. It is probably safer to view Pinterest than to pin things, but the definition of financial gain could make this still a risk. 17 USC § 107 provides for fair use of copyright material, it indicates that you CAN reproduce things to comment or criticize them. Pinterest automatically allows for comments when you pin something. If you make meaningful comments about the things you are interested in you may be protecting yourself. You could also only pin things that have a Pinterest button on their website. As the site grows in popularity this will pop up everywhere, and these buttons should mean the author of the content understands and consents with sharing their work on Pinterest (assuming that the website you are visiting is the original author). Finally, you could just wait and see if legal action will be taken. As Pintesrest grows it will certainly have to iron out this grey legal area and you could wait on the sidelines until it is all hammered out.