Pinterest Copyright Infringement
Pinterest copyright infringement can be somewhat common due to the nature of the website which involves using creative works created by others. The question arises as to when pinning something to your board can be considered copyright infringement.
In the U.S., copyrights are governed by the Copyright Act. See 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq. Copyrights come into existence at the moment that the original work is completed. However, registering a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office in Washington, D.C., substantially enhances the legal protections provided by the Copyright Act. For example, after registering a copyright, the owner can sue a third party for copyright infringement in court. For post-registration infringements, the copyright owner also has additional remedies available including statutory damages and attorney’s fees.
Among the bundle of rights that are granted by the Copyright Act is the grant of the exclusive right to use, display, transmit or perform the work publicly and the right to determine who else may use, display, transmit or perform the work. A copyright owner also has control over the creation of derivative works (adaptations based on the original work).
Copyright Infringement on Pinterest.com
With the rise of the internet, copyright infringement has become more common. Pinterest is a social website that allows users to pin photos and online web content to online boards. The underlying idea is to digitally replicate an old-fashioned cork bulletin board where one uses push-pins or thumbtacks to collect memorable photos, magazine and newspaper clippings, and other items of interest. On Pinterest, the pins are digital postings. Usually, the actual photo/content is shown on the Pinterest user’s board and sometimes there is a link to the third-party website where the photo/content originated.
However, because of the public nature of Pinterest and the expected sharing, the “pinning” of photos and web content often runs afoul of the Copyright Act. As noted, photographs and images are original artistic works that are protected by the Copyright Act. If your original photos or other original artistic works have been used on Pinterest, then your copyrights might have been infringed. There are two main exceptions that might apply to a Pinterest pinning. The first exception is if permission has been given to pin the original artistic works and the second is if use is considered fair use. Typical examples of “fair use” include uses for educational purposes, public debate, and parody but these exceptions may not always apply.
There are no bright lines in fair use and it is considered one of the most complex areas of intellectual property law. Thus we highly recommend that you hire a copyright lawyer if you have any issues related to Pinterest copyright infringement. Generally, permission-to-use must be explicit. That is, the default with respect to permission is that permission is NOT granted. Note that copyright law does not require that the infringement be intentional or purposeful. Even accidental infringement can subject the infringer to liability for statutory and other money damages.
What Should You do to Protect Your Rights?
If you believe that your original artistic works are being infringed on Pinterest, there are several legal steps that you can take to protect your copyrights. Initially we suggest that you have us send a copyright cease and desist letter to the infringer. This can help bring a prompt resolution to the matter and also prevent future infringements.
There are other options available in the event of a Pinterest infringement. Due to exposure to legal liability, we suggest that you use a copyright attorney to assist you with these options:
- Send a Take-Down Letter to Pinterest.com demanding that it remove the infringing content
- Demand payment from the infringer
- Initiate copyright litigation if the previous steps do not eliminate the infringement
Even if you do not demand payment, sending take-down notices and cease and desist letters is important so that, if the infringement continues, the infringer cannot later claim lack of knowledge. As discussed below, willful infringement makes the infringer liable for enhanced damages.
Cease and Desist Letters
A typical first step with any copyright infringement issue is a copyright cease and desist letter. The word cease refers to the concept of stopping the infringement now and desist refers to not doing it again in the future.
A typical cease and desist letter will include the following basic elements:
- Description of the copyrighted work — for example, the letter will contain a description of the photograph that has been unlawfully pinned and demonstrate ownership by the sender
- Evidence of the infringing behavior — the cease and desist letter will provide at least one example of the infringing behavior. Further, the letter might include a screenshot as the evidence of infringement
- Demand for action — usually, the demand is for immediate compliance and take-down with a written confirming response within 10 days
Take-Down Demands to Pinterest
By law, online platforms like Pinterest.com, must provide a mechanism whereby copyright owners can notify the platform of infringing content and activity. The platforms must also provide a mechanism for demanding that the platform remove the content (or require that the content be removed by the relevant user). If an online platform does not provide these mechanisms, then the online platform can be subject to copyright liability through the concept of contributory infringement. In other words, Pinterest.com might have to pay money damages for infringement if it does not take down or require that its users take down infringing content.
To trigger a platform’s duty to remove infringing content, the owner of a copyright may send a take-down notice. These are often called DMCA notices, which is a reference to a particular federal statute called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. To send a DMCA notice to Pinterest, the copyright owner can complete an online form that includes various information such as proof of ownership, description of the protected photo or content, the name of the Pinterest user, a certification of truthfulness, and other information. A copyright owner can also send a written DMCA notice to Pinterest via US mail to their mailing address. For Pinterest’s general policies regarding copyrights click here.
After receipt of a DMCA notice, Pinterest will review the notice and, if legally valid and complete, Pinterest will notify the relevant user. Usually, a DMCA notice to Pinterest is sufficient and the infringing content will be removed by the user or by Pinterest. However, removal of infringing content by Pinterest and Pinterest users is not automatic. If the DMCA notice is properly completed and passes initial review, Pinterest will notify its user and give them the opportunity to send a counter-DMCA-notice. The Pinterest user might argue that its use is not infringement because, for example, they have permission or their use is “fair use.” If the claim is not valid you can subject yourself to damages, so this work should only be completed by a copyright attorney.
Because unlawful use of copyrighted material makes the user liable regardless of intent, you can demand payment for use of original works as part of a copyright cease and desist letter. This will truly emphasize the seriousness of the problem. Many Pinterest users falsely believe pinning or using a photograph is fair use when typically, it is not.
Initiate Copyright Litigation
The final strategy for protecting your copyrights is to begin copyright litigation under the Copyright Act. To do so, the owner must have registered the copyright with the Copyright Office. Recoverable money damages can be significant, particularly if enhanced damages are awarded based on large damages and willful or knowing infringement. In the lead-up to the litigation, it is important to gather evidence of the infringement, such as screen-shots of the Pinterest postings of the copyrighted content.
Copyright infringement lawsuits are filed in federal courts. Any and all Pinterest users who have pinned the copyrighted artistic work can be sued and, possibly, Pinterest itself if Pinterest refused to take down the content after a takedown notice was sent. As can be seen, copyright owners are not helpless in the event of disregard for copyright rights. There are potent legal strategies that can be pursued.
For legal assistance with Pinterest copyright infringement or with other copyright-related issues, please contact today for a consultation.