Social Media and Fair Use: Pinterest as a Case Study


Social media websites have skyrocketed in popularity. Every day millions of users across all demographic lines log on to Pinterest and various other social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to get and share news and information about a limitless range of topics.
In fact, some analysts posit that young adults may get more than half of their daily news from such sites. But these sites are not just for keeping up with the news—and they are certainly not just for the young. Users share information on all manner of subjects from recipes to cleaning to music to photographs to music to fashion and much, much more.
Growing exceptionally fast since its launch in 2009, Pinterest now boasts more than 20 million users, of whom 64 percent are aged 35 or older and roughly 80 percent of whom are women. Not to be outdone, men are flocking to websites such as, a pinboard style site similar to Pinterest but designed with more traditionally “manly” interests in mind.
“Sharing” is the idea behind websites such as Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, and scores of others. Users share information, pictures and videos which are uploaded, downloaded, transferred, pinned and, well, shared with others who have similar interests.
Users can create and manage theme-based image collections such as events, interests, and hobbies, and can browse other pinboards for inspiration, “re-pin” images to their own collections or “like” photos and other information. Indeed, Pinterest’s mission is to “connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they find interesting” via a global platform of inspiration and idea sharing.
One of the fastest growing social services in the world, Pinterest calls itself a “virtual pinboard” where you can “organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web.” Facebook is designed to help you “connect and share with the people in your life.” And Twitter, an information network using small “bursts of information called tweets,” allows users to “see photos, videos and conversations” while discovering information in real-time.
Although the concept of online sharing seems magnanimous, it is not without legal implications, particularly related to ownership and infringement of intellectual property. Pinterest poses an excellent case study. The existing copyright law framework provides some guidance, even if the answers are difficult to “pin” down.

Can a Pinterest user post or pin his or her own or anyone else’s material, including copyrighted or copyrightable material?

If Pinterest users post or pin another’s work without permission, have they violated copyright law?

Does it matter if the work posted or pinned by a user was originally posted to Pinterest by the author or creator of the work?

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