Pinterest only allows members to “pin” links to videos from both YouTube and Vimeo, and not upload the actual videos themselves like they can with static images. But can you still get in trouble for pinning videos that aren’t your own? I asked this question of three attorneys with legal expertise in social media, who explain the potential legal issues with embedding videos on Pinterest that marketers and other professionals need to consider before pinning.

Attorneys Weigh In on Pinterest Videos – Fair Use or Illegal?

Daliah Saper is the Principal attorney of Saper Law Offices out of Chicago, with a focus on New Media and Intellectual Property Issues. She is also a legal analyst on Fox Business News, and has been a featured speaker on legal issues with Pinterest.

“The question of whether or not linking to or embedding a link is considered copyright infringement is one that has yet to be definitively answered by courts. For example, while the Court in Ticketmaster v. found that sharing links themselves does not constitute copyright infringement, other court decisions have laid the groundwork for copyright owners to bring successful claims under contributory copyright infringement against individuals who provide links to infringing material. (Grokster)

Therefore, even if a Pinterest user is merely linking to a YouTube video rather than uploading it, there is still the possibility that this individual may be liable for contributory copyright infringement. It is always best to proceed with caution and avoid linking to or embedding clearly infringing content such as an episode of a TV show. It is also important to note that most copyright owners simply ask YouTube to remove the infringing material instead of going after every individual who has linked to it.”

Gordon P. Firemark New Media and Entertainment Law Attorney based out of Los Angeles. He is the Producer and Host of the podcast show Entertainment Law Update (available on iTunes), and the author of The Podcast, Blog, and New Media Producer’s Legal Survival Guide.

“Even a single frame of a video or film is a copyright protected work, so technically, pinning that image is copyright infringement if done without the permission of the author/owner. Although the single frame is but one of thousands or millions in the complete work, and is thus more likely to be viewed as a “fair use” when pinned, there are significant unanswered questions about how courts will view the “nature and character” of the alleged infringing use… So, since Pinterest’s terms of use state that the user is responsible for anything he/she pins, I’d say users should be very careful about pinning material they don’t own on Pinterest, regardless whether it’s a still image or a video.”

Evan Brown is an attorney at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP in Chicago, with a focus technology and Internet property law. He also runs the “Internet Cases” blog and is a regular guest on the live videocast, “This Week In Law.”

“The fact that Pinterest only allows links to or embeds of videos (instead of hosting the actual video files) puts it in a slightly better place legally than if it provided a platform to host uploaded videos. That’s not to say that Pinterest is that much at risk for allowing the hosting of static images, or would be in much trouble if it hosted videos.

It’s pretty clear that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) should protect Pinterest for content stored on its servers at the direction of its users (which is a legally fancy way of saying “content that users have pinned”), so long as Pinterest responds to DMCA takedown notices it receives and otherwise complies with the DMCA. Only allowing links or embeds takes Pinterest even one step further removed from copyright trouble. For Pinterest to be directly liable for infringement, the copyright holder would have to show that Pinterest exercised one of the exclusive rights of the copyright holder — for example, that it copied, distributed, or displayed the content.

The courts have been consistent in holding that a platform that allows users to upload content does not implicate those rights because the platform does not engage in an act of its own volition to copy, distribute or display the content. It’s the users’ volition at issue. When there’s just a hotlink or an embed, the platform is doing even less to exercise the copyright holder’s rights. It’s just facilitating the viewing of content stored somewhere else, like YouTube.”

Best Marketing Practices with Pinning Other People’s Videos on Pinterest

The sobering truth is that embedding videos on Pinterest is no guarantee of legal protection, and should be exercised with at least some caution. Here are some of my own marketing best practices (NOT to be construed as legal advice!) that you may want to consider with your own video “pinning” of other people’s copyrighted work:

  • Avoid the appearance of your video pin being placed on a pin board or around other pins that give them impression of a commercial endorsement. (This can be a right-of-publicity issue.)
  • Look for any notifications in the video, or on the video’s original page, of what is permissible use. (Creative Commons symbols are a good and easy-to-follow indicator.)
  • Avoid pinning full-length commercial content entirely.

Remember, Pinterest is not your friend. They have already stated in their new policy that if someone decides to name you and Pinterest in a lawsuit for copyright infringement, Pinterest expects you to pay their own legal fees as well as yours!

Want to learn more about important legal issues with online video marketing? Check out my column “Video & The Law”, and my YouTube channel, LegalVideoGuys.