Book covers are likely to be copyright-protected works in themselves, and also often contain third party ‘artistic works’. So, for example, Amazon reflects this in its terms and conditions. Copying these digital images and making them available to the public (such as pinning them onto Pinterest), without permission will be an infringement.
In terms of risk, use of small, low-resolution images on a private network only, to promote books will be low risk. Where a commercial service (such as Bowker Syndetic) is available to license this use, it may prove more difficult to justify, however. Copying images without permission and uploading them to a publicly available open platform such as Pinterest, will increase the risk for the college or university.
Copying without permission is also likely to breach Pinterest’s terms and conditions which insist that members have the right to publish the images they ‘pin’ and are able to grant a licence to the site to make further use of the image.
‘Fair use’, often quoted as a defence to copying for non-commercial purposes, is a US concept and does not apply in the UK.
So, to avoid the risk of copyright infringement, the college or university will require permission. Where specific images are sought, the institution may consider contacting the relevant publisher, bearing in mind that where the image contains third party artwork, copyright is likely to be owned by that third party (and the publisher may not be able to give permission).
For further guidance, please refer to our recent Guide to Pinterest, Image Sharing Websites and the Law.