Pinterest and the Intellectual Property Conundrum

BlogHer Original Post

Annette from Catnip and Coffee recently wrote a post about Pinterest called The Problem with Pinterest. Annette explained how much she enjoyed using Pinterest (like so many of us) and then introduced "the problem." She's talking about copyright violations. Here's how she describes her dilemma:

I'm personally really struggling with this. In real life I'm a photo editor. I find publication quality photos, I contact photographers, I sign contracts with them, and I PAY them for the use of their images. It's my job and my eyes and brain are trained to look for copyright issues.

cracking copyright symbol
copyright image credit: opensourceway via photopin cc

As Annette explored the image copyright issue, she wanted to know where images were coming from, who shot them, and who was getting the credit for them:

I followed trails back to original sources. A few were linked to the actual photographer. Great! PIN AWAY! Some pins were from Tumblr sites or other blogs that had pulled the images from Flickr or the like. If the original photo was listed as creative commons, well fab, but what if they weren't? Some of the pins I looked at were actually watermarked with copyright information but there was no link back to the website clearly on the watermark. Just as grievous –- that many pins are pulled directly from Google images, a clear violation of any copyrighted image.

Is Pinterest Protecting Copyright?

In the Pinterest Terms of Service, you can find this paragraph:

You acknowledge and agree that you are solely responsible for all Member Content that you make available through the Site, Application and Services. Accordingly, you represent and warrant that: (i) you either are the sole and exclusive owner of all Member Content that you make available through the Site, Application and Services or you have all rights, licenses, consents and releases that are necessary to grant to Cold Brew Labs the rights in such Member Content, as contemplated under these Terms; and (ii) neither the Member Content nor your posting, uploading, publication, submission or transmittal of the Member Content or Cold Brew Labs’ use of the Member Content (or any portion thereof) on, through or by means of the Site, Application and the Services will infringe, misappropriate or violate a third party's patent, copyright, trademark, trade secret, moral rights or other proprietary or intellectual property rights, or rights of publicity or privacy, or result in the violation of any applicable law or regulation.

Pinterest has an About page on Copyright. The page is a form for complaints, and doesn't include any specific information for Pinterest users about copyright issues. In other words, if there is a copyright problem, Pinterest expects the copyright owner to report of the problem.

Pinterest is doing what the Digital Millenium Copyright Act(DMCA) requires. The DMCA creates what it calls "safe harbors" for internet service providers, that allow limits

against copyright liability if they adhere to and qualify for certain prescribed safe harbor guidelines and promptly block access to allegedly infringing material (or remove such material from their systems) if they receive a notification claiming infringement from a copyright holder or the copyright holder's agent, effectively allowing individual companies to censor the internet.

Pinterest provides code for you to add a Pin it button to your own blog, along with the following language: "Adding a 'Pin It' button to your product pages or blog posts will allow your customers and readers to pin your products onto Pinterest." They don't mention the copyright issues that might arise from your blog's fans pinning images from your site.

With just the opposite approach, Pinterest has taken action in the last couple of days to provide some code that would make your images unpinnable. As with their Etiquette guidelines and their Terms of Service, this keeps the enforcement of copyright in the hands of the image owners, rather than putting the responsibility on Pinterest.

In If Emily Posted: Post No Bills at Alexandra wrote, Alexandra opines that Pinterest needs to do better at explaining the copyright issues and advising the user about what's safe.

I need Pinterest to explain to me how it's legal to be doing what we’re doing. Tell me what I need to take down and I will. Immediately. I need them to tell me because the legalese is not making any sense. And I usually don’t have a hard time with such things.

What Else Should Be Done?

In another post, If Emily Posted: Safety Pins, Alex talks about going beyond unpinnable script:

The conversations about whether Pinterest is acting as pusher in a sea of potential copyright infringement issues have been incredible. For the most part it assures me of what I truly believe: people don't set out to do the wrong thing, and most, upon learning they are, want to know what they can do to fix it.

I am writing this at the same time many others are asking similar questions, and in the last several days, Pinterest offered some additions to their site, like coding to add to make your site un-pinnable. For some, I think this is a great thing. But those who like Pinterest and want to be able to share our original content with permission, we need other options.

Alexandra goes on to give her readers her own option: a safety pin. She created a graphical widget that tells readers whether or not you're OK with them pinning images from your site. She suggests displaying it prominently on your sidebar. There is a Yes safety pin and a No safety pin.

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