Pinterest and Copyright

March 29, 2012

Pinterest, a new social media site that allows users to ‘pin’ digital pictures on virtual pin boards, has recently faced a number of concerns regarding potential copyright infringement.

An American lawyer Kirsten Kowalski blogged about the social media site’s Picture-sharing boards as infringing copyright, announcing that she had deleted her Pinterest account when she realised that her use of the photo-sharing site could potentially make her break the law. The blog post sparked a lot of attention, and spread fears about these potential legal issues.

The main problem was to do with the terms and conditions of the site, as they explicitly say that should there be any copyright infringement for reposting a copyrighted picture, it would be the user and not the site that would be culpable. The way the law works is that even if users are unaware they may be infringing copyright, this does not absolve them from legal action.

Despite their terms, which clearly state that users who ‘pin’ images they do not hold the rights to may be liable, the site itself seems to actively encourage sharing images. As Kowalski puts it ‘their lawyers say you can pin anything that you don’t own… but the site is saying that you can’. The site makes it very simple to repost (or rather pin) pictures from other sites around the web, which has irritated some photographers.

However, the question still remains, why is Pinterest facing these problems when other social media sites have not? As Technollama points out, Pinterest’s terms and conditions are similar to those of other social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. However, the primary difference between these sites, as discussed here, is that Pinterest’s whole business model surrounds the sharing of images. Although Facebook and Twitter do allow people to post images, this is not the main feature of either site.

Jonathan Klein, the CEO of Ghetty images, emphasizes this point. As TechCrunch noted, Klein is ‘not concerned about people playing with Getting photos, teenagers using them for school projects, and folks putting them up on their personal blog’. However, despite this he has highlighted the fundamental problem with Pinterest: ‘We’re comfortable with people using our images to built traffic. The point in time when they have a business model, they have to have some sort of license.’ It is the very fact that Pinterest’s business model heavily encourages not only for people to upload their own images to the site, but to share others images that has become cause for concern. So far Pinterest is not making any money, however as Techcrunch noted, as soon as they do they will be liable to have to either pay or remove copyrighted images.

Pinterest’s approach to these concerns has been similar to sites such as YouTube. The company believes that it is protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and says that it will respond quickly to any copyright issues that might arise. Pinterest has been keen to listen to feedback from its users and has addressed any issues by updating its terms of service, details of which can be seen here. On top of this Pinterest has also made it easier for people to notify the site about any copyright or trade mark infringements.

This means if you object to an image you own being pinned on the site, it should not be too difficult to persuade the site to take it down, assuming you have proof that it is your copyright.

Shireen Smith 

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