The visual pinboard site Pinterest has seen phenomenal growth over the last few months. But it's not all cupcakes and puppies: the site has serious issues with copyright infringement, and you've probably already broken the law with a pin.
Last month, a photographer that also happens to be a lawyer wrote a blog post detailing why she felt the need to delete her Pinterest accounts. As with most sharing sites today, the issue has to do with sharing in relation to copyrighted images and the lack of ability of most pinners to determine and honor copyright restrictions via the visual pinning process.
YOU ACKNOWLEDGE AND AGREE THAT, TO THE MAXIMUM EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW, THE ENTIRE RISK ARISING OUT OF YOUR ACCESS TO AND USE OF THE SITE, APPLICATION, SERVICES AND SITE CONTENT REMAINS WITH YOU.
You agree to defend, indemnify, and hold Cold Brew Labs, its officers, directors, employees and agents, harmless from and against any claims, liabilities, damages, losses, and expenses, including, without limitation, reasonable legal and accounting fees, arising out of or in any way connected with (i) your access to or use of the Site, Application, Services or Site Content, (ii) your Member Content, or (iii) your violation of these Terms.
In other words, if a photographer sues you for pinning or repinning her copyrighted work--even if you were unaware of the work's origin--you have to pay for your lawyer, the photographer's lawyer, and Pinterest's lawyer.
Yes, really. That's what you agreed to when you joined the site.
For those who are wondering, a Social Times post covers a brief run-down of the Fair Use Act and how it doesn't apply to most of what you'd see on Pinterest:
The Fair Use Act specifies that copyrighted works may be reproduced depending on:
- The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
- The nature of the copyrighted work
- The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
- The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work
Since Pinterest users pin and repin the entire photo, #3 would be violated. However, the post indicates that the real test of legality will apply to rules #1 and 4. For example, if Pinterest derives ad revenue from the overall site, could photographers sue using the fourth provision? The legality becomes very sticky.
And what about brands that are using Pinterest to promote their organization, drive traffic and even promote sales? If they host pinboards of photos other than those taken by their own photographers, and those boards drive traffic to the organizations' site and generates sales, there may be a lawsuit in the offing.
The internet is exploding with advice for photographers on techniques for protecting their images from being pinned and therefore propagated over Pinterest without credit. The easiest technique is a bit of code provided by Pinterest itself:
<meta name=”pinterest” content=”nopin” />
When you add the code to the top of your webpage and a person tries to pin an image from your website they’ll receive a message of: “”This site doesn’t allow pinning to Pinterest. Please contact the owner with any questions. Thanks for visiting!”
However, the issue with this and watermarking and disabling the ability to right-click and download is that it puts all the burden of protecting copyright on the photographer, and many photographers have hundreds or thousands of images available online. A watermark isn't enough to protect copyright anymore, and is it fair to expect photographers to bear all the responsibility of honoring copyright?
Will Pinterest go the way of Napster? If this issue isn't addressed, that may well be the future of Pinterest. I suspect what we will see next will be the first big court case testing Pinterest and the Fair Use Act, and that case will determine whether easy pinning and repinning is worth constant copyright violation or whether Pinterest will find a way to help its users abide by copyright while still sharing prolifically.