Pinterest, Copyright & Image Ownership

It’s interesting some times how someone who doesn’t do what you do every day can ask the most basic of questions that leads you to an ah-ha or hmmmmmm moment.

I had been putting off writing about my take on the whole Pinterest and copyright thing. Originally, my take was that they would be covered by fair use. But, several recent articles by other bloggers who have taken the time to pick apart the Pinterest Terms of Use have me slightly rethinking that original opinion.

Pinterest, Critiques & Copyright

Keep in mind I’m just a gal who’s not had any formal legal training but one who researches copyright a great deal. Running a site that shares vintage images requires one to have more than a basic familiarity with copyright laws. I’ve read about US law, UK law and basic info (Wikipedia) on the rest of the world.

At face value, I saw Pinterest as being a site where people were “reviewing” or “critiquing” the pinned images. After all, isn’t the very act of pinning something tantamount to giving a positive review of the item being pinned? Image and content use is protected under Fair Use for critique purposes. So, it would seem, therefore that everyone, including pinners, are safe from being sued for copyright infringement.

I have written before about my frustrations with people (Pinterest Frustrations), who I believe now are doing it intentionally, pinning pictures without properly crediting the source. Folks are promoting their own articles about someone else’s work rather than pinning the original source. People are pinning Google images and images they have uploaded, perhaps in a sad attempt to avoid detection by the owner of that image or worse, somehow claim it as their own work.

Additionally, since Pinterest is functioning somewhat like a search engine and web host, I, in my non-legally trained mind, see them as being held to the copyright laws which govern search engines and web hosts. To my way of thinking, Pinterest would initially not be liable for the copyright infringements made by their members regardless of what their TOS states.

Pinterest & Copyright Violations

Where I think the TOS will not hold up in a court of law is those cases where a member reports copyright infringement and Pinterest does not act.

Just for grins, I reported a pin that displayed an image and linked to a blog post where the site owner had copied all of pages from a crochet book and posted them. The pinned image was a scanned page of that book. The entire blog was full of such flagrant copyright violations.

The blogger is 100% to blame for the initial copyright infringement. But, does the pinner, by promoting such obviously infringing material, now become liable as well? And by keeping the image on Pinterest AFTER I reported the copyright issue, is not Pinterest now also liable?

If the authors of those books were to report that blogger to their webhost via DMCA complaints, the webhost becomes liable. It would seem that the same would apply to Pinterest. However, since I’m not the author of the book, I’m not sure my reporting the infringement carries any legal repercussions for Pinterest.

How could anyone argue that reproducing the complete contents of a book is fair use? Google Books tried that. They had included numerous books on their site that were still under copyright protection. Authors complained, a lawsuit ensued and now Google is posting excerpts of modern works rather than the entire work.

Pinterest Can Sell Pinned Images?

The copyright situation has had artists and crafters upset for months. But, recent articles about some of the details in the Pinterest Terms of Service have people really up in arms.

Granted, I have always assumed the folks at Pinterest made their money by selling data – what’s hot, what’s not and demographic data that can be gleaned from what everyone pins. It would seem like a wealth of data that marketing companies would pay a great deal for. I can accept that. It’s been done for years by others. Use one of the free email services? Notice the ads often match the topic of your email?

But, according to the original Pinterest terms of service, they aren’t just selling data, they might be selling the images themselves. Damn. Was that in there when I signed up? It must have been but I sure as heck didn’t see it.

Are we really transferring the right of resale on our images simply by pinning them? And how exactly does that work with the images we pin that we don’t own?

Yes, the terms of service states that we can only pin images we own or have permission to pin. But, I doubt anyone thought the reason for that rule is so that Pinterest can sell our work.

Changes to Pinterest Terms of Service

Via a flurry of complaints and at least one very public campaign on the Pinterest boards, artists and crafters have been protesting against this section of the Terms of Service. Many feared they could be sued simply for pinning someone else’s copyright protected image. Many were deleting their pin boards, searching for ways to block people from pinning their images and worrying about dire legal ramifications.

This morning, I found a letter from Pinterest in my email. They have heard everyone’s complaints and have made significant changes to their Terms of Service. The line about ‘selling content’ is gone. They have announced that they have “released simpler tools for anyone to report alleged copyright or trademark infringements.” And, they have implied that there is a Pinterest API and Private Pinboards in the works.

Sounds good.

Still not so sure about their lack of action on the pin that I reported but hopefully things are moving in the right direction.

A few suggestions for further reading...

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