Pinterest Legal Concerns: What is Lawful to Pin?
A serious problem seems to be emerging in regards to Pinterest and a violation of the legal rights of content creators and their intellectual property. The problem lies in the fact that you can use the work of others to build your own brand without attributing their work to them or compensating them. Just as with posting photographs on your blog without permission, using copyright images for promotional postcards, or stealing another's article and attaching your own name, new light has emerged that reveals pinning photographs as illegal.
For most folks, no harm is intended - they're just pinning their favorite stuff. But there are those with a malicious intent who are happy to take advantage of this legal loophole. The problem is, well, whose problem is it? And should you and your business avoid Pinterest altogether?
The Infatuation and The Truth
If you are a Pinterest lover like me, your first encounter with this social media outlet may have gone something like the following: when my eyes first beheld Pinterest, fireworks gleamed and a gallant, white stead strode in an endless flowering field. It was he, Prince Pinterest, a charming “little Webpage.” He held the keys to a vast kingdom of homemade, down-home material wants, desires, and dreams. I was seduced. I came to believe he was the very reason the Maker of Heaven and Earth designed Saturday nights and rainy days. Sweet Pinterest, to whom I have devoted all my “free” time, captured my heart and soul. It even seemed like a captivating social media site for growing a business.
" 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. "
This section completely burst my fairy-tale romance with Pinterest. As Kirsten Kowalski, photographer and lawyer and owner of DDK Photography, points out in her article "Why I Tearfully Deleted My Pinterest Inspiration Boards," I or any other Pinterest member are held responsible for images that we pin. If the image we pin has an exclusive copyright and the copyright holder has not given you explicit use of the image for pinning, then you are violating copyright laws.
So, this quote above is all well and good, but really how actionable is it? Apparently, quite actionable. Check out this section of the Pinterest TOU:
" Cold Brew Labs does not claim any ownership rights in any such Member Content and nothing in these Terms will be deemed to restrict any rights that you may have to use and exploit any such Member Content. "
Gonzalo E. Mon in his article "The Copyright Question: How to Protect Yourself on Pinterest" points out that anyone who uploads their images to Pinterest still has complete ownership of them. This means that if a photographer sues you for pinning their photos, he or she will probably win and Pinterest will get off Scott free.
Wait...would a photographer actually sue an "innocent" Pinterest member? Maybe. Kowalski brings up a previous case in which a photographer sues a search engine for using thumbnail images of the photos. The photographer didn't actually win; the Supreme Court ruled that low resolution thumbnails do not constitute a violation of fair use. However, whenever you or I pin images on Pinterest, they are always the full-sized version.
Avoiding a Lawsuit
It seems that Pinterest covers its fair use violations by proclaiming it is merely a “supplier” and not a “user.” Interesting. Often, when I “click” on something that is golden to me on this site, it leads me to the creator of that golden beauty. Then, when I am led, and, if I invest, that is gold for Pinterest.
However, if I am led but choose to just use the golden beauty for myself and not give kudos to the creator, that is a violation. Even if it is just given to a friend (peer-to-peer), it still encourages, enables, and facilitates infringement. If the creator of the golden beauty wants to fight for his rights, he must take the battle on alone.
So, does this mean that everyone should just drop Pinterest? Not necessarily. An individual or even a business can still use Pinterest. However, make sure that what you pin you...
- ... own the full copyright.
- ...have explicit, written permission from the copyright holder.
- ...have made sure it is under a Creative Commons License (meaning you can re-post if not for profit).
The problem here is that Pinterest defers the problem while enabling it. There's just not an equitable way to protect work. Once pinned and shared, the damage is done.
I'll use this analogy in closing:
Imagine you sell picture frames. You pin loads of pictures to your walls of various categories: waterfalls, animals, sports, etc. You attract customers to your well-organized and finely-selected pins who then turn around and buy your frames. But you used someone else's work to draw them to your brand, likely without fully researching whether or not the artist was okay with you using their work.
Is this right? Can Pinterest seriously push this off on the frame seller in the above analogy? One thing we do know for sure is that this will likely be challenged in court - and very soon. In the meantime, protect yourself and your business by pinning only those images that keep you in the clear legally.
Tara Hornor spends her days writing about social media marketing, advertising, branding, and web and graphic design for PrintPlace.com. Most of all, she enjoys advising freelancers and SMBs on how best to design and use PrintPlace.com business cards and brochures for maximum marketing impact. Be sure to follow @TaraHornor for more marketing and design advice.