Pintrested in Copyright?

Pinterest has been receiving a lot of buzz recently and I’ve had several people raise concerns about copyright infringement of their work on the site. After poring over countless articles, it’s clear that the majority of discussions revolve about various technicalities in copyright law and interpretations of fair use. Rather than adding to the noise, I thought it would be useful to clearly summarise the main issues people bring up and see if there are any real world problems for artists whose work is being shared on Pinterest.

Pinterest and Copyright

Potential Concerns

From what I’ve read there are two main concerns people have – the first is when someone pins something, say a photograph from your personal site, the image is copied from your server and saved onto Pintrest’s. In essence this means that if you choose to delete the image later on, it will still exist on Pinterest. Pinterest makes it very clear to users that they shouldn’t post content that they don’t have permission to put up, but in reality it is next to impossible to track and something that users don’t really care about (the service would be really lame without any copyrighted content).

The second issue has to do with a section in Pinterest’s Terms of Use that states:

By making available any Member Content through the Site, Application or Services, you hereby grant to Cold Brew Labs [owners of Pinterest] a worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free license, with the right to sublicense, to use, copy, adapt, modify, distribute, license, sell, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, stream, broadcast, access, view, and otherwise exploit such Member Content only on, through or by means of the Site, Application or Services.

I think many people are reading this as: Pinterest can do anything they want with content uploaded to their site (even if it was uploaded without the creator’s permission). I think this is a gross exaggeration, rather this is a blanket statement created by their lawyers to try to cover as many potential use scenarios. Let’s take a look at why I think neither of these issues should be major concerns for most artists (designers, photographers, etc.).

Should You Be Worried?

In terms of Pinterest storing your images on their server, yes it is technically copyright theft if you go by the literal definition. However, I don’t think as a content creator you should be very concerned. The purpose of Pinterest is to be a reference tool and that is how nearly all the users are using it, just look names people give their pin boards – Office Spaces or Watches for example. The purpose of copyright is to prevent others from profiting of your creations, the appeal of Pinterest is its ease of use and integration rather than individual bits of content. Saying they’re profiting off your content is like saying manufacturers of actual cork-boards are profiting when a photo editor pins up a mailer promo you sent them. Their product is the tool to collect content, not the content itself.

The next question that arises, given the broad Terms of Use, will Pinterest one day try to profit from an individual’s content? I don’t think there is any reason to be concerned that they will take an image of yours (that someone else added) and use it in advertising or anything else that generates income. First of all, the Terms of Use statement above hinges on the user claiming that they have the appropriate rights to upload the content in the first place. If Pinterest wants to use an image for anything other than their standard service they would most certainly check to see who owns the copyright and confirm that it was indeed uploaded with their permission. Not doing so would unleash the full fury of the Internet (and lawyers) within hours and I don’t believe that that is their intention. Having said that, I think Pinterest needs a formal response that clarifies their Terms of Use and outlines their intentions.

Conclusion

For nearly everyone, having your work posted to Pinterest would mean zero financial harm and you might even benefit from the added exposure (but don’t hold your breath). We live in an era where sharing content online is the standard and trying to fight it is wasting valuable time you could use to create new work or find clients. I think Pinterest is committed to doing right by content creators as demonstrated by having a link to their copyright page under the main About menu (I’ve never seen any other service be this open) and by offering a Opt-Out code you can add to your site to prevent others from pinning your content. You can also check to see if content from your site has been added to Pinterest by going to http://www.pinterest.com/source/WEBSITE/ (just replace WEBSITE with your URL without the www. ). At the end of the day, if you don’t want your content to be shared online, you probably shouldn’t be sharing it yourself in the first place.

Please let us know your take on the matter is in the comments.

Thank you to Amanda McNaughton for first bringing this to our attention!

3 thoughts on “Pintrested in Copyright?

  1. Nice summary, folks! I agree with the underlying message: sure, it’s technically illegal, but to be honest the ability to associate and represent yourself with work which is not yours is the underlying value proposition of Pinterest; without this the site would be null. Furthermore, With appropriate sourcing and referencing, it might actually be your best tool for getting your name out there!

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  2. This is something I’ve been chatting about with a lot of photographers recently, and it’s a great debate. Another interesting point of consideration: should you watermark, trying to ensure the breadcrumb trail comes back to you eventually… but at the cost of it being re-pinned/tumblr’d less often because the value of the asset is now compromised?

    Certain shooters that come to see me have work that fits that un-name-able pinterest/tumblr esthetic, and I’ve been really suggesting new graduates try to leverage the mediums.

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  3. Thanks for the great comments! I’m not one to try to leverage every new social media product that comes out but I also don’t think that people should be scared of them. It’s the same argument over and over again. I don’t think watermarks are a great solution but perhaps ones that aren’t on top of the image are a good way to go. Overall, most people shouldn’t worry much about stuff like this and get all antsy, but rather… go make some new work or something.

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