I’m completely addicted to Pinterest. Once I’m on, I can’t get away (a friend of mine has compared it to crack!). Pin! Pin! Repin! Ooooh, check out that image! Repin it!!
But I’ve had to stay away lately. And I’ve taken down all of my boards.
Here’s the thing. Too many people believe that if an image is on the internet it must be “public domain.” The reality is, that unless an image was created before 1923 or unless you know for certain that it’s been dedicated to the public domain (e.g., there is language that says “I dedicate this image to the public domain”), it may still be protected by copyright laws. And the copyright law says that only the copyright owner has the right to make copies of the work.
That means when someone pins an image from the internet without getting permission from the copyright owner, that may be creating a copy that constitutes copyright infringement.
- You represent when you pin an image that you are the owner of that image OR you have the rights or licenses to the image AND that posting of the image will not infringe the copyright of another party;
- You agree not to post, upload, publish, submit, provide access to or transmit any image that violates a third party’s copyrights;
What does all that mean? It means that if you pin an image, you’d better have the right to make a copy of the image because if Pinterest gets sued by the copyright owner, YOU may be the one held liable AND you may have to pay all of Pinterest’s costs in dealing with any copyright issues that arise as the result of your pins. And it means that it is your responsibility to determine if an image you’re pinning is protected by copyright.
That really ought to make you think before you pin.
But.... you say, I should be OK. I go to the original source! I give the owner credit! I am sending traffic to their site by pinning their images!
All of that may be true and your intentions pure. But here’s the bottom line. Copyright laws give the copyright owner the right to make copies of their work. Not you. Not me. And that’s how it should be. But even if you feel you are helping the artist out, and even if pinning their image drives tons of traffic to their site: the choice to make a copy of their work by pinning it is just not your choice to make. It’s theirs.
Just because technology makes it easy to copy doesn’t make it right.
"Fair use! Fair use!" you cry. Typically "fair use" is a defense to copyright infringement when images are used for news commentary or educational purposes, neither of which is typically the case with images on Pinterest (I know, you are probably saying, "doesn't pinning an image make it news?" I doubt it). The best argument for fair use may lie in the case Kelly v. Arriba Soft, where the court found that a search engine that used thumbnails to index images was fair use. Unfortunately, there are big differences here. On Pinterest, images aren't thumbnails, they're full size. And, unlike the defendant in the Kelly case, Pinterest itself is not the one taking action to collect the images: its users are. (Think "Napster.") So while it's possible pinning images is a fair use for a user, it is only a possibility, and a remote one at that.
Some sites like Flickr have started using a “no pin” code to help their image owners prevent pinning without their permission. But my hope is that some artists will recognize the value of having their images pinned (more recognition, more website traffic) and will start to add “Pin it” buttons to their websites, giving Pinterest users an implicit license to pin the images.
Some may say that taking down my boards is an extreme measure. But to me, taking down my boards is the right thing to do — really, the only thing to do. Sure I had some images on my boards that were OK... many that were images of antique patterns from long before 1923. But instead of trying to sort them and figure out what was OK and what wasn’t, I’ve decided to start again. Clean break.
And it feels good.
To read more, check out these links for others thinking along the same lines as I am:
Oh... one more thing. I am a former intellectual property attorney. So yes, I have an idea of what I’m talking about. And no, none of the above constitutes legal advice.