Think Before You Pin: Rising Concern Over Pinterest’s Copyright Scruples

Are you on Pinterest?  What do you pin?  Probably mostly images of pretty things that you like from across the web, right?  I mean, that’s what Pinterest is for, isn’t it?  Well in theory, yes.  But what if I told you that when you pin something, Pinterest uploads a full-resolution copy of it to their own site and that you are solely responsible for all of the implications that go along with that?

You may think that photographers and other creators across the web would be glad to have you pin their stuff.  After all, it’s free promotion, right?  But the truth of the matter is that a lot of photographers are none too pleased with people taking their content and pinning it to Pinterest boards.  After speaking with some of these photographers, lawyer and photographer Kirsten Kowalski of DDK Portraits decided to look into Pinterest’s copyright terms and the laws surrounding them and what she found was so unsettling that it actually inspired her to delete her own Pinterest inspiration boards.

Have you read the Pinterest Terms Of Use?

Kowalski writes in a post aptly titled ‘Why I Tearfully Deleted My Pinterest Inspiration Boards,’ “What is the difference between posting another person’s photographs on your Pinterest page and posting another person’s photographs on your Facebook page?  If the latter is so clearly a violation of copyright why isn’t the former?  Being both a photographer who loves Pinterest (and admittedly had some really great ‘inspiration’ boards full of gorgeous work from other photographers) and a lawyer who, well, is a lawyer, I decided to do some research to figure this out.  And what I discovered concerned me.”

Kowalski found the Pinterest’s Terms Of Use itself requires that “you either are the sole and exclusive owner of all Member Content that you make available through the Site, Application and Services or you have all rights, licenses, consents and releases that are necessary to grant to Cold Brew Labs the rights in such Member Content as contemplated under these Terms.”  Further, they include (in all caps, nonetheless), “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.”  Check out Kowalski’s amazing post for a deeper analysis, but sufficed to say, it looks like those pin boards might not be as innocent as you thought.

Why do photographers care?

You may be asking yourself, “Why do these photographers even care?  If I like their work and I post it, it’s not only a pat on the back, but it’s also great promotion for them.”  But is it really great promotion? Ask yourself this—how many times have you seen something on Pinterest and re-pinned it automatically without even going back to the original site?  How many times have you seen other people pin stuff in which they didn’t even give credit to the creator?

Truthfully, some creators don’t care if you pin their stuff but others do and I think Kirsten Kowalski puts it best when she talks about pinning other people’s photographs without their express permission: “Bottom line is that it is not my decision to make.  Not legally and not ethically.”

Flickr unpins Pinterest

Last week, in response to copyright concern, Pinterest starting letting publishers protect their images from getting pinned.  By copying a piece of code at the head of any page of your site you can block people from pinning your images to Pinterest.  According to an awesome Forbes article by Anthony Wing Kosner, “Yahoo’s Flickr has applied [this code] universally to all copyrighted images on its site.”  Kosner has dubbed it “The Unpinning of Pinterest.”

But Kosner adds, “the do-not-pin code is hack if ever I saw one.  People who want to protect their copyright will have to insert a stack of codes for all of the infringing sites they don’t want to participate in?  And what about all the material that’s already on Pinterest?  Since the pinning process loses the original attribution in many cases, there’s no way that inserting a code today can trigger the way-back-machine to remove images already uploaded without their owners wishes (or awareness).”

I couldn’t agree more.  And what about all the content creators who don’t even know that Pinterest exists (it is still new, after all)?  Are they giving “permission” to let people pin their stuff simply through their ignorance of the site?  Doesn’t it make more sense for publishers that want people to be able to pin should add a “do-pin” code to their sites to jump on the Pinterest bandwagon?

What are your thoughts on this issue and does the ever growing controversy change the way you feel about the site?  Will you be following Kirsten Kowalski’s lead and deleting your pin boards?  We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Image by vilax via Shutterstock.

Megan O’Neill is the resident web video enthusiast here at Social Times.  Megan covers everything from the latest viral videos to online video news and tips, and has a passion for bizarre, original and revolutionary content and ideas.

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