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How Pinterest Violates Your Copyright

Up until now, I was not going to get riled about copyright violation hype on Pinterest. However, things have changed. The prevasive problem of repinning work is now becoming an epidemic among those of us who like shiny objects. The fun and games being hosted on Pinterest are just that until someone gets hurt. The vague terms paired with a potentially life-threatening legal suit has me scratching my head about the platform upon which Pinterest is built.

Currently, there are a few articles written by attorneys floating about the Interwebs and they’re quite kludgy and long-winded. They are written by attorneys after all, not that there’s anything wrong with that. The last couple of years I thought of returning to law school to become an IP attorney -but I’m a poor test taker. However, after reading and re-reading Pinterest’s terms of use (TOU) and their copyright outline and comparing that against the Twitter discussions and these recent articles, I’m beginning to reconsider. I’m an entrepreneur with aspirational goals and I don’t want those ripped out from under me all because I pinned an artist’s gorgeous wall hanging.

As a communicator with a graphic design background, I like clear and concise means to impart information -I guess this is why I’m in love with quick reference cards (QRCs) and InfoGraphics- but I digress. Having said that, I just read a great Q&A interview by Kevin Lincoln on BusinessInsider that outlines why Pinterest Might the Copyright Theft Enabler.

I’m going to assume for a moment that you have heard of Pinterest and in some form, have engaged in the nectar of sweet frothy image collection. For me, two major things come to mind:

1. How can I legally pin something if I can’t repin someone else’s work or my own?

2. Why am I held accountable for copyright violation if I’m not repurposing a photograph for monetary gain?

The crux of the current event is that Pinterest is providing a double-standard vehicle that none of us can really wrap our heads around. An interactive collage that gets ‘liked’ and ‘re-pinned’ by followers. We’re in effect, creating our tastemaking machine. I get high pinning all of those gorgeous photographs of dreamy places and delicious food. Seems harmless enough, right? Much akin to tearing pages out of magazines and posting them on our fridge –except this fridge is public.

I know you’re busy, so let me cut to the chase. The difference between Google and Pinterest involves a word called: Transformative. Transformative is the creation of a thumbnail pulled from a Web site and stored on public servers. Transformative is good –we like this.

For instance, when you’re looking for an image of a cat on Google, you get a collage of all types of images/photos tagged cat. The images (on Google) are reformatted approximately to a size of 200 x 200 pixels wide and enlarge just a bit when you hover over them.

The pivotal point is that you must go to the Web site hosting the image to see the image in full. The transformative part is the link that takes you there. The link is the road to the Web site –we like this. When my images come up from my Web site, they should be linked to my site. Unless someone has stolen my image and placed it on their site for sale (notice I didn’t say ‘to revere and blog about’), it’s all good.

An example of transformative session (ethical & good)
Let’s say you like the cat with the lime helmet above and you want to learn more about it. You click the image and it takes you to the photographers site. You might find that the photographer has decided to sell that image in the form of a greeting card. Awesome! You buy the greeting card from the photographer and this is the way great commerce works. Everybody wins.

An example of non-transformative session (unethical & bad)
The opportunity of blindly re-pinning is infectious.  It’s so easy to just re-pin that beautifully whimsy cake below to your own collage board. No one is getting hurt -yet. The prevailing problem is when the cake is shown in its entirety (no cropping) and loses its link back to its owner. How is the baker of said cake supposed to get any traffic back to her site? She hasn’t even put a watermark on it to define it as her property.

Pinterest should be intercepting the unethical nature of the shown photo and telling the Pinner (could be me) that they’re in violation (like YouTube), and removing the photo until the Pinner can provide accurate records that they own the copyright. Pinterest should also write code that maintains those links because humans are lazy and don’t want to chase down links. It’s true. We all do it.

When we share a video from YouTube, it maintains the history of that link. I always know that I can return to the original source of that video and leave a comment or engage in services from that video owner. Pinterest is claiming that it is a search tool (like Google) driving traffic back to the source, but this is not the case. Grabbing the entire copyrighted work is unethical and in clear violation (much like Napster) and has decided to hold us accountable. Yes, hold us accountable.

As I said earlier, I’m an entrepreneur with aspirational goals. I want to be free to build my empire without the fear of being the moth to flame. Shame on you, Pinterest.

So, the big question is: Should I remove all of my 82 boards that I’ve invested so much time to cultivate?

My intent was to help share the work of other artists and creatives on this destination tool. As a champion and bull dog of copyright, I want to do the right thing. If I don’t, it’s shame on me.

I know that once search engines were built that it was imperative to place my watermark on each and every image I place on the interwebs. It’s not a matter of if my image gets lifted, but when. In the event my image gets placed on Pinterest (and it has), I can sleep at night knowing that my watermark includes my URL and my image will find its way home. It’s like my image has a name tag among the sea of other lifted images just having a party.  “Hi, my name is What’s yours? Oh, you don’t have a name? Are you an orphan?”

Yikes, I think I just started a conspiracy theory.

Until Pinterest can iron out its TOU and come to terms with its own vague copyright terms, these waters are going to get rough. I can’t wait to see how this all plays out.

I encourage you to read Kevin’s article on Pinterest. It’s quick and informative.

Tutorial: Learn how to watermark your images.

Here’s to Cultivating Your Creative Independence

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Lisa Stewart
CREATIVEGoddess, Design Entrepreneur, Guide for; Huge Pet Advocate; Lover of Wine, Food, Travelling, Tech & Laughing. Dreamy & Practical.

4 Responses to “How Pinterest Violates Your Copyright”

  1. Mitch Labuda says:

    “Pinterest should be intercepting the unethical nature of the shown photo and telling the Pinner (could be me) that they’re in violation (like YouTube), and removing the photo until the Pinner can provide accurate records that they own the copyright.”

    Pinteret unlike youtube does not have a Content Verification Program

    Which if we read the language we see that the copyright holders have agents that act for the copyright holders or the copyright holders themselves.

    Each copyright holder is required, on youtube to register the works to be scanned for.

    This would require each and every piece of content on Pinterest to be registered by the content creator.

    Under the current law, copyright, the owner of the copyright is responsible for the copyright.

    What Pinterest is doing per their Terms of Service is the greater concern. modifying content that Pinterest does not own,

  2. Good and thought provoking article. You have helped me to clear my head on the Pinterest dilemma. I’m going to make certain that the images I pin have my name and copyright and site(s) clearly labeled across them.

  3. Excellent article. I’m going to maintain my laid-back attitude about all of this for NOW, and hope you will update us as this story develops further.

  4. There are no morals in the internet world. It used to be I would find a couple of my images being used without my permission on personal websites. But now, major companies have no problem stealing your images, hoping not to get caught, and when they do, they make you go through major hoops to get them to remove them, and treat me like I was inconveniencing them.
    You are so right. The only way to stop theft of my work was to ad watermarks to all my images.

  5. […] is not the only one on the web who has this opinion. This article talks a little more plainly about why Pinterest may be violating copyright, and why pinning […]

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