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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

Weekly WrapUp


Patent News What the Recent U.S. Patent Reform Law Means for Startups
On Sept. 8, Congress passed a patent reform bill named the “Leahy-Smith America Invents Act.” President Obama signed the act into law on Sept. 16. The most relevant aspect of the act for startups is the switch from a “first-to-invent” to a “first-to-file” system.

State Side

Law School for Visual Artists: NYC
Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts has initiated a course for contemporary visual artists that will make legalese comprehensible and manageable, while giving visual artists an introduction to legal issues necessary to protect themselves and their art projects. This 5-week lecture series will cover intellectual property (copyright and trademarks); contracts, consignment agreements, and licensing agreements; basic business models (non-profit and for-profit corporations, LLC’s); employment issues with studio and gallery assistants; artist websites; as well as issues in public art and commissioning agreements.

VAE: Raleigh, NC business of being an artist

Twice a year Visual Art Exchange presents its Business of Being an Artist (BOBAA) series of lectures to educate visual artists and provide them with the tools to become successful. For the first time in April 2011, VAE changed the BOBAA format to a one, all day series of lectures. The lectures are free for VAE members and college students. The lectures are $15 for non-members.

Upcoming BOBAA:
Next: October 2011, date is TBA

If you have any lectures or workshops that you’d like to post that are happening now thru the end of the year, post them here.

Here’s to Cultivating Your Creative Independence


A Solution to Share: Giving Credit

I have to share this poster from Design*Sponge.

Do you ever feel like a tyrant protecting your work? Here’s a solution designed to allay your authoritarian fears and still get the message across.

Poster by Pia, Erin and Yvette

I know I’ve been struggling with this very concern for a number of years and thanks to Grace, she managed to design an answer with humor. Let me just say that I love this solution!

Thank you ladies for illustrating this diagram of disclosure. It will allow the rest of us to pass it along without feeling like a despot.

Here’s to Cultivating Your Creative Independence

Court Rejects Google’s Book Settlement With Publishers

This is very good news for authors.

Do you remember the big uprising in 2008 about Google scanning books and uploading them for all to read -for free? This travesty was remedied today in a US District Court in New York today as Judge Chin just rejected Google’s book settlement with publishers.

In a court document, Judge Denny Chin wrote that the settlement “would permit this class action…to implement a forward-looking business arrangement that would grant Google significant rights to exploit entire books, without permission of the copyright owners.” Chin went on to claim that the agreement “would give Google a significant advantage over competitors, rewarding it for engaging in wholesale copying of copyrighted works without permission, while releasing claims well beyond those presented in the case.

Theft: Plain and simple.

Imagine publishing an article or book and then someone stealing it, claiming it as their own. Ignoring the law of copyright, as Google has, would have usurped all of the legal steps you took to protect your work. If this amendment had passed, it would have reversed the very foundation of copyright protection. To grant Google the permission to monopolize and score “significant rights to exploit entire books, without permission of the copyright owners” would be devastating to the working author. Millions of the books that were scanned by Google were still under copyright, and Google did not obtain copyright permission to scan the books.

“Google and the plaintiff publishers secretly negotiated for 29 months to produce a horizontal price fixing combination, effected and reinforced by a digital book distribution monopoly,” a lawyer for the Open Book Alliance said at the time.

This expands well beyond just the United States -many authors of other countries have sought protection under the US Copyright law. The Berne Convention (effective in 1989) guarantees same rights and privileges for their works as domestic authors. Even though Google asserts that their concern is only within the United States, the impact the ASA would have  foreign rights holders would be catastrophic.

Many loopholes were found in Google’s piracy proposal. The monopoly would be far-reaching and detrimental to authors.

“It is instead a complex and large-scale commercial enterprise in which Google — and Google alone — will obtain a license to sell millions of books for decades to come.” states Pamela Samuelson.

And without compensation to authors.

“In contrast, here class members would be giving up certain propertyrights in their creative works, and they would be deemed — by their silence — to have granted to Google a license to future use of their copyrighted works.” adds Chin.

Further, any ideals that Google had would

“Put the United States in violation of international intellectual property law and specifically inviolation of trade agreements among Canada, the United States,and other parties as those agreements relate to copyright” asserts a Canadian Association of Teachers.

I find it interesting that neither party is happy with the settlement -specially The Author’s Guild. One would think the Author’s Guild would continue their advocacy on behalf of authors little more than they did with this amendment. Their history mission statement maintains, “the nation’s leading advocate for writers’ interests in effective copyright protection,”  seemed to depreciate as foreign authors and academic authors among others contended that their interests are at odds with the interests of the representative plaintiffs and could be seen as potentially antagonistic.

This ruling should send a clear message to other large corporations who want to violate and trample on those of us who don’t make a killing on publishing. And to allow authors to decide when and if we want to license or voluntarily transfer the work.

The Settlement

Here’s to Cultivating Your Creative Independence

Tip: How to Embed a YouTube Video Link on Your Facebook Page

Want to share your art or artist video on your Facebook Fan page? It’s quick and painless -I promise! I’ve outlined a quick and dirty tutorial on how to embed a YouTube video link on your Facebook Fan page.


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