Pinterest and Copyright Explained in Plain Talk – Part 2: Why Pinterest needs perpetual rights to display your work

by Angelique on March 11, 2012

original pinterest icon by angelique of afmarcom pinterest icon pinned with a pinIn part one of this series, we discussed the difference between “pinning” and “uploading”: A true “pin” is actually a link back to a website. Pinterest users can also upload photos from their own hard drives to Pinterest. (If you haven’t read part one, click here and it will open in a new window.)

Today, in part two of this series, we’ll talk about the reasons Pinterest is legally allowed to display the images you pin and upload, and why it needs you to give it the perpetual right to do so.

old fashioned scales of justiceIf an image is legally displayed publicly on a website, Pinterest claims that fair use practices allow it maintain a link from Pinterest to that image, and to show that image on Pinterest. I say “claims” because there isn’t a law that specifically says this is okay; Pinterest is just extrapolating based on court decisions about Google search images. However, Google shows just a thumbnail of a linked image, while Pinterest shows the entire image, which can be downloaded at full size directly through Pinterest, so the practices are not exactly the same.

Nevertheless, for right now, Pinterest isn’t violating anyone’s copyright by allowing its users to create a links from Pinterest to websites, and allowing Pinterest users to see the graphical image to which the link leads.

Original graphic by Angelique of AFMarCom Man working at computer uploading an image to PinterestPinterest also allows users to upload images from their computers to Pinterest. When you upload to Pinterest, it doesn’t check to see if you actually created the image, or if you purchased the image, or if the artist or photographer gave you permission to upload the image, or if the person whose photograph you’re uploading has given you permission to post it. Pinterest doesn’t check, because when you registered with Pinterest, you agreed to assume full responsibility for upholding the copyright laws.

That sounds reasonable, right? To hold users accountable for the things they upload from their own hard drives? Well, the authors are many popular anti-Pinterest posts and status updates sound positively outraged about it!

Have you seen this circulating around the Internet? It’s a short section from Pinterest’s Terms of Service document. You can tell by the way I’ve punctuated this excerpt that there’s more before and after this snippet, but I usually see this standing alone, as if this is all there is to the Pinterest TOS. People have been misinterpreting this, writing very incorrect things about it, and scaring the bejeezus out of their friends:

“….you hereby grant to Cold Brew Labs 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….”

 

Before you freak out, read through my plain-talk explanation of the Pinterest Terms of Service below. (You can read the entire Pinterest TOS here.)

 

Big Red Pinterest Circle thumbnail original icon by Angelique of AFMarCom1. Pinterest doesn’t claim any ownership rights to anything that has been pinned.

 

Big Red Pinterest Circle thumbnail original icon by Angelique of AFMarCom2. The Pinterest Terms of Service doesn’t restrict the rights you have to use the material you pin. If you have the right to pin an image, then nothing you do on Pinterest will prevent you from using the image in any other way, anywhere else.

 

Big Red Pinterest Circle thumbnail original icon by Angelique of AFMarCom3. Pinterest couldn’t possibly display anything at all if Pinterest users didn’t give Pinterest unending permission to do so. Think about the way Pinterest works: You pin something, and then everyone else is free to repin it, and all of those images are visible to anyone on the Internet. You can’t just give Pinterest permission to display your image one time; Pinterest has to display that image in perpetuity, and Pinterest has to be able to show that image as many times as needed.

UPDATE! 2012 03 23 Pinterest just updated their Terms of Service. In the explanation for the changes in their TOS, which you can read here, they write: “Our original Terms stated that by posting content to Pinterest you grant Pinterest the right for us to sell your content. Selling content was never our intention and we removed this from our updated Terms.”

 

Big Red Pinterest Circle thumbnail original icon by Angelique of AFMarCom4. Pinterest doesn’t just need your permission to display the images you upload to Pinterest; they also need permission to profit from them. Pinterest is a commercial entity. In other words, they make money. Like all major social networks, Pinterest isn’t really “free”; Pinterest users “pay” with their eyeballs and clicks, which Pinterest resells to advertisers for money.

 

Big Red Pinterest Circle thumbnail original icon by Angelique of AFMarCom5. If you pin or repin something that shouldn’t have been shared in the first place, the owner of the copyright can’t go after Pinterest. Well, they can; whether or not they’ll be successful is debatable. But they most definitely can go after Pinterest users, which is why you need to use some common sense when you pin and repin.

 

Okay, so now that we know that Pinterest can’t get in trouble for reproducing other people’s images, and we know why their terms of service are necessary for Pinterest to exist, we still have to address the following topic: how YOU need to behave on Pinterest, especially when it comes to respecting copyright. And that’s what we’ll be discussing next week!

UPDATE! Part three of this series is out! Click here to read it.

Due to heavy spam, I’ve had to close comments on this series for a while. No, it’s not from people who didn’t like the articles! Just spammers attracted by the word “Pinterest.” I think I’ll be able to open it back up again in a month or so. Email me at info@afmarcom.com if you want to say something about the posts!

 

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Neill Watson March 12, 2012 at 1:19 pm

That’s one viewpoint. You might like to read an alternative interpretations here:

http://www.knoed.com/thewindowseat/pinterest-change-your-terms-or-were-leaving/

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Angelique March 12, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Neill — The scenario described in the article you linked is an example of the “freaking out” I’m talking about. That author is confusing “pinning” with “uploading.” (I discuss this in part one of the series.)

In the author’s example, someone “pins” a cat photo without permission, Pinterest “sells” the photo to a company, and everyone gets in trouble. This is a scenario that would never happen.

First, Pinterest is not in the business of graphic supply. No one can buy images from Pinterest. The phrase “sell” in the TOS covers their rears when they are advertising themselves, or if they ever start up a paid service.

Second, you will not get into trouble for “pinning” an item directly from a website to Pinterest, because you are actually creating a link and Pinterest is showing a visual link. You WILL get into trouble if you UPLOAD an image to which you have no permission. If you download a photo of a cat that you have no right to possess and UPLOAD it to Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook, Flickr or your own website, you could be in trouble. The Pinterest TOS makes you promise not to do that.

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Demon Lee March 12, 2012 at 5:27 pm

What you cannot see Angeliue is that once you have pinned someone elses work to Pininterest, there is no way to track what happens and how many people do download what has been ‘pinned’.

My work is my intellectual copyright, the TOS on my website make it quite clear that the content cannot be copied in whole or in part without my express written consent and the ‘defence’ claiming, “well, it is only a link to my site” will be no defence in court once my solictors get hold of it and rip it to shreds as it creates Orphan Works by stripping out the Metadata, something that should be made ILLEGAL.

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Angelique March 13, 2012 at 8:10 pm

 And perhaps it will be illegal in the future, but for now, I can’t report that something is illegal when it isn’t.

You’ll probably be interested in the third and fourth installments of this series. Next week I discuss the way people should behave on Pinterest in order to respect other people’s copyrights, and in the 4th installment, I will discuss ways artists can identify and protect their images.

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Demon Lee March 12, 2012 at 5:23 pm

[Quote]
If you pin or repin something that shouldn’t have been shared in the first place, the owner of the copyright can’t go after Pinterest. Well, they can; whether or not they’ll be successful is debatable. But they most definitely can go after Pinterest users, which is why you need to use some common sense when you pin and repin
[End Quote]

Ooops, so they have no chance of getting a conviction then against Kim Dotcom and Megupload?

Putting in your TOS that the user is liable for any copyright infringement is a load of b*ll*cks if you forgive my grammar, it is a get out clause used by people who know they are committing an offence of copyright theft and choose to ignore it, it’s been tried before and failed.

Interestingly, you missed out commenting on the fact the have the right to SELL anything pinned on Pininterest, that makes it copyight theft under U.S Law, UK Law and the Berne Convention that I know of.

Displaying something in a public place does not make it FREE for people to use as they please, if it did, then the Police would never get a conviction against those stealing art works from Public Galleries – there is no difference, it is still theft as I pointed out in a meeting at the House of Commons in London.

Anyone who thinks that another persons intellectual copyright is theirs to steal, needs an education in the Law and Blogs like this condoning such actions are guilty by association of perpetuating that myth and I would love to see in Law that encouraging others to break the law in blogs etc, is a crime in itself.

There is NO difference in me stealing $10 from your purse and you taking content or images from my website and using them for your own financial gain.

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Angelique March 23, 2012 at 5:22 pm

 As I have been saying, Pinterest is not in the business of peddling individual graphics. Today, March 23, 2012, they changed the language of their Terms of Service to make this clear. In the explanation for the new TOS, they write: “Our original Terms stated that by posting content to Pinterest you grant Pinterest the right for us to sell your content. Selling content was never our intention and we removed this from our updated Terms.”

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Al Hunter March 18, 2012 at 12:38 pm

As I commented after Part 1 of this post, Pinterest uploads photos to their servers and changes the name of the photo file. The photo that is on their server is displayed on their site and is used as a link back to the originating web page, not the photo. They are copying photos. If I copy a photo from the Pinterest website, I am copying their renamed photo with no link back to the original creator.

I am happy when someone links to my webpages. I am not happy when someone copies my original work verbatim, either text or photos, without my permission, and then allows, or encourages, others to use that content freely. 

In addition, if the photo displayed on Pinterest was truly linked back to the original image, then every time the image is displayed on Pinterest the original owner would be paying for that bandwidth. When this has happened to me in the past I’ve renamed my original photo and then allowed the link to point to an image that displays text such as ‘This Photo Is Being Used Without Permission’.

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Alison Gilbert March 31, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Dear Angelique,
I want to thank you for the information that your second blog post on Pinterest provided. It was so helpful that I documented it as ‘Special Resource’ material on a post I published called,http://digitalbrandmarketing.c
I discuss some of the current concerns about copyright law infringement and sponsorship of popular pinners as well as those earning straight income from this platform. Your post helped to clarify for me what was a very confusing, legal jargon heavy Pinterest policy.I welcome you feedback, comments, discussion and suggestions.
Sincerely yours,Alison Gilbert . . . in hot pursuit of blogging self-pinterest!

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