In 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.
If 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.
Pinterest 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.)
1. Pinterest doesn’t claim any ownership rights to anything that has been pinned.
2. 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.
3. 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.”
4. 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.
5. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to say something about the posts!