Any society that needs disclaimers has too many lawyers.
— Erik Pepke
Disclaimer: Although I am a lawyer, I am not an intellectual property attorney, and nothing in this post is intended or should be construed as legal advice.
I’m sure you’ve all heard of Pinterest, a web-based social bulletin board of sorts. I joined last fall, but in the past couple of months, I’ve become a daily user, and I really enjoy it. You can find me here.
Just this past week, however, people are all abuzz over Pinterest’s terms of service, many of them pinning a giant pin that says, “Dear Pinterest, Please change your terms of service or I’m leaving.” The pin links to this site, which briefly parses the terms of service, basically just to raise awareness about what we’re all getting ourselves into.
I actually became aware of the “problem” last week, through this brief article in the ABA newsletter. Basically, the deal is this:
This is pretty standard stuff – they don’t want to be on the hook, given the insane amount of content that is posted on their site daily; there’s simply no way they could curate it all. And I don’t think that, in itself, this is that big a deal – Pinterest has a very straightforward procedure to handle copyright complaints. Pinterest will remove content at the request of the copyright’s owner, and, ideally, that will be the end of that, although Pinterest does reserve the right to prosecute you for any violations of the terms of service.
As I said, though, these terms are pretty standard. The problems I have with them are these:
1. Pinterest bills itself as a social media site – the point is “to discover new things and get inspiration from people who share your interests.” Part of the fun is seeing what your friends (and strangers) pin and then repinning those images to boards of your own, often starting a conversation when you see who else likes the things you do. If you can only pin things you own the copyright to or things that you have express permission from the copyright owner to pin, the social aspect absolutely disappears, except for “likes” and comments.
2. If Pinterest was serious about preventing copyright violations, and it says it “respects the intellectual property of others and expects its users to do the same,” it should have come up with a better model. I’m thinking of something along the lines of the way you can set your account on Facebook to require the site to seek permission from you when someone wants to tag a picture you’ve posted.
As it stands now, no one has any control over what’s posted. For example, say I pin my own picture, and my friend Karen asks me if she can repin it. Of course I’m going to say yes. But once it’s on her board, I’ve lost control of it – her friends can repin at will without ever getting my permission, even though my permission is non-transferable. The same is true for something I post from someone whom I’ve sought express permission to do so – I can’t transfer that permission to Karen, but there’s nothing to stop Karen and her friends and their friends from repinning it anyway.
To be honest, though, I am actually not too worried about all of this for one simple reason: Aside from situations in which people attempt to profit from images posted on Pinterest to which they do not own the copyright, I find it very hard to believe that the companies and people who do own the copyrights will object to their images being pinned on Pinterest. Because almost no one pins things they don’t like, it’s essentially free advertising for stuff people love, and if you’re a business, that’s always good. If you’re a blogger and you monetize your site, well, more page views equals more money for you. If you don’t monetize, it’s still great to get eyes on your blog; it increases community and you never know what will come of it. Maybe this is simplistic, I don’t know, but that’s the way I see it.
(Lawyers, chime in if I’ve misstated or misrepresented anything – I’d be happy to make corrections.)