Pinterest, the hot new social sharing platform has a serious problem when it comes to the medium it’s designed to share. Despite careful wording on their about page that you agree not to post, upload, publish, submit, provide access to or transmit any content that infringes, misappropriates or violates a third party’s copyright… many (most) of the images on the site do just that. Several lawyers have weighed in on the controversy advising:
“…you should never pin an image on Pinterest for which you don’t own the copyright interest or for which you have not obtained a license from the copyright owner.”
— Jonathan Pink, a California-based intellectual property lawyer with Bryan Cave LLP via, WSJ.
Federal copyright laws give the author of any copyrighted work (which includes photographs and copyright attaches automatically as soon as the work is created) the sole and exclusive right to publish and reproduce such work. So, basically, when you see a photograph that you love, you do not have any right to publish or reproduce that photograph unless you took the photo or got consent from the photographer to use the photo.
…in my humble opinion, the only “safe” conclusion here, for me, is to either get off of Pinterest or pin only your own work or work you have a license to use.
— Kirsten Kowalski via, ddkportraits.com
If that’s not enough, Pinterest CEO and co-founder Ben Silbermann has completely deleted his boards: http://pinterest.com/ben/ even though he was named #2 in a list of 21 must follow Pinterest users on mashable.com.
On the flip side we have a very exciting way to share photography that some photographers like:
Photographers need to look beyond their own nose when it comes to social media web sites and copyright concerns. I’ve written about a fair number of photography rights grabs here on my blog and there have certainly been cases where there have been egregious violations of copyright that photographers should have been concerned about. By and large Pinterest has not proven to me they fit in that category. In addition social media web sites and the Internet as a whole are great tools to be exploited by photographers. Don’t be afraid of having your work seen. If you look beyond your own nose you’ll see these new tools and sites can be creatively applied to enhance your business versus kill it. Being creative isn’t just about taking photos its about creatively enabling your work to be found.
— Jim M. Goldstein via, Pinterest – Seeing beyond your own nose
I even have it on good authority that top creative directors are actively pinning and competing to have the most creative boards. My source tells me that it’s not impossible to imagine a future where your pin board is part of your resume.
So, I agree that there’s potential here to make a great service for sharing, driving traffic to, and bookmarking photographers. But they just haven’t figured out how to do it without running afoul of copyright laws.
Then there’s the separate matter of their heinous terms:
We may, in our sole discretion, permit Members to post, upload, publish, submit or transmit Member Content. By making available any Member Content through the Site, Application or Services, 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 only on, through or by means of the Site, Application or Services. Cold Brew Labs does not claim any ownership rights in any such Member Content and nothing in these Terms will be deemed to restrict any rights that you may have to use and exploit any such Member Content.
Facebook has similar terms:
For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.
And so does Twitter:
By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).
My prediction is that before they get sued into oblivion they will figure out a reasonable way to get it to work. But for those who think whiny photographers or outdated copyright laws are to blame, I’ll leave you with one last set of quotes to chew on:
For the first 1,500 years of the last two millennia, man was generally poor. Though there were empires and kingdoms, the gross world product (GWP) was largely flat. For generations, people did not experience any major change in their living standards.
And then something changed: the Western world introduced stronger property rights, including intellectual property rights, which allowed people to pursue new ideas, firm in the knowledge that success could bring financial rewards.
Today, all of the contemporary advanced economies have strong property rights, and data shows a strong correlation between property rights, productivity, living standards and innovation.