Pinterest Loves Photographers

Pinterest is an invite only virtual pin board that was started back in March 2010, and their recent popularity spike has put more users, eyes, and scrutiny on the service. Some photographers that took interest uncovered some valid, but addressable, concerns about the service possibly infringing on photo copyrights. Pinterest provides an excellent inspiration board service for its users that may provoke some legal questions by photographers, but is also a good way for photographers to expose their work to a broader audience.

Pinterest has created a new type of social network that connects its users together as pinners, and at the same time is focused on being a resource, and repository for each user’s own interests. Andy Paras spoke with several local pinners in Charleston, SC, and found they were each using it for different purposes. Genna Shelnutt had created a board of pins she found motivating for her to hit the gym, and she also uses Pinterest in the grocery, to refer back to recipes she had seen and wanted to try. Jeny Tyler used Pinterest to find and catalog design inspirations for her new nursery. Cheryl Smithem is even consulting with clients on how to use Pinterest to increase brand awareness (Paras). Other services may have handled each one of these cases, but nothing before Pinterest has really put it all together in a way that was this easy or engaging. Some users were concerned, after connecting to Pinterest with their Facebook or Twitter account, that Pinterest had crossed a privacy line by automatically following some of their friends who are already Pinterest users. This may be an annoyance, but Pinterest made unfollowing other users easy, and they now allow new users to sign up without connecting to Facebook or Twitter, which allows users to stay selectively secluded. Venture Beat writer Sean Ludwig reported that Pinterest traffic has “surged 50 percent between February and January of [2012],” making it now the third largest social network (Ludwig). Pinterest’s explosive growth and happy users are a testament to what a great service it provides. This speedy growth hasn’t kept them from addressing any issues and concerns as they evolve.

The biggest issue Pinterest currently has and will continue to face is that of copyright. Photographers correctly assert that copyright of their pictures is important and inherent when they are first taken, but are wrong in saying that Pinterest and their users are violating copyright by pinning the photographers’ images. Pinterest is protected by the section 512(c) amendment to Title 17 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, that is a safe harbor provision, which protects Pinterest from any copyright violations of their users so long as they do not obtain direct financial benefit from these images, do not have direct knowledge of infringing material, and act on official take-down notices from copyright owners “expeditiously” (17 USC § 512). Photographers have suggested that Pinterest operates in a fashion similar to the music sharing service Napster, which previously provided a very fluid and easy way for any lay-person to download music without compensating the copyright holder. When Napster attempted to use the safe harbor provision, they were ultimately overruled due to the fact that their financial success was tied to the distribution of illegal material. Each time a song was shared on Napster the artist lost revenue, because the person who downloaded it without paying would have ordinarily been a consumer of their product. On the other hand, with Pinterest, the users who are viewing and sharing these images were not consumers of the photographer to begin with, so the photographer is not losing revenue by his or her images being seen. This lack of impact on the value or loss of revenue for the photographer supports the user’s re-use of photographs as falling under fair use per Title 17 section 107(4), which states that when “determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include . . . the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work” (17 USC § 107). Furthermore, section 107(1) states another consideration for fair use is the “purpose and character,” which, in the case of the vast majority of Pinterest users, is in the spirit of sharing things they love (17 USC § 107). Both the safe harbor provision section 512 and fair use section 107 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act protect Pinterest and their pinners from copyright litigation.

Pinterest undoubtedly creates a unique environment and untapped marketing opportunity for photographers. While Facebook, Twitter and Google+ allowed their users to post photos, even copyright infringing ones, the purpose has always been sharing with others. In Pinterest the act of creating and filling boards with inspiration or collections is more about the self. Pinning a beautiful landscape to a board full of vacation ideas is about documenting thoughts and inspiration for the pinner to later reference. Some photographers have commented that the act someone takes of pinning their work to Pinterest is taking control out of their hands. They fear that with or without their consent their content, if it interests a pinner, will be posted to Pinterest. Though this is probably true, there is a way for photographers to take control of the situation and benefit from Pinterest. By embracing the service and being the first to pin his or her work, a photographer can become the initial source and have all repins be directed back to themselves and to their web sites. Photographers need to make sure they are uploading photos of a quality they are comfortable with having shared online, because data on the Internet can persist forever. By becoming comfortable with the process of sharing images online and on Pinterest, a photographer can relax about any fears for someone claiming ownership of their work. Ownership of the pinned images and the right to re-sell pins is another concern that has been raised. According to the International Business Times, the Pinterest terms of service agreement expresses that all users who pin images consent that they have permission or right to allow Pinterest to sell those images. This was a big red flag that caused the Boston Business Journal to delete their Pinterest board full of architectural designs (“Pinterest Copyright”). The wording of the terms of service was a valid cause for concern, and the liability involved in accepting those terms was enormous. Pinterest reacted quickly though, announcing an updated Terms of Service on March 23, 2012 that would go into effect April 6,2012. They cleared up the re-selling of content saying, “Selling content was never our intention and we removed this from our updated Terms” (Silbermann). This should put any photographers’ worries at ease that thought Pinterest was going to be profiting directly from their work.

Users of Pinterest are enamored with the service, and Pinterest has been quick to address all concerns. Pinners will continue to use their pin boards for all manner of purpose, and can do so without fear of copyright or terms of service implications. Photographers who were wary of the old terms of service can be assured that their concerns are being addressed. Those savvy photographers, who are interested in exposing his or her work to a new, and previously untapped market, can be the first movers and shakers, establishing the authenticity of their work on Pinterest. Pinterest will continue listening and adjusting their terms of service as new concerns arise, and as they expand into uncharted territory, we can all be right there, confidently pinning along the way.

Works Cited

“17 USC § 107 – Limitations on Exclusive Rights: Fair Use.” Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School, 12 Mar. 2012. Web. 14 Apr. 2012.

“17 USC § 512 – Limitations on Liability Relating to Material Online.” Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School, 12 Mar. 2012. Web. 14 Apr. 2012.

“Pinterest Copyright, TOS: To Agree or Not To Agree.” International Business Times, 2 Feb. 2012: Regional Business News. Web. 14 Apr. 2012.

Ludwig, Sean. “Pinterest now the third most popular social network after Facebook & Twitter.” VentureBeat. 5 Apr. 2012. Web. 14 Apr. 2012.

Paras, Andy. “Pinterest: Pinning hopes and dreams.” Post and Courier, The (Charleston, SC) 13 Feb. 2012: Newspaper Source. Web. 14 Apr. 2012.

Silbermann, Ben. “Updated Pinterest Terms.” Oh, How Pinteresting: Pinterest, 23 Mar. 2012. Web. 14 Apr. 2012.