|Hilary JM Topper|
Within the last couple of weeks, there has been a lot of controversy over at Pinterest. First, the social networking site, which acts as an online bulletin board with stuff you love to “pin,” changed its look. The site, which at first looked as cluttered as my offline bulletin board, now has a clean, striking look. Larger images on top are followed by smaller images on the bottom, and each bulletin board looks a little like a Google+ Hangout.
Secondly, a wedding photographer/lawyer, Kirsten Kowalski, posted her original photographs on her Pinterest page. Soon thereafter, she took them down because she claimed that pinning her artwork on Pinterest is copyright infringement. (Personally, I think the whole thing was a publicity stunt to get people to look at her Web site, which I, of course, did right after the incident.)
Pinterest does have a long-winded copyright policy right on its site, which states that it is not responsible for individuals infringing on copyrights or other intellectual property rights of others. They have good reason to do so—they are doing this to avoid getting sued.
But what about the individuals who want to pin a piece of artwork or a book cover on their boards? Are they really violating copyrights?
Copyright law creates an exception for the fair use of copyrighted materials. It is not a violation of someone’s copyright if it is being used in a manner covered by the fair use doctrine. For example, if Kowalski kept her photographs on Pinterest and you decided to repin her work, all you would probably need to do is make a comment as part of the pinning for it to become part of Fair Use. Section 107 of U.S. Code states that “reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship and research.”
Although Fair Use is never actually defined, there are several tests to determine whether a use is fair.
Is the use for commercial or nonprofit purpose?
What is the nature of the work being used? (Are you posting a full film, photo, TV show, song, etc.?)
Are you using the whole work or just a part of it?
How does the use affect the marketplace? (If you are posting a book cover, you are not giving away the work.)
The easiest way to avoid copyright issues is to use your own photo. If you don’t own the photo, make sure you give credit to the photographer. If you have a small business, be careful of what you pin.
To protect yourself from copyright infringement on Pinterest, or any other social networking site for that matter, make sure that you comment on the work you put up. When Pinterest asks you to “Describe on your pin…,” that means to comment on your pin, which should help to protect you via the Fair Use act.
You will notice that on all of my pins, I say something about the images—why I like the pin and why it’s important to me. All of these things combined will help avoid copyright infringement.
Lastly, in this digital age, does any of this really matter? If the copyright holder is posting their materials anywhere on the Web, aren’t they giving up the right to claim that someone else violated their copyright?
The question is, if a photographer, artist, jewelry designer or any other creative person decides to launch a Pinterest page, isn’t he/she doing this to promote his/her products? And if so, isn’t it a good thing for others to repin the work to spread awareness? I think so, don’t you?
Hilary JM Topper, MPA, is the president and CEO of HJMT Public Relations Inc., a public relations, social media, event planning and graphic design firm celebrating its 20th anniversary. She is the author of Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Social Media, but were afraid to ask, and is the president and founder of the Social Media Club of Long Island.