What is Pinterest Doing about its Copyright Problem? - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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What is Pinterest Doing about its Copyright Problem?

What is Pinterest Doing about its Copyright Problem?

Pinterest, the increasingly popular website that allows its users to keep track of what inspires them on the Internet, has a mission: “to connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they find interesting. We think that a favorite book, toy, or recipe can reveal a common link between two people. With millions of new pins added every week, Pinterest is connecting people all over the world based on shared tastes and interests.”

The site has generated millions of new users last month alone, who are now presumably more productive and imaginative while browsing the Internet.  By joining the site, these users may install a “Pin It” button to their browsers, so that while they surf the Internet, they can “grab an image from any website and add it to one of [their] pinboards.”  Such a quick and easy tool, as well as the website’s availability as an app, has generated a devout following.

With such an open-minded mission statement, however, it is no wonder that the site has also become a potential breeding ground for copyright violations, as IPLJ technology editor Amy Dunayevich pointed out last month.  It was only a matter of time before a copyright lawyer expressed her concern about how the owners of the images so widely and freely shared by Pinterest users might react.  While Pinterest suggests that it is in these owners’ interest to allow a forum for promoting or marketing their work, the company is still responding to intellectual property concerns in an attempt to prevent a Napster-like ending.  In doing so, those in charge at Pinterest have endeavored to reconcile their ethos of openness with the realities of copyright law.

What has Pinterest been doing to address copyright concerns, and how will their actions affect the website’s popularity?  Generally speaking, Pinterest encourages its own users to be mindful that the images they’ve chosen to “pin” might not be theirs for the copying.  However, with its base rapidly growing each day, and with millions of users who are now armed with a “Pin It” button at their disposal just a click away, it is likely that more than a few copyrighted images will fall through the cracks.

Pinterest assures copyright owners that that when a user pins one of their images, the company “automatically grab[s] the source link” and therefore ensures that Pinterest “can credit the original creator.”  Additionally, acknowledging that such a link might not be enough “credit” for a copyright owner, Pinterest will walk the owner through a series of steps designed to flag the violation for both the company and the offending user.  A “Designated Copyright Agent” is ready to receive the complaint, which the owner can generate by clicking on the eye-catchingly large red button on the website’s “Copyright” page.  Pinterest will also provide an opt-out code to the owners of copyrighted works, which they can incorporate into their websites to keep Pinterest users at bay.  If someone tries to add a protected image to his or her pinboard, the user will see a message that the work is off limits to Pinterest. 

In determining the effect these precautions will have on the popularity of Pinterest, it is worth noting that many who joined the site were probably drawn to the ease with which it allows them to aggregate images.  These pin-happy users might find another way to collect ideas for their dream beach house if forced to stop and check on the level of protection over each image.  Furthermore, if these users frequently encounter the message Pinterest will provide as a result of the opt-out code (“This site doesn’t allow pinning to Pinterest. Please contact the owner with any questions. Thanks for visiting!”), their interest in “pinning” could quickly dwindle.

The copyright concerns that accompany image sharing sites like Pinterest (Flickr has also started using an opt-out code), have inspired articles such as the Wall Street Journal’s “How to Use Pinterest without Breaking the Law.”  The speculation over such intellectual property issues will only continue to grow as Pinterest attracts greater numbers.  It remains to be seen whether Pinterest will continue in its success, or if enough users will tire of the copyright debate and choose to “opt-out” themselves.

Molly Tranbaugh