By Susan Kemp
For college students in the arts, it’s almost expected you’re linked into social media. Employers want to see your online portfolio, an active Twitter and maybe even a resume on LinkedIn. Social media is less commonly disregarded these days as a “waste of time,” but rather interpreted as a sign that a young professional is engaged in today’s increasingly tech-friendly landscape.
Mark Zuckerberg seems to agree that it pays to be an early adopter of new social media ventures. The CEO of Facebook secured a $1 billion acquisition of the up-and-coming photo sharing company, Instagram, earlier this week.
But despite early success, one social media site I think artists should be wary about is Pinterest. Launched in 2010, Pinterest allows users to “pin” their favorite images from around the Web into categories. For instance, some of my friends have bulletin boards for their favorite actors or favorite vacation spots. The website now boasts over 100 million monthly visits.
The issue here — and I know it’s never popular to hear — is that real people take the photos you stumble upon on the Internet. But ethics aside, there’s an even grayer area for users: can you get into legal trouble for pinning photos on Pinterest?
The short answer is yes.
If it sounds a little overdramatic, consider that just last month, Pinterest changed their terms of service to better align with the Millennium Copyright Act. In a curious about-face, the company changed from a policy of anti-self promotion to encouraging almost only self-promotion.
Why? Because a large percentage of users were redistributing content they did not own and early critics predicted that could be a problem for the fledgling company in the future.
The company says they’re working on improving copyright issues. And they do attempt to credit the source of photos. But the issue is a world where “finding an image” is almost synonymous with “Google image search,” and these citations are seldom accurate and frankly, lazy. Most images are credited to generic search engine finds, websites like tumblr.com, flickr.com and even google.com. I doubt the image you’re posting is the personal artwork of Larry Page, the CEO of Google.
But the bottom line is: Pinterest is still not doing enough.
Well, that’s not entirely true. They’re doing enough to protect their own behinds.
From their new terms of service, the company says,
You agree to defend, indemnify, and hold Cold Brew Labs, its officers, directors, employees and agents, harmless from and against any claims, liabilities, damages, losses, and expenses, including, without limitation, reasonable legal and accounting fees, arising out of or in any way connected with (i) your access to or use of the Site, Application, Services or Site Content, (ii) your Member Content, or (iii) your violation of these Terms.
What does this mean? If you, the user, do get sued by a copyright holder, you must pay for your own legal representation, and surprise: you get to pay for Pinterest’s legal defense as well. Is it still worth pinning a few of your favorite dresses from New York Fashion Week?
And speaking of Fashion Week, at an art school, I’d really like to believe that a number of us see a more nuanced issue here: the reproduction of artwork without permission. Sure, when we say “image,” we can choose to be abstract. But let’s get concrete: what about our own storyboard frames, ready-to-wear walking down the runway, or illustrations making it onto “inspiration boards” of someone we’ve never met? Does that change anything?
I love the concept of an “inspiration board,” just not on the Internet. Print out photos. Cut up magazines. But as soon as you pin something on the Internet, you’re not just saving it for yourself, but you’re redistributing it for the entire world. And that makes you liable.
It’d be a slightly less weighty blow if Pinterest and its users were accurately attributing material, but think about how quickly ownership is lost. I really don’t need to create another analogy here because the leap is already easy to make. And that’s my point.
There’s a reason why in a pair of 2010 lawsuits, courts ruled in favor of Youtube, but againstformer file-sharing application Limewire. For YouTube, the court ruled, there are a number of practical uses that don’t involve copyright infringement; with Limewire, it’s harder to see these legal uses. And I think that’s the same point we’re at with Pinterest — it’s a bit of a challenge to find a user not engaging in some degree of copyright infringement.
And unfortunately for users, with the current terms of service, it’s not Pinterest’s problem.Contact Susan Kemp.