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Pinterest's Copyright Problem: Part I

Pinterest may have a copyright problem.

With a recent infusion of venture capital and an explosion of popularity among women, the social network is poised to break into the big leagues. But Pinterest’s selling point – users ‘pinning’ online images onto personal bulletin boards – could also be a major weakness.

The web is full of copyright infringement – some malicious, some accidental. Before you put your company’s name on a social media page, you should understand how that site is affected, and how they deal with the problem. Pinterest is a special case because the site’s whole premise revolves around re-using other people’s images. Many brands and individuals are happy for the exposure, as demonstrated by the profusion of ‘Pin It’ buttons across the web. But users can post any image on their computer, and not everyone wants their content re-published. Pinterest responds to infringement claims in accordance with the Digital Media Copyright Act.

As you evaluate Pinterest, take time to consider your own social media practices, as well as the way your vendors treat copyright issues. Ask suppliers to verify that they post only text and images they own, or are allowed to post under digital license. This is the only way to keep on the right side of the law. Ensure that your communities provide marketers and social media vendors with text, images or videos they own or are licensed to use. If photos include residents, they must give their permission to publish the images. This can be accomplished through signed releases, or, if taking photos of crowds, post signs informing residents that they may be photographed for publication, and they may opt by informing a staff member.

Stay tuned for more Pinterest copyright issues.

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This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Thank you for bringing this topic to light, Ellen. I've been reading up on this issue as well after seeing this article: http://blog.prnewswire.com/2012/02/24/unpinned. While I do enjoy Pinterest and certainly see the substantial marketing and traffic-driving benefits for businesses, I also think it is important to be aware of the pro's and any potential con's. While I think internet/tech law is having trouble keeping up, I do wonder if its only a matter of time before Pinterest may need to take precaution to avoid the fate of the Napster's and MegaUpload's of the tech world.

  Maggie Gormley
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Hi Brittany,

Thanks for responding. Yes, it will be interesting to see what happens, though the artist community doesn't have the financial muscle of the music industry, so I'm voting that they'll be able to survive.

I joined Pinterest and it is easy to see why people could get addicted to pinning and how the site has become a major driver of traffic to sites that have visual content, e.g. wedding and recipe sites. One can easily see how people would pin pictures of wish list apartment communities. In these cases, the pros are pretty clear, but as a web publisher, I can understand the frustration artist and photographers feel about losing control of their intellectual property.

Like social media in general, the cat's already out of the bag and people may use your images without your permission regardless of whether or not you are a Pinterest user yourself. Further, it will be hard for you to know it's happened. While image recognition software is available, it's not there (yet).

Here's a more relevant scenario to ponder (and an application where you have given your consent to post). Isn't it a matter of time before someone creates a pin board of apartment community photos that redirect to their site, not yours? How would you feel if they charged you for a lead generated from this? Syndication of your listing info (and photos) is already commonplace, but somehow this feels slightly different.


  Ellen Thompson
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Most Millennials, a generation I count myself as one of the elder members of, don't see much if any difference between the digital world and the physical world. Older generations draw a pretty clear line, but it's one we don't see, or see as fuzzy at best.

Right now, if you post (for example) Lindsey Lohan's photo to one of your Pinterest boards, some would see that as copyright infringement, because Lindsey Lohan owns her image and the photographer who took that picture can lay claim to it as well.

If I find that picture online and print it out and pin it to a tac board at my office, is that copyright infringement?

Millennials do not see any difference between those two actions.

So, no, I don't think Pinterest has a copyright problem, but I do think that copyright has a generational problem.


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