Using Pinterest and the fair use provisions of US copyright law


Screenshot of my Pinterest board, © 2012 by Wren M. Allen

My burgeoning Pinterest pinboard collection.

Part 2 in a series about artists using Pinterest and respecting other people’s copyrights. Part 1 introduces some of my concerns about using Pinterest.

Please read this Prominent Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, nor have I ever been a lawyer. I haven’t even played one on tv. I am an artist and designer who seeks to respect the copyrights of other people’s work and who requests that other people respect my own copyrights. The essay below is simply my thoughts and ruminations about the issues involved in using intellectual property in the age of digital and social media.

It seems to me that the big question about using Pinterest is whether pinning and re-pinning image files to Pinterest constitutes “fair use” for the individual member. Section 107 of US Copyright Law:

§ 107 · Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use40

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;

(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

Here are some examples of fair use:

  • A teenager wallpapers her room with popstar photos clipped from Tiger Beat magazine.
  • A homeowner keeps a binder notebook full of magazine spreads to show her contractor when she starts that kitchen renovation.
  • An illustrator buys a copy of a dance magazine for anatomical reference of the arabesque pose when creating a poster for a dance company.
  • A political cartoonist draws a satirical caricature of a famous politician to look like the trademarked clown figurehead of a fast food company.

As you can see, these are all examples of analog use of analog images. Pinterest users use their pinboards in similar ways, but is the translation to digital exactly the same? One of the important requirements for a use to be “fair use” is that the usage must not damage the ability of the original creator to sell that image.

Here are some examples of how a well-intentioned Pinterest user could pin an image and damage an artist’s ability to sell their work:

  • A Pinterest user uploads a landscape painting by a favorite artist to Pinterest. Somone else re-pins it, downloads it to their computer and sells it as a greeting card on a print-on-demand commerce site. The original artist gets no credit or royalites from the card.
  • There are bloggers who are downloading images and copy from other websites, uploading these to their own blogs, then pinning that material to Pinterest, claiming ownership by linking to their own website. Unsuspecting Pinterest users re-pin the image and drive traffic to the stealing blogger. The original creator gets no credit or payment.

I sure don’t want to do anything like that! And I’m sure you don’t want to either.

Next: Some ideas for respectful ways to use other’s images on Pinterest.

Some interesting resources and discussions:

How can artists use Pinterest and still respect the copyrights of others?

Photo by Wren M. Allen of messy magazine photos and binders

It's embarrassing how many pretty pictures I've cut out of magazines over the years! But does Pinterest offer a digital solution to enjoying images online?

Part 1 in a series

Please read this Prominent Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, nor have I ever been a lawyer. I haven’t even played one on tv. I am an artist and designer who seeks to respect the copyrights of other people’s work and who requests that other people respect my own copyrights. The essay below is simply my thoughts and ruminations about the issues involved in using intellectual property in the age of digital and social media.

I joined Pinterest last week, and am already an enthusiastic user. What I find attractive about Pinterest is not only the chance to share my art with others who love visual beauty, but the opportunity to create gorgeous collages of all the things that inspire me. What concerns me about Pinterest is the ease with which an image can be detached from its owner, resulting in the creator being unable to make a living from his work.

The challenge for me, and anyone else using the site: How can I, as an artist who wants others to respect my copyrights and intellectual property, use Pinterest in a way that respects other creatives’ rights?

Here are some of the issues that bother me about the trading and use of images on Pinterest:

  1. Using other people’s rights-protected images without permission is theft.
  2. Many artists DO want you to share their credited images on Pinterest as a form of publicity. Unfortunately, they are not always clear in how they announce their usage policies.
  3. Pinterest terms of service specify that you either own all rights to a “pinned” image or have explicit authorization to use that image on Pinterest.
  4. Pinterest’s raison d’etre is the trading of other people’s images like baseball cards. The whole point of Pinterest is to share glamorous, aspirational images of other people’s fabulous lives and not poorly lit snapshots of your grungy kitchen pre-renovation.
  5. Images released into the Pinterest ecosystem spread virally. Finding the original link source can be impossible once an image has been “re-pinned” and re-labelled multiple times from multiple secondary sources.
  6. Any image file or link introduced to Pinterest remains on the Pinterest servers forever (unless removed by Pinterest admin).
  7. Many images found on Pinterest do not link back to the creator, but to an intermediate site and are not credited properly.
  8. An image owner has to follow a cumbersome snail-mail process to get Pinterest to remove their violated images from the site.
  9. Spreading others’ rights-protected images can damage their ability to sell that image in other venues.

Next in the series: Pinterest and the US Copyright Law’s Fair Use policy

Wrestling with WordPress on my mobile

I made a couple of goofy posts this week testing out my new copy of the WordPress mobile app on my iPhone. I deleted them a little while ago, because they were wasting electrons. Posting text was pretty simple, but I couldn’t transfer photos taken by the iPhone onto the blog.

Hmmm.

Gotta do some more research on this one, as I’d love to be able to blog coolio photos while travelling to coolio places.

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