Check before you pin

published in The Journal Record | April 17, 2013

By Rachel Blue

No more piles of torn magazine pages or envelopes full of paint chips. Bookmarking sites like Pinterest, Manteresting or Pixcited let us post images of things we like in a neat digital format. Like most other social media sites, users contribute content, so you can get ideas for anything from a bathroom remodel to a toddler’s birthday party. Many users just browse for ideas, but others are more active, pinning images of sofas, centerpieces or cars they like. But where does that content come from?

Images are copyrightable subject matter; only the creator has the authority to share the image. If you didn’t take the photo, you can’t distribute, reproduce or display it. Sites like Pinterest have shifted responsibility for copyright infringement to users with terms of use advising users not to pin content that infringes any third-party’s intellectual property rights, privacy rights, publicity rights, or other personal or proprietary rights. This isn’t an uncommon approach. Whether you read and understand the terms or not, you’re bound by them. If you do post material that infringes, you, not Pinterest, are on the hook.

Here’s what’s OK to pin: Pictures you took yourself with no people in them and pictures you took yourself with people in them who gave you consent to post their image (you need a guardian’s permission for minors), and pictures you have permission to pin (many retailers encourage pinning – free advertising!).

Don’t fall prey to common myths about copyright. It doesn’t matter whether money changes hands, or whether the image is educational. An image you found on the Internet is not in the public domain. The absence of a copyright symbol (©) doesn’t mean it’s not protected.

Pinning an image you lifted without permission is copyright infringement. Image warehouses and independent photographers may have valid objections to your pinning their images without permission. If any of those images are the subject of copyright registrations, you’re on the hook for money damages and attorney’s fees.

None of this is likely to stop anyone from using Pinterest, but use common sense. Even though the entire purpose of the site is to share items of common interest, users are on the hook for infringement. Look all you want, but if you’re going to pin, don’t get stuck.

This article appeared in the April 17, 2013, issue of The Journal Record. It is reproduced with permission from the publisher. © The Journal Record Publishing Co.