Previously on Fashion’s Collective, we touched on the four areas of intellectual property law that digital marketers may want to revisit as brands increasingly become present across the main social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram).
In the last few months, one important new site has come charging onto the scene – Pinterest. Its rise has been nothing short of spectacular, with the platform currently at 12 million users and counting within just two years of its launch. This positions the site as possibly the fastest growing social media platform ever (L2 Think Tank). In light of this development, and growing concerns over the site, I felt it was time to pen a follow-up addressing the IP ramifications of Pinterest.
Firstly – how does Pinterest affect content? The big point of contention here is copyright law. The platform does exactly what it says on the label; it enables users to create virtual pin boards showcasing a range of categories of images. The salient feature of Pinterest is the ability to “pin” almost any image that can be found online through the use of a “Pin” button (the exception being where the website hosting the content has blocked the utility). In other words, the platform is essentially giving users the functionality to infringe copyright-protected content.
To make the matter even more bizarre, Pinterest goes on to outline an official code of good conduct, where it advises users to credit their sources and to avoid self-promotion. Now, while crediting is certainly good manners (and it affirms the copyright holders’ rights of attribution, though how many out there really do this?), it does not magically undo infringement. Moreover, assuming that “self-promotion” is intended to mean posting your own content, then Pinterest is saying to go take other people’s content.
For a number of users, the Pinterest small print coupled with the lack of concrete legal guidelines when it comes to digital copyright has been enough to cause them to err on the side of caution, take down their content and retire their Pinterest boards. But as digital agencies and think tanks have been tapping Pinterest as the next big thing, encouraging fashion brands to get into it or risk being left behind, it’s important to note that the legal ramifications do warrant giving the issue careful consideration. To pin or not to pin, that really is the question.
While changes include a clarification that “selling content was never [the] intention” and the removal of the clause stating that by posting to Pinterest users grant Pinterest the right to sell content, the indemnity clause remains. However, there is no longer mention of users agreeing to own copyright in the content they post (an interesting way to sidestep a thorny issue?) and the etiquette section no longer speaks of not engaging in self-promotion (whatever that was meant to signify).
But is all of this just a part of a bigger issue? Sadly, yes. Even with these amendments, the bigger conundrum is how, as a global, digital society, we choose to reconcile protecting content creators with the concept of internet sharing. What is interesting about the Pinterest problem is how it illustrates the power that content curation wields in our digitally-driven information economy. Furthermore, it highlights how this new reality has become increasingly disjointed from the physical world that gave birth to such a clunky concept as modern copyright law. Indeed, the conversation about Pinterest must be viewed against the backdrop of acute growing pains that the copyright law is undergoing right now.
Ultimately, going down the rabbit hole of digital information discovery, stumbling upon and digesting content, and sharing this new-found knowledge has become the internet reality. While no one disagrees that the rights of content creators ought to be protected, it is hard to reconcile the need to enforce such unwieldy legal constructs as copyright when taking into account the quickly shifting structure of digital information consumption, particularly because it has enriched our lives.
Fittingly, Pinterest seems to have become fertile breeding ground for pro-free internet campaign boards.
This article does not constitute legal advice and readers are advised to consult a lawyer.
Photo Credits: FC Labs