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Thursday, 15 March 2012 00:00

Pinterest versus Ethics and the Law - Part 1

A Guide for New Pinterest Members

In this first of a series of articles we will set out in detail why being a member of the Pinterest Club could seriously affect your life and happiness. If you are new to Pinterest and don't know what it's all about, this first article is your essential self help guide to understanding what being a Pinterest member entails.

What is Pinterest

Pinterest is a tech startup hoping to be the next 'big thing'. They don't make any products, such as Apple, nor do they provide a useful service, such as a search engine, they don't even create anything such as artworks or literary works. They don't do or make anything useful, productive or creative.

Individuals need to apply to be a member of Pinterest and in that sense Pinterest is like a club. Once accepted Pinterest gives their members a special copying tool (pinmarklet) and invites them to use it to copy content from the websites of other people or organisations to the Pinterest website. In other words, Pinterest doesn't create content for their own website - their members are required to go and find content for Pinterest.

Members are encouraged by Pinterest to copy other people's content to the Pinterest website. Pinterest advise against members using Pinterest for self promotion, that is, not to copy their own content to Pinterest, copy other peoples. However, Pinterest doesn't advise members on its 'Pin Etiquette' page, or every time they try to copy something, that to stay on the right side of the law they must get permission, in writing, from the owner of the content before they copy it to the Pinterest website. Apart from it being the law it is a common courtesy, and shows respect to the creator, to ask for permission.

So, as well as having their members undertake the work of copying content to Pinterest, this arrangement also ensures that it is the Pinterest members which carry the legal risk of being sued for copyright infringement. It's a bit like copyright infringement by proxy, keeping Pinterest safe.

Once content is copied to the Pinterest site, the Terms of Use state Pinterest will have the right to "sublicense, to use, copy, adapt, modify, distribute, license, sell, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, stream, broadcast, access, view, and otherwise exploit such Member Content only on, through or by means of the Site, Application or Services."

The terms then go on to put the entire responsibilty on their member for copying content to their website, that the member must ensure they have the rights to do this. Pinterest takes no pro-active technical precautions to ensure its members are safe and that they do actually have these rights.

Advice to Pinterest Members; Please read our note toward the end of this article, it's important.

We will show in this series of articles that Pinterest is playing fast and loose with the law, flouting the letter of the law in some circumstances and in others flouting the spirit of the law. It is also placing its own members at risk of breaking the law with terms of use designed specifically to protect Pinterest, but leaving its members to suffer the legal consequences of their actions while Pinterest profits from their activities.

These are not, in our view, the actions of an organisation which places fair business practices and a duty of care for its members as its top priority.

We wrote to the Pinterest CEO on the 25th of February summarising the concerns we had raised in our published report and provided a link to the full report. Altogether we wrote to Pinterest on three occasions and received only one reply. We will refer to their responses as we discuss the various aspects of the Pinterest business model in this series of articles.

Pinterest Content is Hosted on Amazon Servers

We want to rebut the many stories in the media which say that Pinterest is not infringing any the content copied to it, that it is merely providing links to the original source of the content. These commentators are completely and utterly wrong, Pinterest is storing all the images copied to it on its own servers, except that they are not Pinterest's servers - they are Amazon's! This fact was uncovered by a Martin Orpen, a member of Pro-Imaging.

We have now had confirmation from Amazon that they will accept DMCA notices regarding copyright infringements by Pinterest members. For full details about this and the Amazon servers being used please read our 'Amazon will Deal with Pinterest Copyright Infrigements' article.

Part 2 of the Pinterest Series

In Part Two we look more closely at another aspect of the Pinterest operation - that what they do with copyright notices copied by members to the Pinterest website is in conflict with the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA).

In the meantime we sign off this article with two warnings, one from us to anyone considering using Pinterest, and the other is a warning to Pinterest made by an artist over 500 years ago.

Advice to Pinterest Members

traffic-light-stopIt's safer to avoid using Pinterest altogether, however, if you must use it, please accept our advice before copying anything to Pinterest -

1. Always contact the copyright owner of the work before copying it to Pinterest, and,

2. Tell the owner that Pinterest will remove their copyright notice metadata and reserves the right to sell the owners work, refer them to this series of articles, then -

3. Do not copy unless you get written permission from the copyright owner. It must be in writing, failing to do this can have serious legal and financial consequences for you personally. Pinterest will not defend you, they have made sure in their terms of use that you, and you alone, will be solely responsible for breaking the law.

Albrecht Dürer

Albrecht Dürer, 1471 to 1528, was a German artist engaged in painting, engraving and print making. He made his reputation through his prints and is widely recognised as the greatest Northern European renaissance artist.

In 1511 he produced a series of woodblock prints entitled "Life of the Virgin". On the title page he made this declaration;

Woe to you! You thieves and imitators of other people's labour and talents.

Beware of laying your audacious hand on this artwork.

Even at over five hundred years old this is still a message for our time. Works of art are an expression of the makers' soul, they are part of the authors being, and it is for these reasons that all people on earth are granted the human right of copyright. Copyright gives each of us the exclusive right to choose who can, and who cannot, distribute our works.

Pinterest are exhorting their members to lay their audacious hands upon creative people's work, shame on Pinterest.