Pinterest versus Ethics and the Law - Part 2

In the Part 1 of this series we presented an overview of what Pinterest is and the legal risks members take by engaging in the activities that Pinterest promote. In this part we will look at what Pinterest does to the copyright notices embedded in digital content that their members copy to the Pinterest website.


(March 19, 2013) Many thanks to David Riecks, writing for the DAM coalition, for publishing the updated results of the latest IPTC study of social media practices. We welcome the news that Pinterest now preserves embedded metadata both on upload and download (but not with "Save As"). Nonetheless, be sure to add a watermark to all images, in addition to supplying the correct metadata to any social media uploads, if you choose to use those services. If you have any questions as to how to utilize IPTC, please refer to this manual. Then go over to the Embedded Metadata Manifesto and support their efforts!

Now, read the following for good advice, in general, about what can happen with your social media submissions, keeping in mind that public pressure has encouraged Pinterest to change one important practice for the better. Content creators and rights advocates spent many, many hours advocating for fairness in social media practices. Only with your help and involvement will the situation improve for all.

And remember, Pinterest and its users are not out-of-the-woods yet. So far, Pinterest has not monetized its content. The copyright infringement dime may drop when they do. Why? See this Trademark and Copyright Law opinion.

 Pinterest Respects Copyright by Deleting Copyright Notices

Not everyone realises that images have embedded metadata, or even what metadata is. Metatadata is just information about the image, such as when it was created, by whom, their contact details, who owns the copyright, the terms on which it may be licensed, and much else besides. Some of the information embedded in images is placed there by the image capture device (e.g. a camera recording the camera settings) while other information can be embedded by the creator of the image.

Creators of images will embed additional information so that should anyone else wish to use the image they can 1) check the status of the image, e.g. copyrighted or public domain, 2) information about licensing terms e.g. all rights reserved, and 3) contact details for further information. Such information is referred to as the copyright notice. This and other information is easily added with image editing programs such as Photoshop, and, although the information is recorded in a non-visual part of the image, it can be easily viewed online with tools such as Jeffrey's Exif Viewer.

In our original Pinterest report we set out in detail the tests we conducted to reveal that Pinterest deletes all metadata, including copyright metadata, in all images copied or uploaded to the Pinterest website. This act raises a number of concerns -

  • There is nothing in the Pinterest Terms of Use stating that all metadata, including copyright notices, will be deleted from images copied to the Pinterest website. We assume Pinterest are reluctant to openly declare this fact.

  • Removing copyright notices embedded in content provided by their members removes the evidence that Pinterest could know that the member was infringing content. For good measure Pinterest not only delete the copyright metadata, but all metadata, this ensures that any other metadata fields that may declare ownership of the work are also removed.

  • During a discussion with a US lawyer we were told that removal of copyright metadata is an offence under US law - it is a violation of section 1202 of the United States Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) with statutory damages starting at $2500 per violation. Pinterest legal people will know about the requirements of the DMCA, yet Pinterest continue to delete copyright metadata.

  • Even setting aside the legality of this act, deleting the author's copyright notice is not respectful. There is no point in authors going to the trouble of including a copyright notice, rights information and contact details when all that information is deleted by Pinterest. Such an act is in conflict with Pinterest's statement on their website where they say they respect the intellectual property rights of others. Deleting copyright notices is not a respectful act.

  • In their terms of use Pinterest say "You will not remove, alter or obscure any copyright, trademark, service mark or other proprietary rights notices incorporated in or accompanying the Site, Application, Services or Site Content". So Pinterest wants their copyright notices to be respected. It looks as if it's one law for Pinterest, but no law for the owners of content copied to the Pinterest website, their copyright notices are removed.

  • Removal of the copyright metadata data is censorship. The tech industry has a well known enthusiasm for making information freely available - when it suits them. They frequently proclaim that the blocking of access to information is censorship, but here we have Pinterest happily censoring important information that the owner certainly does not want censored.

  • The response from Pinterest to our complaint about metadata deletion was a statement saying that they will consider capturing metadata. Firstly, Pinterest don't need to capture copyright metadata, metadata is supplied by Pinterest members. What Pinterest should do is to stop deleting it. Secondly, given that it is illegal to delete copyright metadata, using the word 'consider' in their reply seems to be an inappropriate response.

In part three of this series we will look how the Pinterest business model uses the Pinterest blocking code to undermine the first principle of the law of copyright, that is, getting permission before copying.

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

Advice to Potential Pinterest Users

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 our work, shame on them.