Pinterest vs. Copyrighted Images

April 30th, 2012 by Andrea Bennett

Will you follow the popular site’s change in policy?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Although it seems our society has gone Pinterest-crazy, the latest changes to the site’s policies may temper some “pinners’” ardor for creating their online inspiration boards.

If you haven’t jumped on the pin-wheel yet, here’s its basic premise: Pinterest gives you a virtual pinboard of space to hang all of the things you like, or find inspiring. (The site, for instance, suggests you use it to plan your wedding or decorate your home.) Then you can browse other members’ boards to get inspired by people who are interested in the same thing.

As nearly anyone might suspect, avid pinners (the site reached 17.8 million users in February) don’t naturally gravitate toward images that are free of copyrights. After complaints from photographers and other copyright holders, Pinterest has now changed its policy from a virtual free-for-fall to asking users to post only content they’ve created, or content they have explicit permission to publish.

In fact, it’s not just a policy change, but rather a 180-degree turn in philosophy. Originally, Pinterest asked people to avoid posting their own projects, or “self-promotion.” In response, Steve Eder of The Wall Street Journal writes that the site’s new policy is “a tacit admission it may have encouraged users to pin content that didn’t belong to them.”

Pinterest itself, Eder points out, is well-protected from lawsuits because of its policies and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. But pinners could be exposed to copyright suits by pinning content without a license. In a blog post last month, Pinterest founder Ben Silbermann rolled out the policy changes. Now, instead of admonishing users to avoid self-promotion, its Pin Etiquette now advises them to “Be Authentic,” because Pinterest should be an expression of who you are. “We think being authentic to who you are is more important than getting lots of followers,” the site reads. “Being authentic will make Pinterest a better place long term."

But according to Erik Sherman at CBS News, it’s impossible to assume that users will even read, let alone follow, the new rules. Plus, many people “have no concept of what copyright actually entails and assume that anything on the web is fair game,” he writes. 

But without all the beautiful copyrighted pictures, Buzzfeed’s John Herrman notes, Pinterest might not survive. Right now, “a lot of rights holders are probably happy to be getting referral and others probably just don’t care,” he says. “This kind of posting has long been a healthy part of the internet ecosystem.” Still, “these posts are against the rule and sort of against the law, no matter how silly that sounds.”

Are you a Pinterest user? Does the new policy affect how you’ll now post to your inspiration board – or do you see enforcing copyright laws as a Pinterest killer? And do you think that users will take responsibility for removing copyrighted images – or buck the new rules?