While not a new article, the story of the lawyer who, after looking into the copyright implications of Pinterest, ended up closing her account for fear that she may have been drawn into committing copyright infringement.
Pinterest, in its terms of service squarely places full responsibility for any copyright infringement issues that may arise from the use of the service squarely on the user. The rub here is that Pinterest’s lifeblood is having its users pin other people’s copyrighted content. That’s all well and good if you have specific permission to do so (or the work is published under some form of open-source licensing). But the vast majority of the materials one comes across on Pinterest do not fall into either of these categories.
So what? Well… the problem is, if you don’t have permission to post copyrighted material, unless you fall within certain established defenses, such as fair use (a far trickier category than most laymen would guess), then the poster (whether it’s an initial “pin” or a “re-pin”) may be liable for copyright infringement.
This conundrum points up an interesting tensions. Namely, the tension between protecting the legitimate interests in copyright holders versus permitting the development of innovative communications products and services that fundamentally can benefit both rights-holders and consumers.
There is no doubt that copyright holders do (and should) have the right to control (within limits) how their works are used and distributed. And make no mistake, this is (generally speaking) not a bad thing.
Among the problems that these rights give rise to, however, is the fact that copyright laws (both statutory and case law) that both provide content creators with their reasonable and appropriate protections for their works and provide consumers with certain exceptions to the rights and restrictions permitted to rights-holders have become so rigid as to be incredibly slow and difficult to adapt to the pace of modern innovation, particularly in the digital world. To make matters worse the rules governing rights, enforcement, and defenses (such as “fair use”) have become so incredibly complex that even experienced IP lawyers have difficulty grappling with them. (Good luck to consumers and entrepreneurs who try to grapple with these issues on their own!)
The takeaway from all of this is two-fold:
1) There is a desperate need to update our IP laws to make them more flexible and more accessible, while still giving content creators and distributors the protections that help incentivize further content creation; and
2) It is a survival skill in the modern, digital world to understand as much as possible about IP law (what you do not know can bite you in the posterior!), and where you exceed your knowledge zone, call on an expert. The consequences of getting wrong can be most unpleasant.