Good Question: What Can We Legally Share Online?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — More than 12 million people have already pinned to their digital bulletin boards, but there is growing concern that Pinterest users could be breaking the law.

Pinterest is the fastest-growing social media web site ever. It lets you pin anything you find online to your personal page. Problem is: a lot of those pictures and articles may be copyrighted.

So Julie from Osceola wanted to know: What can we legally share online? Good Question.

Pinterest is still relatively new. It’s only been around for a couple of years. When it comes to copyright issues, many lawyers believe it’s just a matter of time until something from this site ends up in court.

Creative Kids Stuff put up a Pinterest page six months ago, and it goes well beyond what they sell in the store.

Alyssa Tucker is the assistant manager at the Lynden Hills location.

“I like it, because it’s a way to bookmark all your stuff,” Tucker said.

Natasha D’Schommer has a different feeling. She’s a photographer and after being asked so many times to put her work up on Pinterest, she put up a photo instead that says: “You can take someone’s photograph and give credit to it, but it doesn’t mean the other 1,000 people are going to give credit to it. This is how people make a living.”

Ryan Palmer at Monroe Moxness and Berg in Minneapolis is an attorney that specializes in trademark and copyright law.

“A lot of people are posting content onto Pinterest that probably is not legal for them to post,” Palmer said.

He told us the only thing we can legally share online is our own content. That said, you can see the problem Pinterest presents and why it’s in a different field than something like Facebook.

“It’s sole focus is on sharing other peoples’ information or taking all the beautiful things from the web and pinning them to one place. So it’s business model at many points is in conflict of copyright law,” Palmer said.
While, Palmer believes it has similarities to the Napster saga, which copyright infringement eventually shut down, Pinterest, unlike a music sharing site, is where people also share their own stuff.

“There’s no law that is written specifically for Pinterest,” Palmer said. “Copyright laws are way behind in things like YouTube — anything social media-related — and Pinterest really takes it to the next level.”

He says until copyright laws catch up, the questions will end up in court.

“If you want to be very conservative, post only what you’ve created,” Palmer said.

Pinterest does try to protect itself in a way with this long disclaimer under its legal section. It basically says users will protect Pinterest from anything they pin if they get in trouble.

The company says it’s pretty easy to see if you’re on a website that’s okay with pinning.

The company sent WCCO this statement from a past memo that Ben Silbermann, the Pinterest CEO issued:

The last few months have been a whirlwind here at Pinterest. It’s hard to explain how it feels to go from a small group of people working on a virtually unknown website, to a slightly bigger team of people working on a service that millions of people use every day. It’s humbling, and exciting.

With all that growth, we’ve gotten more questions from reporters and Pinners. In the past, we’ve been pretty quiet, but we want to get better about answering questions openly with people who are interested in Pinterest. We decided to start today by talking about copyright.

As a company, we care about respecting the rights of copyright holders. We work hard to follow the DMCA procedure for acting quickly when we receive notices of claimed copyright infringement. We have a form for reporting claims of copyright violations on our site here. Every pin has a flag to make reporting easier. We also know that copyright is a complicated and nuanced issue and we have knowledgeable people who are providing lots of guidance.

Most publishers we speak with are excited about Pinterest. We’ve heard that Pinterest drives a lot of traffic to their websites. This has prompted many groups to add Pin It buttons to their websites. We’ve seen Pin It buttons on sites across the web, including some of our favorite retailers, marketplaces, museums, publications, and blogs.
At the same time, we understand and respect that sometimes site owners do not want any of their material pinned. For these folks, we provide a snippet of code that can be added to any website. You can find it in our help section.

Pinterest plays different roles for different people. People use Pinterest as a creative outlet, a place to connect with friends in new ways, a tool to plan important personal projects, and of course, a source of inspiration and discovery. We hope that like many technology services we’ve come to love on the internet – from blogs to YouTube to Facebook – we can help figure out good approaches to complex issues, and build a service that is valuable to lots of people all over the world.

More from Liz Collin
  • Tc Kelly

    With social networking, at least the way they are today, If is right or wrong as far as pictures go. That really doesn’t matter because people will always share pictures or files. Until they come up with some way to have every picture in the world with some sort of way to block them if they have the copyright encryption in the file for example OR if every social network blocks photos There isn’t really anything that can be done.

  • Photographer

    Doesn’t sharing imply that the owner has given consent to someone allowing them the use of something? Using someone else’s property without consent is stealing.

  • Stitcher

    I added the html code to my blog that prevents people from “pinning” photos from my blog. I don’t see how Pinterest has any right to allow things to be “pinned” that are on my personal blog which clearly states my photos are copyrighted and you must ask permission to copy them…..etc. etc. etc. That said……….yes, I know people copy photos for their own files but Pinterest is different. I was amazed when I saw what people had “pinned” from my blog, then someone else “repins” and on it goes. What really irked me was when I learned that Pinterest was offering a poster of what folks had pinned and so they are making money off of my photos and others which I believe then, would be considered illegal because they don’t have permission. I am surprised that Ben at Pinterest thinks this bulletin board concept is legal.

  • Something Old, Something New, Something…Pinned?- Pinterest Articles

    […] Good Question: What Can We Legally Share Online? MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – More than 12 million people have already pinned to their digital bulletin boards, but there is growing concern that Pinterest users could be breaking the law. Pinterest is the fastest-growing social media web site ever. Read more on CBS Local […]

  • Jim Peterson

    “You can take someone’s photograph and give credit to it, but it doesn’t mean the other 1,000 people are going to give credit to it. This is how people make a living.” – Natasha D’Schommer, Photographer.

    Natasha, do you know what a Watermark is, or why a REAL photographer would use them in photographs posted online?

    • josh R

      Nice victim blaming, but no.

      You’re a photographer, you make your living both through selling to traditional media and by selling your work online. Your website has thumbnail images (fully watermarked) of all your photographs, and when someone buys one you send them a high quality hard copy. You also offer the option of sending them a high quality digital copy so they can get it printed themselves. Your sales agreement contains a clause about not distributing the digital images, so you’ve done everything properly.

      All of which comes to nothing when you sell some images to a clueless housewife who sticks them up on Pintrest or facebook and goes “Look at the cool pictures guys!” because once the high quality images are out there, it’s very hard to get all the copies to go away. You did everything you could short of not selling digital copies (and even that’s not bulletproof.) but you were undone by someone who had no malice at heart, but was completely unaware of how these things work.

  • Suck my Internet

    Stick it on the internet and it’s mine, and mine to share, whether you like it or not. Don’t like it? Don’t post it…

    • steve


  • Steve

    Any thing that is copied, that is on the internet or not, that is not owned by the person copying it, is illegal and considered copyright. it would not be illegal if the website says it is OK for the Pinterest website to use and share their content. Take Youtube for example….. there are soo many people on there that take other peoples videos and use them on their own channel for people to view, thats illegal, plain and simple. People on Pinterest are doing the same thing, taking other peoples ideas/pictures and Pinning them on their own page to use and share.

  • josh R

    Imageboards and other aggregator sites have been around for a long time on the internet as a way of sharing cool stuff you found. and they deal with the issue in various ways, some better than others. The good ones have rules about giving credit and asking permission, and provide an easy way to request that your content be removed. There’s a good bit of self-policing on the better sites, It’s not perfect, but we get by.

    Now that the mundanes are getting in on the game, they’ll ruin it, because that’s what they do with the internet.

  • Tracy

    I wish your on air story had included the information you have one this page.
    I have over 2000 pins on my boards and non of them can be considered copyright because the owner has given instructions on how to re-produce the items or they are recipes that i can find in many other locations.
    This is such a great tool for visual people such as myself and I would hate to see a few people ruin if for the millions that are having fun.
    If you don’t want people pinning your stuff (which I can’t for the life of me see what harm there is in looking) just say so, use the code that stops it from happening or don’t use the internet.

  • Marine 0311

    Wow so something else is illegal? No way! This is becoming a common trend in our society. Politicians pass law after useless law every year, and law abiding citizens break them without any knowledge. 40,000 new laws were passed last year alone, what a joke. A good book on the subject is called, 3 felonies a day. The book basically points out with the constant passing of new laws, and regulations by the waste of space individuals in our government, the average person commits 3 felonies a day, and doesn’t even know it. Sadly this is what America is about now, regulation regulation regulation.

  • mark

    I think one of the common problems is the difference in perspective from the content creator to the content consumer. A creator sees the work attached to each creation and their ownership of it, each sale is a limited use lisc to an end user. They do in fact have the law on their side.

    From the content consumer angle it is a mixture of outright theft, misunderstanding fair use and mistaking the situation. For example, I walk down the street and there is a couch sitting on the curb, free couch. So when I then browse the internet and see images just sitting unsecured, they must be free to use right? The invisible law isn’t apparent. Then you have the person buying said images, but they want to show them off, to them posting to facebook is like putting them up on the wall at home. They have mistaken their rights. There are multiple solutions to this issue, but none are in place yet. The internet is a community and a marketplace and we need systems, notifications and rules that better differentiate rights and responsibilities.

  • openwater

    This just makes me so mad. I use Pinterest a ton and think it’s a great way of bookmarking things I would like to purchase. I think it’s a great marketing tool and people should be looking at it as a way to get their name and product out there. These people complaining about it are ridiculous!

  • Photog

    You’re clearly not a professional photographer, trying to make a living by selling images. I love the idea of Pinterest too, but something needs to change before I start using it.

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