You have probably noticed that Pinterest is getting a lot of attention from teen librarians lately. If you have not seen this site for yourself, Pinterest is a social network/curation site based on the concept of a pinboard. Users share images by “pinning” them. Followers can see each other’s boards and “repin” images they like. It’s a great way to share programming ideas, with a clean, pleasant look and an easy-to-use interface. YALSA recently used Pinterest to share ideas for Teen Tech Week.

There has been plenty of chatter on the ya-yaac listserv about Pinterest as well, mostly singing its praises, but a thread titled “Pinterest is awesome, but are we risking a lawsuit” gave me pause. In this thread, people linked to a couple of blog posts that expressed serious concerns with the copyright implications of “repinning” content and some conflicting messages between Pinterest’s terms of service and suggested use of the site.

The concerns stem in particular from a blog post by Kirsten Kowalski: a photographer and lawyer, who deleted content she had repinned from other websites after determining that doing so was violating copyright. The interesting thing about her post is that Kowalski loves Pinterest. Instead of saying we should avoid the site because of it’s potential for copyright violations she’s started a conversation and Pinterest is listening.

Other blogs and news sources have also expressed concerns with Pinterest and copyright.  And still others have written to say that we shouldn’t worry so much, pinning images may in many cases fall under fair use, and the current copyright worries have more to do with the need for copyright laws to change.

Two posts that stood out in my mind as providing sane advice for navigating copyright concerns while continuing to love Pinterest were Amy Lynn Andrews of Blogging With Amy’s post “Pinterest and Copyright: What I’m Doing,” which suggests thinking before we pin, and Nancy Sims post “Pinterest, copyright and Terms of Service” on her blog Copyright Librarian which reminds us to regard fair use as a tool we can use rather than something to fear.

The bottom line is, there is copyright confusion when it comes to Pinterest, but that shouldn’t stop us from using the site.  What can we do? We can pin smart and pin safe.  Here are my suggestions:

6 tips for smarter, safer, pinning:

  • Pin your own content with the intent to share.  Sharing our ideas is one of the strengths of the YALSA community. We can confidently repin each other’s images if we post them with sharing in mind.
  • Pin images when creators have attached a “Pin Me” button. They are inviting you to share as well.
  • Pin original posts and include links with your pins. Pinterest suggests doing so on their etiquette page.  Attribution does not necessarily make copies legal under fair use, but it is always a good idea to give credit to creators.  And it can help you find the source of a pin when you want to learn more.
  • Pin things licensed with Creative Commons licenses. Most creators who license their work this way invite sharing as long as you give them credit and link back to their work. Learn more about the different kinds of licenses from Creative Commons here.
  • Some amount of pinning and repinning is covered under fair use.  Educate yourself and use your judgement. Library law consultant Mary Minow’s post “How I Learned to Love Fair Use” is a good place to start.
  • When in doubt, ask! Send an email to a content creator. Tell her how much you like her photograph, Skittles pixel art, felted iPod cover, or whatever and ask if you can pin it on your board. The worst she can say is no, and even if she doesn’t want you to pin her image, you might make a useful connection in opening up a conversation.

Look for this "Pin it" button on things you want to pin. It's an invitation to go ahead.

Update: As of Saturday, Pinterest announced a new set of policies that will go into effect on April 6. These are written in plain English, and state that Pinterest reserves the right to remove content that violates their terms of service, including copyright violations. The new terms also provide easy ways for users to complain that copyright has been violated, or to refute a complaint.
How are you using Pinterest? Do you have another suggestion for safe, smart pinning? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

2 Thoughts on “Pinterest & Copyright Concerns

  1. Pinterest has quickly become my most valuable bookmarking tool. I use it for professional and personal use, and find that it has almost totally replaced my old method for saving interesting ideas from blogs (starring them in my google reader). But I’ll admit that after reading some of the comments and blog posts on the issue of copyright and Pinterest, I am more hesitant.

    I want to use this tool because it saves me time and works with the way I think. I’m much more likely to remember an image than I am the name of the blog where I first came across an idea, or even what it was called (I subscribe to almost 400 blogs/websites through RSS).

    But I also want to be fair to those who are taking the time to post on blogs or websites and creating original content.

    So I’m still using Pinterest, but more cautiously.

  2. Meg Anastasi on March 30, 2012 at 9:01 am said:

    Thank you Erin for raising this issue. I, like Amy, was “pinning” like crazy when Pinterest first launched. Then I started to back off as time went on and I started thinking about the fair use aspect of sharing other people’s works. I think the issue arises, at least in my mind, that because we are librarians we share information. That is what we do. That is who we are. We are sharers. However, what if the person we are “pinning” doesn’t have that philosophy? Should we wait, maybe days to get their permission to pin their work on our bulletin board? What if they give me permission, but someone re-pins it to their board and on and on? Too many ifs to make me feel totally comfortable with the whole deal. I would love a place where we could share 100% freely without worry or constraint. Oh the ideas we could come up with! But until there is a world without litigation I will tread cautiously and, perhaps, cease pinning for the time being. Or at least only pin copyright free images.

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