Thursday, March 8, 2012

Pinterest Walking a Copyright Infringement Tightrope


The content sharing mega-site “Pinterest” is rapidly gaining online momentum.  The site features a virtual “pinboard” where users can post photos they find online and arrange them into albums, sort of like scrap booking.  The site is hugely popular to women under the age of 35; Pinterest’s Facebook page is “liked” by 97% women.  This site has been rapidly hailed a demographic marketing super-success, and with good reason.  But the site has also drawn an increasing amount of criticism and scrutiny.  Pinterest is coming under intense legal pressure; the copyright infringement issues seem blaringly obvious.  Unlike Facebook, Youtube, and other very popular social networking sites, Pinterest’s content is not primarily user-generated.  Instead, users are pulling copyrighted works from all over the web and reproducing them, mostly without attribution. 

Most content sharing and social networking sites are protected from the infringing actions of their users by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).  But the DMCA specifies that sites must follow DMCA takedown procedures when they receive a proper takedown notice.  Pinterest has been lax in this regard, committing two key shortcomings in following DMCA.  First, they leave it up to their own discretion as to whether to remove the content or not, after receiving a DMCA takedown notice.  Secondly, there is no provision to ban repeat offenders.  Both of these flaws in their system fall short of DMCA guidelines.    And a quick stroll through the online galleries reveals that the vast majority of images are copyrighted works, by and large not attributed.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, especially if Pinterest decides to start advertising on its pages.  Currently it does not, which may be why would-be DMCA enforcers are turning a blind eye.