Pinterest Users: Beware of Copyright Law

Let me start off by saying that I’m not a lawyer, I’ve never studied law nor do I plan to.

However, the things that I’ve been reading online lately have me thinking a lot about copyright law and how it relates to social media. In particular, a lot of articles have been written about the fact that by posting content on the popular social networking site, Pinterest, users could be violating copyright law.

What’s more, a recent article on cbsnews.com points out that users are solely responsible for what they pin.

This has several implications for both users and businesses.

Copyright Law and Social Sharing

If users have to worry about being penalized for sharing something on Pinterest, will this discourage them from using the site?

And, if sharing copyrighted content on Pinterest is a copyright violation, wouldn’t the same hold true for Facebook, Tumblr, or any other site where users can post an image that can be seen without actually having to visit the website where it was originally posted?

Furthermore, will the court ever enforce the law and actually penalize a user for sharing something on the Internet for the sole purpose of letting other people know about it (i.e., not for monetary gain)? I’d hope not.

The foundation of social media is based on users being able to freely share content that they find around the Internet. If that premise is destroyed, then social media is going to change dramatically. Users who are really worried about this issue would be forced to only share their own content, content that is posted with a Creative Commons license, or content that the content creator encourages people to share by placing social sharing buttons on their blog or website.

Businesses Using Social Media to Market Their Products and Services

The copyright issue could potentially get even muddier for businesses that use Pinterest to market their products or services.

If the business posts their own photos of their products or services, then copyright issues won’t be a problem.

However, many businesses that use Pinterest have created pinboards that don’t necessarily feature their own products or services, but are of interest to their customers and potential customers. For example, in addition to pinboards about food, Whole Foods Market has pinboards that feature information about gardening, fitness, technology and books. This is a great way to get consumers to interact with the brand without beating them over the head with marketing messages.

However, here is where the copyright issue comes into play. If a business pins a copyrighted photo on Pinterest, it could very well be interpreted as a way of marketing to customers and potential customers. Therefore, the company is looking to make money, albeit indirectly, from the use of the copyrighted material. In my estimation, this would be the time when copyright law would most likely be enforced. (Again, I’m not a lawyer; I’m just using some common sense.)

Therefore, businesses need to be very sure that they have the right to share content before they post it on Pinterest or any other social networking site.

Final Thoughts

It’s important to keep in mind that when you share something on Pinterest, you might be violating copyright law. This is particularly important for businesses that are using Pinterest to interact with consumers.

However, as anyone who is even remotely interested in social media marketing knows, having your content shared on social media sites is a good thing. In fact, some companies dream that their content will go viral.

Furthermore, as a recent article that was posted on marketingprofs.com points out, even if a company doesn’t like that consumers are sharing its copyrighted content on Pinterest, it may not be the best idea to sue them because of it.

In the end, it will be interesting to see how this issue plays out in the near future, because if the court chooses to enforce copyright law and penalizes users for sharing copyrighted content on Pinterest, it could have ramifications on other social media sites as well.

Photo credit: theilr on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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