Home Everything Pinterest and Tumblr Users Need To Know About Copyright Law

Everything Pinterest and Tumblr Users Need To Know About Copyright Law

It’s hard to write a story or post about Pinterest and copyright law without at least one reader leaving a comment along the lines of “What about Tumblr?”

Indeed, comparisons between the two sites are fairly obvious: while Tumblr is more of a blog platform and Pinterest is more of a link-sharing site, both are set up to allow users to easily share content they find on the Internet, and both do a great job of displaying visual content – whether or not the person sharing that content has rights to share that work.

But Pinterest, in large part because of its rapid growth and sudden popularity, gets the lion’s share of heat when people talk about what social networks can and can’t do when it comes to copyright. And that may not be entirely fair, according to copyright attorneys we spoke with.

“The copyright policies of both sites are really quite similar, and the particular focus on Pinterest seems unwarranted in my opinion,” said Timothy C. Bradley, an attorney with Coats & Bennett, PLLC in Cary, N.C. who specializes in intellectual property matters.

Bradley said users who submit content to Pinterest or Tumblr are giving the sites a worldwide, royalty-free, transferable license to use, copy and distribute their content. The users are also saying they have the right to grant such a license.

And here’s the kicker: The user agreement of both sites has language requiring users indemnify them against any copyright claims, Bradley said. Both sites include these indemnity provisions, which add to the protections already provided by the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.

The biggest difference between the two agreements, as we’ve already reported, is that Pinterest also reserves the right to sell content submitted by users. As far as we know, Pinterest hasn’t sold any content, and Bradley thinks the clause is most likely included to offer the social network more protection.

“It seems highly unlikely that they would [sell content] anytime in the near future, as this could cause users to abandon the fledgling service,” he said. “Such sales would not appear to be a sustainable path to the large IPOs that Internet start-ups dream of.”

Should You Close Your Pinterest And Tumblr Accounts?

Bradley doesn’t envision the bygone, pre-iTunes days of Napster when college students were sued by record companies for downloading albums. Rightly or wrongly, a culture and a set of unwritten rules have evolved on the Internet where it is considered acceptable to share content as long as you provide attribution and a link to the content source.

“This is particularly the case if you share some but not all content from the source (e.g., share one photo in a photo set, or share a snippet of an article, etc.). Sites like Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook and others operate with this unwritten rule of thumb in mind,” Bradley said. “Most content providers welcome this exposure and the backlinks provided by such sharing.”

There is, however a degree of common sense involved, and if sharing something “feels” wrong, it probably is.

“If you know something is illicit, such as a link to an illegal download of an album or movie or photos from an unreleased publication, avoid posting such content,” he said. “Also if you know for any reason that a content provider does not want their content shared, then avoid sharing that content on sites like Pinterest.”

Pinterest and Tumblr will both remove content that is shared illegally if they are contacted by the copyright owner. Content providers who don’t want their content linked on Pinterest can install code on their Web site, which seems to be a proactive move to prevent copyright infringement claims. And users need to keep in mind that while the unwritten rules protect them when they share content, the actual written rules may not.

“The partial sharing discussed above helps to bolster a fair use claim, but is not a guarantee that your use is indeed a fair use under US Copyright Laws,” Bradley said. “Thus, while following the ‘common sense’ approach is unlikely to get you in trouble, there is no guarantee.”

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