Pinterest, Copyright, and Terms of Service

(Manually) reblogged from Nancy Sims’s Copyright Librarian:

  1. While the way Pinterest functions certainly raises a number of copyright issues, they’re not significantly different from the issues raised by many other social sharing sites!
  2. A lot of people are talking about how scary the Pinterest terms of service are – but they are not significantly different from those of many other social sharing sites.
  3. These posts create a great deal of fear, uncertainty, and doubt about what users are “allowed” to do online – which for a lot of users, including my friends, has clearly translated to choices not to do those things. This is called a “chilling effect”, and it’s the whole point of spreading FUD in the first place. It’s not a good thing.
  4. There are some unique characteristics of the Pinterest user community – both the fact that a lot of women are using it, and that a lot of photographers and other commercial artists are using it – that are playing into the interactions around the legal issues in some unusual ways. I’m not sure I fully understand it all, but I’m also not sure it’s not actually a bit screwed up.

The rest of the post can be found at this link (also given above).

I guess this means I should really read the terms of service for the various Internet sites I use. In my defense (weak and ineffectual as it may be), I haven’t read them because I haven’t felt that such perusal would change my choice set and hence behavior.

Let’s imagine a scenario in which a user (not me evidently) meticulously reads and tries his darndest to comprehend what he reads. After that thrilling experience, what can he now do? He can a) comply with the terms of service (as best as he understand what that to mean), or b) not use the service.

In regards to option a), unless the user means to rely only, and always, on his own expressions, it’s difficult to mold behavior in such a way to never run afoul of copyright law and thus ensure scrupulous adherence to the terms of service. As just one example, until the very recent ruling in the Righthaven v. Democratic Underground case, it was unclear whether posting a link to copyrighted materials with a few sentence excerpt was a-OK. Who among us hasn’t linked to some materials and quoted some excepts here and there? Is it possible to even use Facebook, or WordPress, or whatever user-contributed content service without ever excerpting copyright materials? (Whether our well-intention user infringes on copyright laws in a manner visible enough to invite legal action is another thing).

Or we make choice b) and opt out of using any and all services that feature such terms. Is this possible in an age where to do any kind of meaningful work, e.g. get a job that has “career” potential, one needs to be somewhat socially connected via technologically enabled means?

In brief, it appears to me that both a) and b) are onerous choices, choices that we should make but more likely than not don’t. It seems to me that those of us who are as fallible as I am opt for choice c). Choice c) is the uninformed, naive choice; choice c) says, “don’t do anything that seems illegal to you, and trust that this is good enough”. Choice c) is (at best) skimming the terms of service before engaging with the technology; choice c) is not reading & re-reading  such terms periodically to keep one abreast of modifications and revisions as the terms mandate one should; choice c) is probably a poor choice for a defense if we ever find ourselves at the wrong end of a legal action. Choice c) is the choice we make.

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