Portions of this column were originally written for the May 2012 edition of News Photographer Magazine.
Mark Loundy is a media producer and consultant based in San Jose, California. Full bio.
The opinions in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the official views of the National Press Photographers Association.
May 2012, Volume 111
By Mark Loundy
"We would often be sorry if our wishes were gratified."
Remember when scrapbooking was so popular that retail scrapbooking stores started to open in strip malls all over? Since its peak in the last decade, the scrapbooking craze has faded back to its natural background noise level and those stores have largely vanished.
The latest incarnation of the fad is the Pinterest website. On Pinterest, members can "pin" images that they see on the Web onto their personal pinboards. They can follow other members and view their boards. The secret sauce to the service's success is in the sharing. And sharing requires a critical mass of users.
A service consisting of, "Hey, look what I found," is, almost by definition, based upon widespread copyright infringement. But Pinterest doesn't have to worry about that. Because of the so-called Safe Harbor provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA,) the company is only required to take down infringing works after they are formally notified about them. The only folks with liability are the members.
NPPA attorney Mickey Osterreicher puts it this way, " As far as publishers' and broadcasters' liability for encouraging viewers to use Pinterest - while they may be protected by the DMCA these are the types of things that copyright case law comes from, so it will not surprise me if a plaintiff decides to include them as defendant(s) in a copyright infringement claim. Whether they will be held liable is up to the courts."
As a way to mollify copyright owners Pinterest has provided HTML code as a way to prevent being pinned. But this can still be a legal issue. "The problem with relying on 'opt out' is that this is not the way copyright works," says attorney Alicia Wagner Calzada, "Google books has a similar 'opt out' policy and I believe that both policies turn copyright on their head. Copyright works by requiring the user to get permission from the copyright holder. The concept of copyright falls apart if you require the copyright holder to opt out of every potential user who had developed an opt out policy."
News organizations that are (rightly) pursuing their users wherever they might be are excitedly adopting Pinterest almost as a member of the family. With a predominantly female user base, Pinterest is an excellent place for newsrooms to engage with women. Newspapers across the country are experimenting with it.
Remember that "critical mass?" If intellectual property owners should decide to legally pursue Pinterest members in the way the recording industry has sued individual downloaders of pirated music, then Pinterest's critical mass could deflate faster than a balloon in a cactus patch.
Newsrooms need to be open to using the "latest thing" as a tool, but they must also be sufficiently flexible and innovative to move on when the fad fades or the law catches up with technology.
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