How disingenuous is Pinterest

by Heather Young

Maybe because it's been done to death, or maybe it's because people are finally getting squicked out about it, but "OMG Pinterest is a girly website!" is no longer the angle du jour for tech writers covering virtual pinboard site Pinterest anymore. Now you read about how Pinterest's user agreement seems to set its users up for potential copyright problems. From the Atlantic: Pinterest's Copyright Strategy Puts the Burden on Users:

Pinterest puts the burden on the user, rather than itself, asking Pinners (in giant, scary CAPS) to agree that risk related to the 'application of services' -- i.e. stealing -- remains with YOU. Further, it emphasizes that Pinterest is not responsible for all the theft the site encourages."

I'd be curious (in a purely abstract way!) to see how such such an agreement would hold up in court, seeing as pinning up images from every possible source is built into Pinterest's design: Pinterest describes itself as a place for people to "organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web" and provides its users with a bookmarklet they drag into the bookmark bar of their browser that makes it easy to create a pin on Pinterest whenever a user stumbles across an image they like while browsing the internet. Does Pinterest really believe that their users are really only going to use this bookmarklet only to upload images they personally own the rights to? Of course not. In fact, Pinterest's guide to "Pin Etiquette" explicitly advises users not to use Pinterest plug their own stuff too much:

Pinterest is designed to curate and share things you love. If there is a photo or project you’re proud of, pin away! However, try not to use Pinterest purely as a tool for self-promotion."

Just visit the boards of the members of the Pinterest team: do you really think those guys technically own the rights to the all of images they post? Or, you know, any of them?

Yet somehow I doubt terror over photo copyrights is keeping up anyone on the Pinterest team up at night. After all, what would that legal battle look like? "Boo hoo, your honor, due to Pinterest users pinning up photos from a wedding I shot, I got a bunch more new clients"? "Woe is me, Pinterest has brought a lot of traffic to my Etsy store, and now I have more people queuing up to buy my meme-themed pillows than I can handle"? Has anyone, anywhere, ever lost a single damn cent because an image they owned to right to was posted on Pinterest?

There have been stupider lawsuits, I suppose, yet I'm not holding my breath. And neither, I expect, are the journalists and bloggers who write overwrought articles about "Pinterest's potential copyright scandal". What's really stupid is that such a lawsuit is even conceivable under current copyright laws. If I tear a photo out of a magazine and show it to friends in the name of sharing my inspiration, should I be taken to court, even if I fail to acknowledge the source and/or photographer? Why should it be any different if I share that photo with friends online, as long as I don't pretend that I own it?

Even stupider than current copyright law (which is pretty spectacularly stupid!) is Pinterest's is lame, hypocritical, and disingenuous user agreement. It reeks of the most shameless, dishonest cover-your-ass bet-hedging. I'm not naive enough to expect companies, tech or otherwise, to not be evil. But it'd be nice if they weren't openly disrespectful and contemptuous to the users whose numbers and enthusiasm are the only reason they've been able to raise millions of dollars in funding.

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(Yes, I still have a set of pinboards of my own on Pinterest. For now.)