Saturday, March 3, 2012

This I Believe....

...about copyright law and the digital age...

Reading copyright law and TOU (Terms of Use) policies on popular websites where copyrighted material might be shared, is worse than using MS-DOS, or doing your own long form income taxes--I'd rather read about the Kreb's cycle or the immune response, or scan the package insert (PI) for disclaimers on safe prescription drug use!! Even the most conscientious user of publicly posted information on the web could make an unintended error in interpretation.

I know, because after reading Jennifer Hudson Taylor's blogpost yesterday at Hartline, I read the attached discussion of the current law and fine print of TOU from Pinterest and Tumblr. Ugh! Seriously, you'd need a law degree or retainer for a copyright lawyer to interpret these things!

Anyone who used MS-DOS, dreamed of a user-friendly world where the not-so-tech-geek with average intelligence could use a home computer not only with ease, but with enjoyment. I hope copyright law and TOU policies will one day catch up with the complexities of the world wide web.

The first laws in America were passed in 1783--229 years ago!

Taken from (to give proper credit): 
"compiled by Benjamin W. Rudd 
January 8, 1783. The earliest copyright statute 
in the United States was passed by the General 
Court of Connecticut under the title 'An Act 
for the Encouragement of Literature and 
Genius.' Dr. Noah Webster, famed lexicog- 
rapher and one of Connecticut's most distin- 
guished men, was directly instrumental in secur- 
ing its enactment." (source: )

Many states quickly passed laws of their own. I'm quite certain Noah Webster never dreamed of the world wide web. I'm not an expert in copyright law, but just an average person with the desire to abide by the law. I believe the intent of copyright law was designed to give credit to the original artist or author who produced published written works and protect him or her from others who would infringe upon the author's right to gain from their own works. 

The first Federal copyright law was passed in 1790 and had provisions for limitations: the period of protection was for only 14 years and an author could renew his protection at the end of the first term "if he was still living."  The very fact of limitation implies that there might be exceptions and circumstances affecting the provisions. Certainly the first framers of this law didn't comprehend that the average life span would stretched to seventy plus years. Nor did they comprehend a digital world where Pinterest boards might be popularly viewed as something akin to sharing a favorite magazine clipping with friends--a paperless way to organize previously clipped recipes, pictures, articles, and research.

The article linked in Jennifer's blog yesterday was from a lawyer, who was similarly confused about the TOU policy for Pinterest in regards to copyright interpretation. Now, if a lawyer is unclear, what are the rest of us supposed to think? Ignore the public chat, or take down all my boards and jump off Pinterest for good? I'd like to hope there is a happy middle ground where user friendly policies can be understood and used. 

In writing nonfiction works, if the author quotes a source, she should put it in quotes or give credit to the source. In research and educational works, we are required and taught to site works properly in the bibliography. All this to give credit where credit is due. So, are public websites like Pinterest, where the original source can be linked, or the pathway to the original can be followed--is this like crediting the source? 

I don't have the legal answers.

I haven't decided what to do about Pinterest, but I've stopped pinning until I decide. I've pulled my "follow me on Pinterest" button on my blog until I learn more. I did send an email to a photographer to ask permission to pin or post her work on my boards and blog.

I did read the TOU on Tumblr. In the five years Tumblr was been up and running their website states they've had over 10,000,000,000 posts--I believe that's TRILLIONS!!  Do you really think that the number of potential authors, photographers, artists involved would like trillions of emails requesting permission to use those trillions of items for personal enjoyment and nonprofit use?? So, what actual percent of repinned, or reposted material needs a formal permission from the originator? If the originator doesn't block his or her work from being shared or pinned online, does that imply permission?

Answer please....someone...tell us in plain English....

Until then, Lord, please hasten the day where TOU's and copyright law won't give me the headache that MS-DOS and the IRS do!


  1. Ok, I'm a little encouraged. I sent an email to a photographer I love asking permission to pin her work to my boards. She said, "sure". So, now I ventured to a favorite photo-sharing website and sent several permission emails to contributors. So, I haven't panicked completely, and I've left my boards up.

  2. So, I've gotten several emails back from photographers, none have been opposed to pinning their work on Pinterest as long as there is a link, and credit given to them. In my emails I stated the purpose for pinning. So, at the point, I'm not taking down my boards. I'm just becoming more selective about my pins. I'm more cautious about giving credit and making sure there's a good link to the source.

  3. Alright, after a week or so, I'm ready to put my "Follow me on Pinterest" back on my blogsite. But I will still work hard to be give credit, and make sure there is a proper link. I recognize that in this visual world, it's the photographers who can both suffer and benefit from a virtual world.

    Flickr is a site that is easy for amateurs to post to, but it's also easy to email them and ask permission to pin their work.

    Dreamstime is a site that has public domain pics and free images. It is easier to navigate and find who needs the credit, and the TOU was easier to read.

    I find Tumblr hard to see who posted the original image, and the Terms of Use were cumbersome.
    Happy pinning!

  4. Here's a little more tidbit I learned today. Better Homes & Gardens, County Living, Martha Stewart Living, and Real Simple---these magazine websites invite you to follow them on Pinterest. This must be in their contracts with their photographers? Whereas, I couldn't see the same invitation on the home websites for magazines like Midwest Living or Cooking Light.

    I read in the local newspaper that sales for Martha Stewart and BH &G skyrocketed this year due to Pinterest. So, I'm thinking that Pinterest will be around for a while...hopefully Martha read the small print in the contract a little better and there will be no "insider" work going on! :o)

  5. Aha! Pinterest releases new terms of use (TOU) April 6,2012. You should get an email regarding the changes. I encourage you to read them carefully. Sounds like Ben and his Pinterest team are on the cutting edge of making pinning user friendly in this changing virtual world! Happy Pinning! :o)