Pinterest: Should You Worry about Copyright?

Guest Blogger – Gena Philibert-Ortega,  Gena’s BlogFood.Family.Ephemera

Social networking has benefitted genealogists through resource sharing, the ability to make connections with other genealogists and learning opportunities. There’s no doubt that using social networking websites can help genealogists further their research.

As we become consumers of new websites we also have to learn how that website works, what their terms of service are and how it affects us. One good example is Facebook. Genealogists new to Facebook often worry about their privacy and whether participation in a social network community will make them vulnerable to hacking or invade their privacy.

A new type of bookmarking website has become a favorite of genealogists. Pinterest <> is currently available only after you request an invite. It bills itself as a “content sharing service.” The main idea is that it provides you the opportunity to “pin” favorite images to a virtual board. Depending on your interests these boards might include such things as favorite recipes, decorating ideas or  book covers. Genealogists have used it to create boards showing their ancestors and other family history topics.

So what’s the problem? Pinterest sounds like a good idea, pinning images to a virtual bulletin board that you can share with others. However, if I were to say that I have started a website where you can post other people’s articles to a virtual board for you to share with others, there might be some discussion about copyright and plagiarism.

Pinterest knows there can be copyright issues with their service. In fact they have recently changed their Terms of Service and made it easier to report improperly sourced content.  In their Terms of Service’s Acceptable Use Policy  it states:

“You agree not to post User Content that: …infringes any third party’s Intellectual Property Rights, privacy rights, publicity rights, or other personal or propriety rights…Contains any information or content that you do not have the right to make available under any law or under contractual or fiduciary relationships…”  < >

So why shouldn’t people just see it as flattering or free advertising if you use Pinterest to “pin their images.” Most people wouldn’t knowingly take other people’s writings and pass them off as their own without proper permissions, yet you are doing that when you pin something. There can be several problems with pinning images that you don’t own aside from the copyright or publishing right of the person you took the image from. For example, the site that you “ borrowed” the image from may have purchased that photo for a specific use and therefore they don’t own the rights to it. In cases where I have purchased photos from archives for publication in a book or on my blog , the contract I have with them is for one specific use.  Republishing it on Pinterest is violating their copyright. That means that they could decide to push a case of copyright infringement against you. Now will they do that? I don’t know but it’s a possibility.

A great blog post on this topic can be found on the DDK Portraits Website. In her post entitled  Why I Tearfully Deleted my Pinterest Inspiration Boards   Kristen Kowalski writes about Pinterest’s Terms of Service and what users have the right to pin and what they don’t. (Because there is a copyright statement limiting what can be quoted from her blog post, I  recommend you just go ahead and read it).

Am I making a case for not using Pinterest? No, in fact I think it’s a great way to share information about ancestors. And you should use it to post  content that you own or that you have gained permission to use from the copyright holders. What a great, simple, visual way to share a family’s story.

What I am saying is be careful about what you post. If the image does not belong to you, then ask permission. Yes, I realize that is a hassle but by using Pinterest you are affirming that you are the owner of the image or that you have permission to post it. Infringing on someone’s intellectual property is wrong, plain and simple. It doesn’t matter if you use their materials in a blog posting and you don’t attribute it or you pin an image from their website or blog because you like it. No, it’s not flattering and it’s not free advertising, it’s unethical. As genealogists we need to be mindful as we navigate the social network sphere and make sure that we give credit where it is due.


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Filed under Copyright, Ethics, Genealogy


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