I've written before about Pinterest, which is a social bookmarking tool for images. The idea, in case you've been stuck in a cave and are not aware of it, is that you create folders, 'pin' items that you find into them, share them with friends and we all live happily ever after. However, after the first rush of unbridled enthusiasm, some people are starting to get worried about the service and they're closing their accounts. There are plentiful reasons why they're doing this - a concern over the way in which Pinterest basically says in the terms and conditions that it's nothing to do with them, it's all your responsibility, and any law suits are down to you to sort out.
Let me state three things right at the outset - I am not a lawyer, so this posting is not offering any sort of legal advice or opinion. Secondly, I don't have an answer, and I don't think that anyone else does either - we're not going to know, until or if a case comes to court. However, I'm always willing to give my opinion (as you probably know!), so here goes. Finally, I'm aware that copyright law differs depending on where you are, and I am so not going to get into that can of worms!
The first way that you can use Pinterest is to upload your own images. If they are yours, and you have the right to do whatever you want with them, I can't see that there's a problem with this. It's worth checking the terms and conditions for yourself however, since I'm pretty sure that Pinterest is going to make some claim over the images since they may want to use screenshots in their own publicity shots and don't want to have to ask permission from you to use yours. Obviously, if you upload an image that doesn't belong to you, it's a Bad Thing To Do - we all know that, so let's move on.
When you 'pin' an image, you're pulling a copy of the image from the original site and placing it onto the Pinterest site, into your folder. Other people can then repin the image, and while they are encouraged to go back to the original source, I doubt that many people do. Now, if you add images to your Facebook pages that you've linked to, rather than downloaded and then uploaded, you're doing pretty much exactly the same thing. The question for me is 'is this actually copying the image'? If the original owner of the image pulls the picture, it seems to disappear out of your collection. Here's a screenshot where I think the original owner has done just that:
You can see 'The Internet is full!' image has disappeared. Now, according to my innocent and legally naive mind, if I had actually copied it, surely I'd have a copy of it, and irrespective of what the original owner did, I'd still have that copy, but I don't. I suspect that a lot of the legal issues here are goign to come down to what Pinterest is actually doing - if I 'pin' the image, if it takes a copy and puts it on its servers, yes, that's a copy. They'd then need to check back to the original source on a regular basis to make sure that it was still there. However, if they take a placeholder as it were, and then go back to the originating site, grab the image and paste it into the space, that's a rather different kind of copying I would have thought.
Again, if you're pulling images onto your Facebook page, you're 'copying' them, sharing them with friends and encouraging both comment and resharing. Quite what the difference between that and what you're doing at Pinterest - I'm simply not sure - there doesn't seem to me to be any real difference - at least as far as the end user is concerned.
So - I don't know what the answer is. I think it's a really grey area, and I'm not convinced by either side at the moment. Not only do we have to look at the UK/US aspects, the process being used seems to have been around for ever - it's really easy to tell your browser to go to another site, grab an image and place it onto an existing page to embed it. Should you panic and delete your account? I know that some people have (as you will, if you followed the links earlier), but it's a personal call I suspect. Given the number of visits, the users and the number of images that are up there, at some point there's possibily going to be a court case, that'll drag on for years before we get any sort of answer.
Welcome to the Internet!
As stated earlier, I'm very well aware that I'm not a legal expert or anything, so I'm just looking at sme of the questions here. I'd very much welcome other thoughts, ideas and opinions.