In the early 1980’s the world was introduced to the video recorder and pretty soon some parties saw that there may be problems regarding copyright. Two of these companies were Sony and Universal studios – pretty soon the future of the VCR hinged upon the ability to use a video recorder to legally copy a whole television show and play it back later on.Sony, maker of VCRs, won the case when it was heard in the American Supreme court. The court ruled that it such recording was allowed under the “fair use” provision of copyright law.
The new found legal protection that was conferred to the video recorder allowed the mass adoption of VCR’s in every household and enabled the subsequent boom of video rental and video purchasing that is such an additional revenue stream even today with the advent of DVD’s and PVR’s.
Let’s fast forward 30 years and today we face the prospect of Pinterest – the digital scrapbook of our time – redefining the boundaries of copyright. I say redefining because copyright law doesn’t mention VCR’s or Social Media or other technically innovative things in all the legalise. The outer boundaries have still yet to be discussed and settled amongst lawyers.
Some may protest that the recent arrival of Pinterest is infringing our copyright but perhaps we have to look at the issue of fair use and what that could mean for the future…
Lets look at the amount of the work that’s been copied. In the case of pinning images here at RB all that can be obtained are low resolution thumbnails of our images – the originals are not available to the Pinterest folk. Now once again there is no ready definition in copyright law that tells us how big a thumbnail should be but if I take a 21 mega-pixel image the largest I’ll find publicly, in a preview available here, is less that ½ a mega-pixel. Something 1/40th of the size isn’t the original file and unlikely to take away from the value of my image.
The value of my work. This is where I believe we have lost sight of the prize. Anything that points back to my portfolio here is a good thing. If I generate more eyes on my portfolio then that is a good thing as well. More eyes don’t devalue a work – on the contrary it improves it. Think of all those Video and DVD sales in the last 30 years that wouldn’t have existed without fair use being allowed.
All of the above doesn’t takeaway from the fact that Pinterest’s Terms of Service are not very well written but in that respect we have seen bad terms of service from a lot of startup’s including here at RB and Facebook. I’m personally allowing Pinterest a little time to get their house in order and to consult with knowledgeable people. It’s the polite grace that we should give all others. Relevant points in the terms like “…nothing in these Terms will be deemed to restrict any rights that you may have…” shouldn’t be overlooked in the rush to pick out one or two problems. In the mean time it seems that Pinterest react to users submitting takedown notices whether they think there is infringing content or not – they in that respect are listening.
In the end we have to ask ourselves if someone looking at art and pinning it is a criminal or is a person who appreciates art and takes the time to find and curate exemplars of our great work. I’ll go with the latter, since I like to think of my art’s value as a glass that’s half full which people in their kindness want to add to and tell others about.