Archiver’s Pinterest Misstep Highlights Social Sharing Challenges

A minor brouhaha this week involving some Archiver’s stores’ use of content from Pinterest has once again highlighted some of the challenges for companies of navigating the internet’s social sharing websites and trends.

The story starts very simply: Archiver’s curates Pinterest boards that combine their own in-house content with content pinned from elsewhere. They apparently wanted to highlight their use of Pinterest to interact with their customers, and so they decided to encourage their stores to put their in-house Pinterest content on display in stores with an “As Seen On Pinterest” label on it. Sounds straightforward.

What actually happened was a bit different, however. Several high profile industry designers discovered that their work was on display in one of the stores, without their permission, with the Pinterest label on it.

photo used with permission

So what happened? How did a program seemingly designed to use in-house content to promote the Archiver’s Pinterest account go so far off track? The answer is pretty simple, and is a familiar theme to anyone creating content on the internet: lack of intellectual property law knowledge.

Marketing programs like this are designed at the corporate level and then implemented at the store level by the company’s “boots on the ground”. Perhaps instructions about how to execute the program were misunderstood. But they could not have been misunderstood in a way that had these results if the people on the receiving end of them understood the social sharing platform in question and IP laws.

We have not historically placed a lot of value on either IP law or educating people about it. I remember in college in the early 1990’s having to go to Kinko’s to buy “course packets” of photocopied materials assembled by professors, until lawsuits put a stop to that practice. An entire generation grew up sharing “mix tapes” and copying tapes to share with friends, or recording songs off of the radio. It wasn’t that we didn’t care that it was illegal – it was that we weren’t taught that it was illegal in the first place. And no one seemed to care except in the rare instance (like the course packets).

Fast forward to the internet age, and now we are all content creators and sharing on the internet it seems. And we are surrounded by what seems like freely available content for our use. How do we know what we can and cannot do with it? We were never taught IP law, and yet it is suddenly central to our day to day lives in ways we could never have imagined.

Complicating things are that everywhere we go on the internet, we encounter different sharing platforms with different copyrights built into their terms of use. On one end of the spectrum there’s YouTube, which is built with the sole purpose of sharing video and making it usable by others. On the other end, there’s Pinterest, whose sole purpose is to serve as an index to link back to original content creators. In between, you have Flickr, which lets each user set a different allowable usage on each item they upload (using Creative Commons). And then of course there’s a million other sites, each with their own specific usage terms.

It’s not easy to know what you are allowed to do with that item you are looking at on your screen.

For businesses, this creates special dilemmas since a business can end up responsible for infractions committed by their employees on their behalf. So how much do you assume that your employees know about IP law? The safest answer is probably – assume nothing. This means taking on the burden of educating your employees if they do anything in their job that could be related to intellectual property (which is hard to avoid these days).  It means expense, and extra time and effort – but it’s an investment that can be great insurance against the sort of PR issue that hit Archiver’s this week, or against the cost of copyright violation suits.

Long term, this is just another example of why as a society we need to think about educating our citizens on intellectual property the same way that we educate our kids about government, and the legal system, and the other things that they need to know about to be good citizens. Knowledge of intellectual property and how to handle it is becoming too central to our existence for everyone to not have basic education about it.

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9 Responses to Archiver’s Pinterest Misstep Highlights Social Sharing Challenges

  1. Katie B September 20, 2012 at 11:19 pm #

    Can you recommend a single source on intellectual property and how to handle it as it has all social media for my company has now been placed on my shoulders?

  2. alimom4 September 21, 2012 at 8:04 am #

    Excellent and informative! Thanks Nancy!!!

  3. Amy September 21, 2012 at 8:16 am #

    This is a great article, Nancy!

  4. Dottie September 21, 2012 at 9:38 am #

    Great article, Nancy. I first became aware of copyright and IP issues 30 years ago in, of all places, a calligraphy class. A conscientious teacher cautioned us to be aware of who owned the rights to the words we were penning. It is so important especially for businesses to be aware of IP restrictions. But there is a flip side to this issue: when people post content all over the web, fairly indiscriminately, and urge viewers to pin and tweet and follow and post and scraplift, there is bound to be a lot of grey area about who owns what image and who is the originator of the idea. And if I understand it correctly, the creator has rights to ‘product’ but you can’t copyright an ‘idea.’ It is a complicated issue to begin with and social media muddies the waters in exponentially complex ways. Archivers is going to learn a hard and probably expensive lesson. Hopefully other businesses will take notice. But at some point, the laws will need some modification to reflect the fact that there are more ways to publish now than just print media.

  5. Lisa September 21, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

    Wow, I hadn’t heard about this. I LOVE Pinterest and try to pin from the original site, rather than repin. This issue is not going to go away. I see posts like this on blogs all the time. But since Archivers is a big company, they brought it to the limelight. Thanks for the informative article, as always!

  6. Gab September 22, 2012 at 12:03 am #

    Very interesting Nancy

  7. vicki Jackson September 24, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    Thank you for reminding us all to be careful what we use and how we use it.

  8. Kim September 24, 2012 at 7:56 pm #

    So, how did they get the original pieces? Did they replicate a project themselves or did they print an online image of the project?
    So, I’m sure there will be backlash for this, but why the big fuss? They are not claiming that they created the project themselves. They are not taking credit for the project. Being a photographer I know all to well about copyright issues and “idea” stealing. Only if someone specifically took my digital image/physical image and said it was theirs would it be a legal issue. If I took a image and someone recreated that image, that is not theft, it is inspiration. It looks to me that Archivers recreated the projects and ushered people to Pinterest where the credit for the project is made never once claiming that it was their original idea.
    Let the bashing commence.

    • Nancy Nally September 24, 2012 at 8:10 pm #

      To clarify – Archiver’s directly printed out digital images that had been posted online of projects. They didn’t take projects and recreate them with materials from their store (legally also problematic when you are using the results commercially) – they just flat-out printed out the pictures of projects the designers had published on the web.

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