WSJ: Is Pinterest the Next Napster?

Amid rampant discussion of the legality of Pinterest, Therese Poletti writes for The Wall Street Journal:

"Their lawyers say you can't pin anything that you don't own…but the site is saying you can. It's very confusing to users," said Ms. Kowalski, who kept her account on Pinterest. "The quick version of the law is [that] you can't use someone else's stuff," she said, conceding that her blog post is a very basic interpretation. "But there are exceptions."

Pinterest is evidently the current Internet fad and, accordingly, it is subject to an inordinate amount of hyperbole and speculation. Any comparison of Pinterest to Napster is woefully excessive.

The most obvious discrepancy is that Napster was a tool designed and built upon the goal of circumventing copyright. Pinterest, on the other hand, is a means for sharing images already visible on the Internet. You find something attractive, you pin it to your account. You haven't taken anything for your own use, you have merely bookmarked an interesting image just as you would an article. The image has not been stolen, it has merely been reflected elsewhere for people to view.

Pinterest is loosely analogous to textual tools like Instapaper and Readability. The end-user stumbles across an article to save for later, uses a bookmarklet, and then later has the choice to view the article from the source or via the stripped down version available on their chosen service. The primary difference between this and Pinterest is that photographers are able to sell their images if they so choose.

From my perspective, the potential for selling a photograph has not been hampered by it being shared on Pinterest. Quite the opposite, I contend that Pinterest will aid in generating greater interest and discussion about a particular photographer's work. Just as we use RSS to follow our favorite writers, Pinterest allows the end-user to keep up with their favorite photographers, designers, and creatives.

The expression of appreciation and admiration for someone's work via a third party service should not be regarded as a means for theft. Instead, it should be considered a gateway to visibility and increased discussion.

Despite delving into the filthy waters of Internet copyright, Pinterest is most certainly not the next Napster. Even if it was, it's not like Pinterest has the wrath of the multi-billion dollar music industry bearing down upon it. Pinterest must contend with individual concerns and, accordingly, I would imagine it will have much better success in mitigating any potential problems.