Think Before You Pin: Pinterest & Copyright (4 OF 4)

The following post is the final of four celebrating Fair Use Week. Check back all week as librarians from the Scott and Gutman libraries bring you stories highlighting the importance of fair use in the lives of students and faculty. Read Post 1, Post 2, and Post 3 to catch up on all things fair use.

Think Before You Pin: Pinterest & Copyright
By Daniel Verbit, MLIS, Scholarly Communication Librarian, Gutman Library

Fair use is a section of the copyright law also called Title 17 of the United States Code that governs the protection of works while promoting scholarship.

In support of Fair Use Week, I talked with Edward Weisz, Co-Chair of Patent Prosecution Practice, Cozen O’Conner. He specializes in intellectual property and has been interviewed in many publications, including Women’s Wear Daily, for his expertise.

How does the law decide if there was copyright infringement?
Attorney Weisz provides an excellent example in which a group of students sketched a bowl of fruit. The class would all have similar results, each slightly different, as they created their original work from the same source material. Furthermore, each student would have copyright over their version; however, if someone did not look at the bowl of fruit and copied off their neighbor’s sketchpad, that would be copyright infringement.

How does this work in practice?
It is easy to take an image and use it in a different capacity in the modern digital world. In Tylor v. Hawaiian Springs, LLC, a college student used a photograph taken by photographer Vincent Tylor for a mock advertisement as part of a homework assignment and posted it to her Pinterest page. This instance is considered fair use, as it was for academic purposes.  

Next, Hawaiian Springs, a bottled water company, re-posted this image on its commercial Pinterest page. The company also edited and used the image on its Facebook page without contacting the photographer. The picture included the photographer’s signature, so there was no question about who took the photo.

The photographer discovered this and filed for a judgment against the company. The company attempted to use a fair use defense; however, as it was used for commercial use, the fair use defense did not apply. The judge in the case also included that a defendant’s knowledge or intent is irrelevant to their liability for copyright infringement. (Tylor v. Hawaiian Springs, LLC, Civ. No. 17-00290 HG-KJM (D. Haw. Jul. 3, 2019)

The photographer sent a cease and desist letter to the defendant to take down the posts using his copyrighted images. The company took down the images, and the case was filed later.

Since the image had been registered in the copyright office, and the company did not contest that they used it and others for commercial purposes, the judgment favored the photographer.

Copyright registration is not needed to secure the copyright; however, registering the copyright increases the creator’s compensation if someone trespasses on their copyright.

Copyright and textiles
Copyrights can be registered for fabric designs, patterns, and cross-stitch graphs in textile design. To submit for copyright registration, the creator must formally submit a swatch. To see an example of fabric swatches, visit the Design Center.

For students designing new fabric swatches, Professor Marcia Weiss, Director of the Fashion & Textiles Futures Center, provides the following advice:

“Do not work with existing textiles to inspire other collections. Consider what inspired you about the original design, and use that as a foundation to create something that is uniquely yours.”

If you have questions about registering copyright for the work you created, the Free Library of Philadelphia is our local Patent & Trademark Resource Center. They are designated by the United States Patent and Trademark Office to help you research and support you in your quest to register a copyright.

Visit the Thomas Jefferson University Libraries research guide to learn more about copyright.