Monthly Archives: March 2012

Pinterest Spawns Copyright Issues

First there was MySpace.  Then there was Facebook and Twitter.   And then came Google+.  Now Pinterest is “the next big thing” in social media – but it may go the way of Napster soon.

Here is an excerpt of a statement that Pinterest sent the Wall Street Journal:[1]

The protection of copyrighted content is by no means unique to Pinterest — virtually every site on the web that allows users to express themselves contends with copyright complexities. As a company we care about respecting the rights of copyright holders and have outlined on our site best practices that people should abide by when adding pins to make them useful to themselves, the community, and the content owners.

The Information Age has been harsh on Intellectual Property and the laws that protect it in this country and abroad – just ask the entertainment industry about Napster, LimeWire and  Now, Pinterest – a website which calls itself an ‘online pinboard’ – also threatens to run afoul of U.S. copyright laws.

On the Pinterest website users basically create virtual bulletin boards by pinning content ‘found’ across the Internet.[2]  This content includes pictures, recipes and bedroom designs – but what if this content does not belong to the user?

Along with many business and marketers, photographer and attorney Kirsten Kowalski was among the masses that have flocked to Pinterest to create her own virtual scrapbook.[3]  However, one day as she was pinning photos on the website she had an epiphany.  Because she did not own the content that she was pinning, her virtual scrapbook may potentially violate U.S. copyright laws and could subject her to legal liability.[4]

That’s because while Pinterest enjoys DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) protections for user-generated content, website users themselves don’t have the same legal protections afforded under the DMCA.  Therefore, users may be exposing themselves to a significant legal risk and could face severe penalties such as monetary damages.[5]  Further, under the “Legal & Copyright” section of the website, Pinterest makes no mention to their users that they could be violating copyright laws by posting content that does not belong to them.[6]

The easy solution to this copyright issue?  Advise your clients not to post anything they don’t own and create on Pinterest.  Make sure your clients aren’t posting celebrities photos or pinning pictures that don’t belong to them.  Otherwise, they must go through the arduous process of clearing the rights with the copyright holder.

Pinterest did offer this to the Wall Street Journal Law Blog:[7]

Moreover, we strongly encourage people to pin from the original source or permalinks, give credit to the content owner, and include a thoughtful pin description. If a user notices that a pin is not sourced correctly they should leave a comment so that the original pinner can update the source. Many publishers have also added “Pin It” buttons to their site, making it easier to identify content that is okay to add to Pinterest.

Finally, content owners who do not want their material shared on Pinterest can add a small piece of Pinterest-provided code to their site that prevents Pinterest users from sharing that site’s content. We also strictly follow the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to ensure we are in compliance with all copyright laws and respond rapidly to infringement reports.

[1] How to Use Pinterest without Breaking the Law

[2] Is Pinterest the Next Napster?

The social media website lets their users collect ideas they run across on the Internet for such things as recipes, home décor and gardening. Each user then maintains a board of photos and other users can then click on the links to the original source and choose to re-pin the image on boards of their own.

[3] Founded in 2009, Pinterest attracted 17.8 million unique users in the month of February, according to comScore Inc.

[4] Last month Ms. Kowalski wrote a blog post that went viral.  In the blog post she explained why she was taking down photos from others that she had pinned to her virtual bulletin board.

[5]  Illegally downloading one song can net you a $75,000 fine.  That would be a pretty hefty fine for illegally pinning pictures you don’t own on your virtual scrapbook.

[6] See:

[7] How to Use Pinterest without Breaking the Law

March Madness®

I have to admit that while I am writing this I am also watching the Indiana-Wisconsin Big 10 tournament game.  And in about 5 hours from now I will be watching my SDSU Aztecs take on the Colorado State rams in the Mountain West Conference tournament.

Yes, the Ides of March have officially given way to madness – March Madness to be exact.  Brackets will be filled out and busted.  Office productivity will be greatly diminished.  And one champion will eventually be crowned out of 334 Division I college basketball teams.

But don’t be fooled – these college ‘games’ being played by ‘student’ athletes are big business.  The National College Athletics Assocaition (NCAA) recently paid $17 million just to protect the phrase ‘March Madness.’[1]  What began in the 1940’s as a moniker for the annual Illinois high school basketball tournament has morphed a term to describe the greatest sports tournament in this country – and an incredibly valuable trademark.[2] 

Unfortunately, many unsavvy businesses and marketers fail to realize that just like ‘Olympics,’ ‘Super Bowl,’ and “NASCAR,” March Madness is also a registered trademark that is protected by intellectual property laws.  And the unauthorized use of March Madness in commercials and promotional materials could result in legal liability for your clients.  So while point guards are dishing out assists this time of year in the big tournament – the NCAA is also dishing out scores of cease and desist letters and sometimes even sues to defend the ‘big dance.’

Starting in 2009, the NCAA’s Trademark Protection Office began aggressively defending its multiple trademarks associated with the March college basketball tournament.[3]  Teams of attorneys were ordered to scour the Internet for businesses and individuals who might possibly be infringing on ‘March Madness,’ ‘Elite Eight,’ ‘Final Four’ and other NCAA trademarks associated with the basketball tournament – the NCAA has registered 15 marks total.  And for good reason.  According to lawyers for the NCAA, the economic downturn and increased Internet options have resulted in more people trying to make a buck off the NCAA’s trademarks and goodwill.[4]

If you have clients that would like to capitalize off the March Madness craze remind them that it’s okay to use the idea of “March Madness” — being creative with cheeky play-on-words and the general concept of brackets and madness. However, if your clients use the actual trademarked term’March Madness’ in advertising and promotional material, they might just find a cease and desist letter from the NCAA in their mailbox.

The gym lights gleam like a beacon beam
And a million motors hum
In a good will flight on a Friday night;
For basketball beckons, “Come!”
A sharp-shooting mite is king tonight.
The madness of March is running.
The winged feet fly, the balls sail high
And field goal hunters are gunning.

–Anonymous 1942

(From a poem about the Illinois High School Association’s annual high school basketball tournament)

Good play on words by UPS:

While this ad touting the ‘March Madness Sale’ may be questionable:

[1] The NCAA paid $17M to protect ‘March Madness’ term

NCAA paid $17M to protect ‘March Madness’ term

[2] The term “March Madness” first appeared with prominence in 1939 as the title to an essay written by Henry V. Porter for the Illinois Interscholastic, the official magazine of the Illinois High School Association (“IHSA”).

March Madness Isn’t for Everyone – Trademark Usage

[3] Television rights and marketing fees, almost all derived from the annual three-week Division I tournament, account for 86% of the NCAA’s annual revenues, and it scrupulously polices any unauthorized use of “March Madness.”

NCAA paid $17M to protect ‘March Madness’ term

[4] The LA Times reports that according to lawyers for the NCAA, the recent prolonged economic downturn and increased internet channels have resulted in more trademark violtions. These trademarks include March Madness, The Big Dance, Elite Eight, Final Four, and a host of others.

NCAA mounts full-court press on trademark violations