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Photographer takes on Pinterest over copyright

It's not the first time photographers have taken issue with Pinterest. But is a platform really liable for what its users pin?
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A professional US photographer is once again putting to the test the status of Pinterest as a platform protected under DMCA’s safe harbor fair use rule with a lawsuit alleging encouragement of copyright infringement.

The photographer, Harold Davis, is accusing the digital pinboard site of actively promoting intellectual property and copyright violations of its users by the very way in which it functions – allowing them to “pin” images found around the web onto their virtual pinboards.

In a filing before San Francisco federal court, Davis said this is resulting in wholesale, unauthorized copying of photographs.

Davis is alleging that ten of his photographs have shown up on Pinterest without permission, “pinned” from the image sharing website Flickr where he originally published them. Also, he accuses Pinterest of copy/pasting these photos “into emails sent to users” without acquiring his license first.

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Crucially, the photographer’s lawsuit alleges that Pinterest willfully violates his copyright and should not be protected under Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) safe harbor provisions.

These provisions protect platforms, or service providers, from legal liability for copyright infringement done by users or third parties – but only if they meet conditions necessary to qualify for this status. One of them is the takedown notice mechanism that allows rights holders to quickly block access to content that they claim is posted illegally.

Like other similar safe harbor rules, this is what allows platforms, and large portions of the internet, to function the way they do today and host user-generated content.

Pinterest adheres to the DMCA rules, and in addition, states that it can also act at its discretion to ban users found to be violating the copyright of others. Pinterest also invites rights holders to use DMCA’s takedown notice system.

However, Davis is gunning for the very model on which the platform is based, asking the court to award him “statutory damages for willful infringement.”

This is not the first time that photographers in particular have gone after Pinterest, accusing it of being “the destroyer of copyright”. In 2014, Christopher Boffoli sued Pinterest, and before that Twitter and Google, alleging infringement. Pinterest, on the other hand, invoked the DMCA fair use defense. That case reportedly got settled out of court.

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