Repinning A Photo Infringes Copyright, Judge Rules

A company infringed copyright by repinning a Pinterest image that contained a photograph, a federal judge ruled this week.

The decision, issued by U.S. District Court Judge Helen Gillmor in Hawaii, stems from a lawsuit brought by photographer Vincent Khoury Tylor against Hawaiian Springs, a bottled water company.

Tylor alleged that Hawaiian Springs infringed his copyright by using three of his photos in ads that ran on Pinterest and Facebook.

For the Pinterest ad, Hawaiian Springs' former marketing director re-pinned an image that was first posted to Pinterest in 2012 by Brea Aamoth, a college student who created a mock ad for a college assignment. Aamoth's mock-up incorporated Tylor's photo of the Akaka Falls waterfall, according to court documents.

Hawaiian Springs argued that Aamoth's use of the photo -- and by extension, its own use -- was protected by fair use principles.

Gillmor rejected that argument, ruling that Hawaiian Springs didn't have a fair use right to re-pin the image.

“The record is undisputed that plaintiff's copyrighted image was used exclusively for commercial purposes by defendant Hawaiian Springs,” the judge wrote. “Defendant's Marketing Director posted the Image as an advertisement on its own Pinterest page.”

Hawaiian Springs also argued it wasn't liable because it used outside vendors to manage campaigns on social media, and didn't know copyrighted images were being used in the campaigns.

The company said in court papers that the marketing director who supervised social media “assumed that the public relations professionals who posted content to Hawaiian Springs’ social media accounts did so with all necessary permissions.”

Gillmor rejected that argument as well. “A defendant's knowledge or intent is irrelevant to their liability for copyright infringement,” the judge wrote. “The record is undisputed that the Defendant used plaintiff's copyrighted Images on its commercial web pages without authorization.”

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