Do You Like Free Advertising? Or, How to Make Pinterest Work for Your Business

Pinterest for Business

The hot new social site is Pinterest, alternately referred to as a threat to Facebook and Twitter and the biggest threat to copyright since Napster. I hardly need link it, as by now you have surely seen the blog post by distraught attorney-and-photographer Kirsten Kowalski, who deleted her account after reading the site’s Terms of Service.

I won’t weigh in on the controversy over Kowalski’s understanding of Pinterest’s Terms of Service, or how they compare to other sites’ terms. It hardly matters; she has ignited the public interest in, and fear of, the potential for violating copyright by using the site. The real question is, what will you, as a business owner and content creator, do about it?

Pinterest, like so many other social media sites, is great for small businesses. It is yet another method of getting people—the people who make the purchasing decisions—interested in and looking at your products. You should be especially interested in the site if your products fall within one of the major categories (Architecture, Art, Cars & Motorcycles, Design, DIY & Crafts, Education, Film, Music & Books, Fitness, Food & Drink, Gardening, Geek, Hair & Beauty, History, Holidays, Home Décor, Humor, Kids, My Life, Women’s Apparel, Men’s Apparel, Outdoors, People, Pets, Photography, Print & Posters, Products, Science & Nature, Sports, Technology, Travel & Places, and Wedding & Events). If your product falls into the Other category, the site may be slightly less useful to you, but it is still an avenue for free advertising. If you, like many businesses, are less concerned about protecting the copyright in the photographs of your products than you are about selling the products themselves, Pinterest is probably a great move.

I, however, am not a marketing expert, so I cannot tell you how best to use the site. I’ll leave that to the experts. What I do know is that if you want people to “pin” your products, you may have to reassure them that you do not intend to chase them down a la RIAA. To ensure that you aren’t sending mixed signals:

  • Make sure that your own site’s Terms of Use are not preventing people from sharing your content. Your linking policy should be clearly link-friendly, within reason. You do not want people linking your content in a way that implies a relationship that does not exist, for example, but your policy should clearly allow a Pinterest pin with a note about how much the user loves your new software product, clothing line, or music album.
  • Join Pinterest and pin as many of your own products as you have time to pin, in as exciting and attractive a format as possible. This will reassure people that you do not mind pinning, and give them the opportunity to re-pin from an unquestionably legitimate source.
  • Put a link to your Pinterest page on your company’s website. Again, this will reassure people that you are fine with social sharing.
  • Make use of Pinterest’s “Goodies” and put a “Pin It!” button on your company website.

If you are not sure whether your website’s current Terms of Use are pin-friendly, but want to make sure to get it right, feel free to contact me for help.

Update March 24, 2012: Pinterest has updated its site Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. The new documents will be effective as of April 12, 2012. These changes to not affect the information provided in this blog post, as Pinterest cannot grant users a license to your business’s content; only your business can do that.

Pinterest logo courtesy of the “Goodies” section on Pinterest. The Pinterest logo was designed by Michael Deal and Juan Carlos Pagan.

What is the Creative Commons and How Does It Interact with Fair Use?

Intellectual Property - Copyright

The Creative Commons is a project initiated in part by professors at my alma mater, Duke Law, through their work at the Center for the Public Domain. The Creative Commons says that it “develops, supports, and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation.”

What exactly does that mean? Well, it means that the Creative Commons project provides legal documents to average people who want to be able to share their content on the web and allow others to use it. There are several options for how to allow others to use your content. You can allow others to use your work commercially (for profit) or non-commercially (for display). You can allow others to make changes to your work, make changes only if they attribute the original to you, or not to make changes.

Who would use a Creative Commons license, and why? It is a great option for creative works like web comics, where the goal is often to get as many people sharing as possible. It is a great option for some amateur or new-to-the-scene artists who care more about seeing their work gain recognition than about making money on the work at the moment. It is a great option for a non-profit or advocacy organization that wants to have its materials distributed by its members with clarity about the expectations surrounding that distribution. It is not a great option if you want to ensure that you have complete control over the use and distribution of something you made.

How does the Creative Commons relate to fair use? Fair use is use of copyrighted material that does not violate copyright infringement laws. Fair use is defined by the Copyright Act’s Section 107. Section 107 states that for certain purposes, including “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research,” copying and making use of other rights granted to copyright holders do not constitute infringement. The Creative Commons licensing system expands the ways in which a particular work can be used without needing specific permission from the owner of the work, to make use and copying of particular works more compatible with the ways in which the Internet allows sharing.

Do you think you might be a good candidate for a Creative Commons license? Want something similar, but don’t think Creative Commons is for you? Feel free to contact me for help!

How Do I Protect My Idea? Part IV: Trade Secrets

Internet Law - Trade Secret - Protect My Idea

You have a brilliant idea. With all your might, you are making it grow. You nurture it with your time, your energy, your hopes, your sweat, your dollars and your dreams.

This idea? Its time has arrived.

When you have put so much creativity, time and energy into something, you want to know that it is as well-protected as possible. My job as your attorney is to help you with the “how.” Sometimes, you know what kind of protection will work best for your idea. Sometimes, you don’t, or you aren’t sure which of your options is the best. This four-part series is a brief introduction to the various types of intellectual property. Today’s topic: trade secrets.

Trade secrets are often ignored in the excitement surrounding the federally registrable types of intellectual property, but this is a mistake. Trade secrets can be among the more versatile types of protection, and are the only way to protect ideas, as opposed to the expression or physical embodiment of those ideas. Trade secrets protect:

Information and/or ideas that: 1) have actual or potential economic value if they are kept secret; 2) cannot be easily ascertained by others who are using proper means; 3) are minimally novel; and 4) are the subject of reasonable efforts to maintain them as secret.

Trade secrets are an excellent choice for protecting an invention or discovery that does not meet the rigorous novelty standards of patent law, so long as it is not easy to reverse-engineer. They are also ideal for certain types of software, tests, recipes, and other intellectual property that is possible to keep secret.

How does one obtain trademark protection? It is simple enough in theory: all you need to do is keep the material secret using reasonable efforts. However, what constitutes reasonable efforts varies depending on the nature of the secret and the size of the company. In general, protection involves legal safeguards such as nondisclosure agreements and physical safeguards such as locks. Maintenance is also facially straightforward: continue to keep the material secret, and take action against anyone who threatens to reveal it (e.g., get an injunction). You should consult with an attorney about how best to protect and maintain your trade secrets and what to include in your nondisclosure agreement.

The greatest benefit of trade secret protection is that it is the only way to protect certain types of intellectual property, such as ideas or inventions that are not sufficiently novel to obtain patent protection. Trade secret protection can be combined with copyright or patent protection (at least until the point of patent registration). Trade secrets can also last indefinitely; the recipe for Coca-Cola, for example, has been maintained as a trade secret for over one hundred years.

The greatest drawback of trade secrets is that they are destroyed by being revealed. There are some remedies for this, but an unhappy former employee has the potential to do a great deal of damage to a company whose most important intellectual property is protected by trade secrets.

Well-known intellectual property protected as a trade secret includes the formula for Coca-Cola and the recipe for Thomas English Muffins’ “nooks and crannies.”