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Responding to Controversies, Pinterest Updates Its ‘Terms of Service’ and ‘Pin Etiquette’

Unless you have been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of the latest popular social media site, Pinterest. Indeed, we considered the potential to use Pinterest to promote your law practice in a prior post. For those who aren’t familiar, Pinterest, which describes itself as a virtual pinboard, allows you to “pin” images you find on the Internet to a page referred to as your “board.” You then can follow your friends’ boards and they can follow your boards. Images can be shared (a.k.a. “repinned”) by the click of a button by anyone who finds your image. If you see an image you like on a friend’s board, you just click “repin” to add it to your board. Similarly, if a friend finds something they like on your board, they can add it to their own just as easily. Most people maintain numerous boards broken down into categories such as “Food I Want to Eat” or “Clothes I Want to Buy”.

The Problems

The visually pleasing social media site quickly grew in popularity, but not without it’s share of controversy. First, as discussed on The Sociable Lawyer’s sister site, Legally Easy, many people were concerned that Pinterest was, in effect, promoting the widespread infringement of intellectual property. Unlike sites such as Facebook and Tumblr where people were encouraged to share their own pictures with their network, Pinterest encouraged users to share images they don’t own. Indeed, Pinterest’s “Pin Etiquette” asked users “not to use Pinterest purely as a tool for self-promotion.” Instead, they urged users to “curate” a collection of their favorite images. In other words, Pinterest’s “Pin Etiquette” arguably encouraged users to share other people’s images and actually discouraged users from posting their own (and, thus, images they likely owned the rights to share legally).

Second, Pinterest’s original Terms of Service allowed Pinterest to sell user’s content for a profit. In light of the fact that the content on Pinterest is often the work of professional photographers and artists, this specific Term of Service was particularly unpleasant even for users who would have otherwise allowed their work to appear on the site. This issue was confounded by the fact that, in many cases, the artist wasn’t actually responsible for placing the image on Pinterest in the first place.

New Terms of Service

On March 23rd Pinterest announced updates to its Terms of Service and Pin Etiquette to address these controversies. To address the issue of selling content, Pinterest removed reference to the word “sell” from their Terms of Service. In the blog post announcing the changes, Pinterest founder Ben Silbermann stated: “Selling content was never our intention and we removed this from our updated Terms.” Sure, Pinterest will continue to make a profit from the value derived from content provided by its users, but that is no different than the model for many other social networking sites including Facebook and Yelp. The new Terms of Services provide that “you grant us a non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use, display, reproduce, re-pin, modify (e.g., re-format), re-arrange, and distribute your User Content on Pinterest for the purposes of operating and providing the Service(s) to you and to our other Users. Nothing in these Terms shall restrict Pinterest’s rights under separate licenses to User Content. Please remember that the Pinterest Service is a public platform, and that other Users may search for, see, use, and/or re-pin any User Content that you make publicly available through the Service.”

Second, Pinterest changed it’s “Pin Etiquette” from “Avoid Self Promotion” to “Be Authentic” because “Pinterest is an expression of who you are.” Pinterest’s Terms of Service always prohibited users from sharing material they didn’t have rights to, but the prior language of the “Pin Etiquette” arguably created a conflict with those terms of service. Although the new “Pin Etiquette” is unlikely to actually change the way people use the site, it does resolve that conflict from the company’s stand point. Most experts agree that if you a user using Pinterest, the only way to avoid potential liability for copyright infringement is to only “pin” material which you have the right to use.

Finally, Pinterest announced that they would provide “simpler tools for anyone to report alleged copyright or trademark infringements.” Specifically, they now provide an easy Copyright Infringement Notification Form that can be completed directly on the site. Before they required users to notify them by mail or email.

What do you think of the new changes?  Although they will clearly assist in Pinterest’s long term viability, do they do enough to help protect users and address the prior controversies surrounding the company?


  1. Joe Beasley says:

    Remaining concerns are:
    1 Pinterest is storing full resolution copies of copyright works on their servers without the permission of the copyright holders

    2 Pinterest is removing Copyright Management Information from the metadata of those stored images

    • Matthew Hickey says:

      Hey Joe, thanks for the comment. Those are extremely important points you address.

      • Joe Beasley says:

        Print-Erest is one of the start ups riding on their coat tails that raising even more issues

        • Matthew Hickey says:

          Wow. That is pretty amazing. It’s hard to distinguish “Print-erest” from a site that offers to burn DVDs of material found on YouTube.

  2. mike savad says:

    i think the changes are a real joke. they took out the words SELL and replaced it with SUB-LICENSE? isn’t that another word for SELL? if they really had no plans on selling, and this was a place for small images to be shared with people, then they would shrink the picture down to no larger than 200px, AND not erase the EXIF. so we can still be found.

    there are services ready to print the things found on that site – if the pictures were smaller, they wouldn’t have a business – and it wouldn’t hurt pinterest either because it would still function as it should – but better for everyone because the click on a picture would actually go to the site it was stolen from. instead of loading yet a larger version.

  3. Joe Beasley says:

    Also, the links to the original source do not work, IF you have cookies blocked for the site, A 404 error is returned when attempting to click thru to the original source for the image, This on a site that says it “drives traffic to the source”?

  4. Cindy S says:

    As many artists, photographers, and writers are finding, with ‘reverse search tools,’ their work is often stolen again and again. Once work gets on a site that loses the link back and credit, there is no way anyone can claim it helps the copyright owner get exposure, but that is often the retort when we complain, that we don’t recognize the value of “exposure.” What a laugh.

    The time it takes to find infringements, find hosts of often secretive and malicious sites, (which may be selling our work), send takedown notices, and follow up, eats significantly into productivity. And when we don’t produce as much, we don’t make as much income. There is really no practical option to just ignore theft, as the value of the image or writing may be in that person’s ability to sell it themselves.

    Everyone from bloggers to willful criminals is ignoring copyright laws and often getting away with it because the cost of enforcing the law in any meaningful way is too high. Sure, we can get the stolen material taken down by the site providers much of the time, (per copyright law, specifically the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s takedown process). But again, that represents time that isn’t spent producing new images and writing. Therefore it does cut into profits that way, too.

    I hope that eventually a small claims court type process will be available, as is being considered, so that small claims cases can use something more memorable than takedowns, to educate the public that stealing is stealing, and there’s a price for them, too.

  5. Gina says:

    I wholehearted agree.

    Pinterest’s model is anchored on encouraging people to infringe on other’s copyrights by stealing full-size image and hosting them on their own servers. Take away copyright infringement, and Pinterest disappears in a puff of smoke.

    As far as net citizenry goes, Pinterest is a pirate and a criminal. Some legal entity ought to force them to stop operating – unless they come to their senses and, like Google, limit themselves to thumbnails.