What is Pinterest - and should I be worried?

Pinterest is the new social sensation – but many users are concerned about the service’s legal implications.

The site has become very popular very quickly, but a detailed look at Pinterest’s terms of use has caused some users to close their accounts.

So what is Pinterest – and should you be worried?

What is Pinterest?

Pinterest is a new social platform that aims to “connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they love.” In essence Pinterest offers a way for users to ‘pin’ their favourite photos or videos to a series of virtual pinboards, which are organised by theme. They can then follow other users’ boards. For example, if you are particularly interested in widgets, you might choose to follow boards that are dedicated to widgets. You can then re-pin photographs or videos to your own boards. This is similar to Tumblr’s ‘reblog’ functionality.

Why are people worried?

Pinterest has become very popular very quickly. The service is very much in its infancy, and yet it reportedly already receives over a billion pageviews a month.

There have been murmurs of concern about the potential copyright implications of Pinterest. The most significant worry is that the platform allows (even encourages) users to add content to their boards without providing a credit or linking back to the original source. Photographers and other ‘content producers’ were initially angry about this – but the concern has now spread to the users themselves.

Several users have trawled through Pinterest’s terms of use, and have found clauses that have worried them so much that they have closed their accounts. There are three main points of contention.

Ownership claims. By pinning something, you are asserting that you are the “sole and exclusive owner” of that content, or that you are in a legal position to grant Pinterest the right to use it.
Pinterest’s right of use. By pinning something, you agree to give Pinterest’s parent company the right to use that content in virtually any way it pleases. This includes selling that content on, royalty free.

Liability transfer. Finally, and perhaps most concerningly, the terms of use mean that you indemnify Pinterest and agree to accept all legal liability for potential copyright violations. So, if a photographer sees that you have pinned their content without permission, it is theoretically you, not Pinterest, that will be held accountable.

What should I do?

You need to be alert to the copyright issues associated with Pinterest. As with any platform, it is vital that you do not use content unless you have the legal right to do so. You should also remember that Pinterest’s terms of use require you to accept the legal consequences in the event that you do accidentally use someone else’s material.

But content producers should also think hard about their involvement with Pinterest. Creative businesses have begun using the service to pin their own content as a marketing exercise. But you should make sure that you read the terms of use carefully before doing this, understanding that you are granting Pinterest wide-ranging rights by using the service in this way. If you are not prepared for Pinterest’s parent company to exploit your content, Pinterest is probably not for you.