Pinterest Revises Their Terms Of Use…But Are The Changes Enough?

I have had a LOT of feedback about my article about why I deleted by pinboards because of Pinterest’s Terms of Use. Everything from fear to curiosity to anger. In case you haven’t read my earlier articles, I’m actually very impressed with Pinterest and their approach to social sharing. I even took a stance that Pinterest may be the next raging social network and edge Google+ further to the back-burner. So I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I’m a Pinterest-hater. I’m not.

Honestly, I hope to back on Pinterest soon. As a social media geek, the site absolutely fascinates me!

However,  I did delete all my pinboards because I was uncomfortable with the way Pinterest was handling their approach to licensing of my original content and placing all the liability of any copyright infringement suits. Their original terms of use gave them an unrestricted, irrevocable license to use my materials in any way they chose…including commercially. I just don’t abide by that. I took the time to create my social media cartoons, Pinterest and other Pinterest users shouldn’t have the right to use/sell them without my permission, even if I do share them on a pinboard.

Pinterest announced an update to their terms of use, including a change in their use of material under copyright protection in a commercial manner.

Click the image above to read the full email from Pinterest about changes to their Terms of Use.

And apparently Pinterest has heard the voices ranting against their Terms of Use.

In an email to Pinterest users this morning, CEO Ben Silbermann announced that the company is updating their Terms of Use to redefine how the company can use material protected by copyright in a commercial manner.

But is this enough to draw me back to Pinterest? It does resolve the issue relating to how Pinterest can use my original materials. If you recall, I had an issue with the original Terms of Use, which stated:

Member Content

We may, in our sole discretion, permit Members to post, upload, publish, submit or transmit Member Content. By making available any Member Content through the Site, Application or Services, you hereby grant to Cold Brew Labs a worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free license, with the right to sublicense, to use, copy, adapt, modify, distribute, license, sell, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, stream, broadcast, access, view, and otherwise exploit such Member Content only on, through or by means of the Site, Application or Services. Cold Brew Labs does not claim any ownership rights in any such Member Content and nothing in these Terms will be deemed to restrict any rights that you may have to use and exploit any such Member Content.

Under the new Terms of Use, Pinterest removed the language allowing them to commercially use any content submitted to the site. HOWEVER, the following licensing language still exists in the new Terms of Use, scheduled to take effect on April 06, 2012:

How Pinterest and other users can use your content. Subject to any applicable account settings you select, you grant us a non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sublicensable, 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.

Non-exclusive….royalty-free…transferable..worldwide. Yeesh! That’s quite a commitment! But keep in mind that a subtle, but very major change to the new language is that this licenses is restricted to use On Pinterest. So, while other users could create a beautiful pinboard of your original photos, they could not take them and sell them, nor could Pinterest.

Whew! Good change!

But, that wasn’t the only issue I had with Pinterest’s Terms of Use. I also didn’t like the fact that Pinterest absolved themselves of any legal liability by effective saying “if you upload it, you better have permission, otherwise the lawsuit is ALL on you!” Most Netizens aren’t up-to-speed on Copyright law, so I think there is a responsibility for social networks to do everything they can to discourage Copyright infringement.

While Pinterest has not adjusted the Terms of Use placing the liability on the user, they are rolling out tools to help report infringement and, hopefully, this will make it easier to get content removed. The onus, however, is still on the Copyright holder to locate their shared content on Pinterest and report it.  The indemnification clause in the Terms of Use states:

You agree to indemnify and hold harmless Pinterest and its officers, directors, employees and agents, from and against any claims, suits, proceedings, disputes, demands, liabilities, damages, losses, costs and expenses, including, without limitation, reasonable legal and accounting fees (including costs of defense of claims, suits or proceedings brought by third parties), arising out of or in any way related to (i) your access to or use of the Services or Pinterest Content, (ii) your User Content, or (iii) your breach of any of these Terms.

Basically, “if you get sued for something you posted and didn’t have the permission to post…you’re on your own.” And remember, Copyright infringement is evaluated unders a standard of  Strict Liability so it doesn’t matter if “you didn’t know it was protected by Copyright law” or “didn’t mean to share something protected”. If you violate Copyright law…you’re on the hook, whether you meant to or not.

The interesting thing, here, is that Pinterest appears to be taking the approach that if they add an indemnity clause to their Terms of Use and they treat themselves as just the platform where the activity takes place, they’ll be able to claim the “safe-harbor” defense under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. Not sure that worked out so well for Napster, so it’ll be interesting to see how Pinterest behaves when the first big copyright infringement lawsuit arises.

So, the good news is that our voices have been heard and Pinterest has made some changes. Now, you have to decided whether the benefits of Pinterest outweigh the risks. Personally, I’m going to go back to the site, but will only be sharing content that I have personally created. It’s not as fun as going whole-hog and pinning everything out there that I see, but until I”m comfortable that I won’t be held personally liable because I re-pinned something that was uploaded without author permission…I’m just not willing to risk it.

As always, this is just my $.02. It’s not legal advice and I’m not trying to tell you whether you should or shouldn’t use Pinterest. I just want to help folks understand the potential risks. I’m up for any comments/feedback/criticism.



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Comments And Reactions

  1. Scott Allen says

    Excellent analysis — very helpful. I’m just getting started with Pinterest, so this is good stuff to know.

  2. Tom Burich says

    I have a Pinterest account and have been hesitant to post a pic – I did not review in depth as you have but I do have the same concerns The pics are mine and I should have final say to their use.

    Good post!

    • Sean R. Nicholson says


      My primary concerns have been over images/photos that I own the copyright for. I don’t want to give up that copyright protection, and the original Pinterest Terms of Use effectively required that I sign over any copyright protection via a license for the content. The new Terms of Use limits that license to just use on Pinterest, so it’s much more reasonable.



  3. If websites have a “Pinit” button on their site and/or under their images, does that mean they’ve given permission for anyone and every to pin their work?

    • Sean R. Nicholson says


      I would assume that any blogger/website owner who adds a PinIt button is giving their readers the ability (and an implied permission) to then share the images/content on Pinterest. I also removed the PinIt button from my Sharebar when I conducted my original Terms of Use analysis. I’ll be thinking hard about whether I want to add it back under these more limited terms of use.


  4. Usually, I pin artwork, products, and other interesting things on the web, but I really don’t see anything that would hurt me. If they want to come after me after pinning, they can have my life savings and I’ll live in a cardboard box. That would be great publicity for them, I’m sure!

    • Sean R. Nicholson says


      Artwork is a sticky issue…especially if you don’t have consent from the artist. It would be the artist that would sue, not Pinterest, but if any damages were awarded then the indemnification clause who effectively hold Pinterest not liable for any damages.

      It’s all about whether Pinterest users are willing to take the risk. It sounds like you’re not worried about the risk, but there might be others out there who are.

      I’m not trying to steer people one way or another, just trying to help readers understand the Terms of Use before they jump into something that could create trouble in the long run.



  5. Joe Cheray says

    Ok so this still doesn’t alleviate my concerns over written blog posts. I have a hard time pinning anything with my words on Pinterest. Images are one thing written words are another. Anyone can strip my creative commons code. I guess the new language still doesn’t make me feel good about pinning anything from my site. Just makes me want to continue using StumbleUpon more and more because Stumble users understand that it is about sharing and discovering.

    • Sean R. Nicholson says

      I’m with you, Joe. While Pinterest has driven significant traffic for a lot of sites, I’m not sure I’m willing to change losing the copyright protection of my content. StumbleUpon has been a great traffic driver for me and I think I’ll stick with it for now, until I’m comfortable with the approach Pinterest is taking.

      Just my $.02, though…


  6. Arnie Fulmer says

    Pinterest Revises Their Terms Of Use…But Are The Changes Enough? via @socmedsean

  7. Basically, you could be sued if someone wants to sue you for using their photo or artwork. Now I’m not sure I want to use this new service at all.

    • Sean R. Nicholson says

      Yep, that’s about it. But that’s the law, regardless of whether it’s on Pinterest or not. If you don’t have permission to use and you do so, you run the risk of infringement. The real challenge with Pinterest is re-pinning things. Are you sure the person who origianally pinned it had permission? Usually we don’t, so the burden is not on anyone who wants to re-pin to track the permission all the way back to the original source. Uggh!

      It’s not perfect, yet, but Pinterest is obviously interested in making this work, so I expect that we’ll see continued improvements to their Terms of Use as they grow.


  8. anne thomas says

    hmm i wonder if someone has a pin it button on their website if they could also come back & say you were not allowed. interesting!

    • Sean R. Nicholson says

      Yeah, the PinIt button is sticky, too. I removed the PinIt button from my blog, because of the original terms of use. I’m doing some real thinking about whether I want to put it back in my Share Bar.


  9. tincanman2010 says

    Facebook had quite a learning curve on people’s tolerance of ‘Big Brother’ (and you could argue they still don’t get it, and are still open to an even bigger backlash). Perhaps the same will happen with Pinterest.

    I think these companies are missing the point, though. they are listening to their lawyers, when they should be listening to their users and to risk management experts. I say that because it isn’t a lawsuit they should fear most, but a backlash. We’ve all seen how quickly allegiances can change, like a hip nightclub that is empty in a month. Or the upstart browser Firefox, the darling of the non-conformist set. It caused such distruption and is now passe (its loyalists just don’t realize it yet). The non-conformists have move on to non conform elsewhere.

    The beauty of internet companies for us consumers is it doesn’t take the building of an expensive factory to produce a competitor. So Google and Facebook and Twitter are monopolies, but they won’t always be. Pinterest will need to change their mindset, or it’ll be a short reign.

    • Sean R. Nicholson says

      Great points tincanman!

      At first, I think Pinterest didn’t see this as anything they should be worried about. Heck, they’ve been in business for 2 years with the original Terms of Use and haven’t really been concerned. Not until recently, as traffic to the site has exploded and bloggers and artists have complained have they re-assessed their Terms of Use.

      At least they’re listening and evolving. Without their users…there will be on Pinterest. I’m not quite convinced to jump back on the Pinterest bandwagon, yet. But we’ll see…



  10. great article; Pinterest will continue to improve TOU.

    • Sean R. Nicholson says

      Thanks, and I completely agree. I think Pinterest (and any social network) is still a work in progress and will have to continually evolve to meet the needs of the community. At least it looks like Pinterest is listening and reacting.



  11. Well, they are pros and cons to everything, Pinterest is doing a great job!

    • Sean R. Nicholson says

      I agree! The fact that Pinterest has listened to the communities concerns and made adjustments clearly shows that they are engaged. Again, I’m not hating on Pinterest, I hope they get these issues resolved soon. I think it’s a great social network and definitely I definitely want to engage again. I’m just sharing some information that I hope is useful to others so they understand the potential risks of using Pinterest.



  12. Dana J Lange says

    Since I do not create original material, I am not concerned about the use of my material. If I did, I would not use Pinterest. The fuzzy digital copyright laws are always a concern on all social media. Good article, thank you for sharing.

  13. Catherine White says

    All users of social networks should be acquainted with the Terms and Conditions of all social networks. Only this morning, I’ve posted on my facebook photography page a clause for FB T&C reminding users once their photos are posted they give up certain rights.

    Good on you Pinterest, but as a photographer it doesn’t go far enough. I have a placeholder, but will never use it. The site looks amazing, but I’ve worked to damn hard to create my IP for others to whore it on their sites like cheap knock offs in Chinatown.


  14. Wendi B ~ What Wendi Wants says

    Great article. As a blogger, in some groups, this is a huge topic right now. We LOVE Pinterest, but it may be too big of a risk to continue using. 🙂

  15. Caffeinated OC Mommy says

    My Dear Sean,
    Thank you for this FABulous post… maybe I’ll delete my boards too… maybe… xoxo

  16. Very interesting info!! Thank you and have a fabulous week!

  17. I am agree with their new terms of use since everybody is using pinterest. You can’t help but repinned and post the photo to other social media sites even if its copyrighted. They are doing a great job! 🙂

  18. Thanks Sean for looking at this and letting us have your thoughts. I agree with you I think I will only upload content that I have created as it could be risky uploading other peoples content. Best to be safe!

  19. Hmm, it may be too big of a risk to continue using. Just my two cents.

  20. Wow, this is really interesting reading. I am glad I found this and got to read it. Great job on this content. I like it.

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