Saturday, 24 March 2012 00:21

Pinterest Terms of Use Changed

The Pinterest Terms of Use will change from 6 April 2012. The new terms of use are now published on their website. Within the new terms of use they they have chosen to link to the well known chilling effects website. This is a platform used by the many tech businesses which depend financially on using/exploiting content created by other organisations/people. Chilling effects advises on how to challenge copyright infringement allegations and is supported by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the law schools of several US Academic Institutes.

Right To Sell Removed

One of the first changes we've noticed is that the right to 'sell' content pinned to Pinterest has been removed. Pinterest say in their announcement that -

Our original Terms stated that by posting content to Pinterest you grant Pinterest the right for us to sell your content. Selling content was never our intention and we removed this from our updated Terms.

This is the relevant revised paragraph -

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.

From our own discussions with Pinterest they readily agreed that the right to 'sell' was actually a mistake, this is acknowledged in their announcement. All they have done is to correct their error, their intent and business plan has not changed, see more about this below. However, we welcome the fact that they have corrected the error.

Users at Risk

Note that the responsibility is still firmly and squarely placed on the user to ensure they have permission to grant these rights -

1d) To third parties. Pinterest values and respects the rights of third party creators and content owners, and expects you to do the same. You therefore agree that any User Content that you post to the Service does not and will not violate any law or infringe the rights of any third party, including without limitation any Intellectual Property Rights (defined below), publicity rights or rights of privacy. We reserve the right, but are not obligated, to remove User Content from the Service for any reason, including User Content that we believe violates these Terms or the Pinterest Acceptable Use Policy. It is important that you understand that you are in the best position to know if the materials you post are legally allowed. We therefore ask that you please be careful when deciding whether to make User Content available on our Service, including whether you can pin or re-pin User Content on your boards. To learn more about copyright and fair use, please click here for some links to useful third party resources.


Notice that the 'click here' in the above paragraph links to chilling effects. Other than the right to 'sell' very little has changed in the 'grant of rights' terms. The philosophy of their site is still to encourage members to copy content from other people or organisations' websites to the Pinterest website, then place the entire legal responsibility on their members for such copying.

Why? Because the PInterest business model has to start making money at some point. How can it do this? By monetising the content belonging to other people copied to it's website, possibly via advertising or affilliate programs, or in some other way. It may not be monetising that content overtly at present, but it must do so at some stage because it is gobbling up a lot of investors money to keep it afloat. As soon as it starts monetising the content the cat will be out of the bag and legal actions will commence. They are still in a period of grace - but for how long?

Reporting Infringements

In their announcement about the new Pinterest terms they said that "We released simpler tools for anyone to report alleged copyright or trademark infringements." For further details about how this works we refer you to the website where examples of the new procedure are illustrated.

We welcome anything that simplifies the reporting of copyright infringements. We will continue to complain that Pinterest are NOT being pro-active in ensuring that copyright infringements are minimised. At least not yet, it is still our hope that they will accept proposals we made to them that will resolve the copyright issues. We will expand on that point in our next article in our series Pinterest versus Ethics and the Law.

Pinterest Created Content May not Be Used Without Permission

This requirement (see paragraph 2) remains unchanged. We have no complaint about that and will honour the Pinterest request. However, it is very disappointing that the Pinterest business model is dependent, if not stated overtly, on members copying others' content without permission, which Pinterest will eventually monetise.

We believe that by not being proactive in enforcing the permission principle Pinterest want to have their cake and eat it at the same time. This, as everyone knows, is not possible.

Private Pin Boards

According to their announcement they say "Finally, we added language that will pave the way for new features such as a Pinterest API and Private Pinboards." We've not had time yet to analyse this language for the sake of review in this report but it is clear that Pinterest are still seeking ways to circumvent the legal and ethical provisions of copyright law. They have latched on to the idea of 'private pinboards' as a way of getting out of the hole.

It may be that 'Private Pin Boards' are a way forward, but will this only be an option for members, not a mandatory requirement for all members? How can Pinterest monetise private content? Once we've had time to consider the 'Private Pinboard' concept, and when Pinterest release additional information, we'll report our views and advice. In the meantime we can only consider what they are actually doing right now, and it's far from satisfactory.

Conclusion - Flatters to Deceive

Nothing significant has changed in the Pinterest project with respect to the basic provisons of copyright law.

  • Pinterest have made no provision to ensure that members get permission before copying, e.g. they could release an html 'permission code' instead of the current html 'blocking code' then only those sites using the html permission code could be copied from. We have discussed this option with Pinterest. Currently Pinterest are treating copyright as a system that everyone has to opt in to.
  • Copyright notices embedded in image metadata are still being deleted from all content copied to Pinterest.
  • Copies of infringed content are still being stored on the Amazon servers.
  • Members are still being left to take the blame for carrying out activities promoted by Pinterest.
  • The Pinterest business plan is still aiming ultimately to profit from having others' content displayed on it's website, most of which is without the permission of the creator.
  • Other businesses are being launched to further exploit content copied to Pinterest without permission

If one were aiming to design a business model to undermine the basic principle of copyright law, that is getting permission before use, then Pinterest would be just the sort of business one might invent. Not that we are suggesting that this is the intent of Pinterest. Pinterest have merely, like others, created a business to exploit other's content in the hope that it will be profitable. Profit, the necessary life blood of any business, is their intent. It is however very unfortunate that undermining the moral ethos of copyright law is a by product of their business model.