It’s Not Just Pinterest RE: Copyright & Legal Issues

Because Pinterest is the hot topic of social media, it has come under a lot of scrutiny. First about the use of affiliate links, and now about copyright issues in relation to items saved (or “pinned”) by users. Essentially, people are freaking out and removing their Pinterest content because they fear the repercussions based on the legal translation of their terms of service. But is Pinterest the first to do this? Not by a long shot.

Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer. I’m not even really that good at reading Terms of Service agreements. Please don’t sue me if I don’t explain things correctly or if your image happens to be in one of my screenshots. :)

Why Pinterest is Getting Flack?

Pinterest Boards

From what I can tell, it can be summarized like this. When you add an image to a pin board on Pinterest, Pinterest stores a full-resolution image on their own server. In their Terms of Service, although you or the original source of the image still maintains ownership of it, Pinterest can still use it any way they please.

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.

As far as network usage, you agree not to…

Post, upload, publish, submit, provide access to or transmit any Content that: (i) infringes, misappropriates or violates a third party’s patent, copyright, trademark, trade secret, moral rights or other intellectual property rights, or rights of publicity or privacy;…

Because if you do…


What About Delicious?

Delicious Stacks

Delicious is one of my favorite all time social bookmarking sites. They recently added a new feature called Stacks where you can put a bunch of bookmarks together on one page. Unlike their regular bookmarks, these come with the option of including a larger image or video from the page. While the videos are embedded via their YouTube or other video network code, the full sized images from these pages are saved to Delicious’ servers. And in their Terms of Service, you will find the following.

Your Member Content is yours; AVOS does not claim any ownership rights in your Member Content. By posting, submitting or transmitting any Member Content on or through the Service, you grant us and our third party service providers and partners a worldwide, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, adapt, modify, distribute, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, broadcast, access, view and otherwise exploit such Member Content in any and all media or distribution channels (now known or hereafter created).

If anything legal should arise from content you put on their network…


What About Quora?

Quora Boards

Quora, one of my favorite Q&A networks, has also added a new feature that allows you to add content to boards. When you add a website page to your board, Quora lets you choose an image to go with it. Quora stores that image, in full resolution, on their servers. Then, in their Terms of Service, you will find.

By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Service, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).

And then…

You also represent, warrant and agree that you have not and will not contribute any Content that (a) infringes, violates or otherwise interferes with any copyright or trademark of another party, (b) reveals any trade secret, unless the trade secret belongs to you or you have the owner’s permission to disclose it, (c) infringes any intellectual property right of another or the privacy or publicity rights of another,…

And finally…


What About (Insert Network Name Here)?

I would guess that just about every social network has similar coverage in their terms of service that you or the original source content still owns it, but they can use it and you will be held responsible. It’s not just Pinterest. Pinterest is just on the hot seat right now.

What Can You Do?

For starters, start reading the terms of service for every social network you share content upon. Pinterest is not the only network with these kinds of terms. Or you can wait and see if anyone does get into legal trouble for content they post on Pinterest or similar networks. As far as your own content, you can enjoy the traffic benefits or opt-out.

How are you responding to the possible legal implications of using Pinterest or similar networks? How do you feel about your content being added to these networks? Please share in the comments!

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  1. says

    Does make you wonder though doesn’t it? I mean the file sharing networks got into major trouble just because they facilitated the exchange of copyrighted material. If they’re running into major legal obstacles it does beg the question how safe the likes of Pinterest are.

    I suspect there are more parallels with YouTube than the file sharing sites, in that most of their content is legit albeit with a minority that break the rules, but still, it’s a risky situation in the current SOPA climate.
    Adi Gaskell just posted How do you cope with big data?

    • says

      @Adi – YouTube is a great analogy for this and it was handled the right way. If the copyright holder has a complaint about the content they can ask to have it removed.

      It’s not going to be some big secret that their content was shared on Pinterest. Any click through that comes from Pinterest will show Pinterest as the referrer. At that point the copyright owner can decide which is more important, maintaining copyright control and asking for a takedown or getting the traffic from Pinterest.
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    • says

      Usually the rule-breakers on YouTube just get removed without any additional legal action taken. I think that would be the best way for Pinterest to handle it – if someone reports a copyright violation, have that content removed. Everyone goes about their merry way and those that like having their images pinned can still benefit from the network.

    • says

      I think if YouTube has survived this long while people share copyrighted movie and TV clips, Pinterest can too. They just need to make a faster system for people to report something as a copyright violation and have it removed.

  2. says

    You know what, I actually started writing a post a couple of weeks ago about how Pinterest won’t help your business and I started writing a point on copyright issues and literally a couple days later Pinterest came out with the ‘no pin’ tag for webmasters.

    Needless to say a large chunk of my post was kinda of screwed but I’m glad you’ve written this post because a lot of it I wanted to say in mine. I don’t get what the issue is? Websites have been showing other content for years, forever!, and it’s only because Pinterest is the site of the moment that people are starting to freak out and point the finger.

    The issue here is bigger than Pinterest, and like you say, users need to start reading the T&C’s and understand the consequences of shared content.

    Really great post.

    (If anyone is interested in my post on why pinterest wont benefit your business you can see it here:
    Robyn Smith just posted 3 Reasons Won’t Benefit Your Business

    • says

      Thanks for sharing your post Robyn! I always figure even if someone else writes about it, your audience can still benefit from you sharing the information as they might not read other sites. :)

  3. says

    It is true that Pinterest is not the first, nor will they be the last.

    But just because everyone does it, doesn’t make it right.

    The web is about sharing information, and – people, artists, websites, etc become popular when other people start talking and sharing. To that extent, I think images should be shared and credited back to the original source with a link. But not everyone thinks like that.

    The problem occurs when people use other people’s images to create their own products, or when the original source becomes lost after something has been shared over, and over, and over again.

    It is a gray area, and as a web publisher that wants to do the right thing – I find it scary. I often talk about other people’s products, but I don’t want to infringe on anyone’s copyright.
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    • says

      Very true Neena. It doesn’t make it right, but I’m always a firm believer that you can’t out one site for doing something if tons of other sites are already doing it. I think the biggest problem was Pinterest opening the door for people to upload content. That makes it easy to steal someone else’s image with no credit to the original source. At least when you pin something off the page, even the re-shares include the original link.

  4. says

    It isn’t just that they store full resolution copies on their server and claim the right to use them as they wish, although that is a big part of it. A major problem is people grabbing whatever image they want and pinning it on their boards. My images are all copy righted and while I may like traffic, I don’t want people using them willy nilly without asking.
    Stephanie Suesan Smith just posted Paypal Censors Authors — Make Them Stop Doing So

    • says

      Unfortunately, it’s one or the other. If you want to benefit from the traffic, you have to put your stuff out there to possibly get misused as well. :(

  5. says

    Its just like uploading an image on Facebook, if you upload an image, users can download and reuse it.
    If we do post images on any social media account, we have to be willing to have a slightly open mind. It can be quit a tricky situation, I’d say only upload what you want others to see and don’t mind it being shared or re used, and on the other hand just continue to build your brand and provide quality updates.
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    • says

      It’s not quite Brad. Pinterest isn’t set up specifically so people can download materials they shouldn’t have. It’s meant to just share them (although downloading is easy enough).

    • says

      True. It’s kind of ironic that their etiquette says not to use it for self-promotion (aka, pinning your own stuff) yet if you want to be safe and not violate anyone else’s copyright, you really should only pin your own stuff. :)

  6. says

    I use Pinterest quite a bit but really just for adding other Bloggers content. I hope I’m not being naive in thinking that gathered articles on Social Media intended to drive traffic to these bloggers sites isn’t going to offend them?

    But I can see how Brands or Corporate Logos or Artists may not be happy especially with the comments below them.

    Like I will probably add this post to Week 7 – Content Creation Curation because I think it’s important to social media readers this week.

    I hope you don’t sue me Kristi!

    Ryan H.
    Ryan Hanley just posted Social Media Round-Up – Content Creation Curation – Week 6

  7. says

    Though I have been using Pinterest for only a while now, but never really seriously sat down with the legal things or Terms and Conditions in the real sense. Guess with so many people sharing stuff all the time, better to sit and watch if anything really happens. Those terms and conditions do get a little confusing at times to really follow!!

    I normally choose proper sites or images when I pin content, though I really don’t bother much while re-pinning images from others, which is what I should do I guess.

    Thanks for sharing :)
    Harleena Singh just posted How to Nurture the Perfect Woman Within?

  8. says

    Kristi, usually I read the TOS of every site but honestly I didn’t catch on Pinterest like you did. Am I wrong or it seems that using it you’re somehow selling your soul to the devil in exchange for more or less nothing? This makes Pinterest much less interesting or useful. Not that I’m using it so much but I’m on the good way to decide to delete my profile there. And I’m thinking about doing the same thing on Facebook. At least the devil in exchange for your soul grants you a wish, they do not. Their TOS seems pretty Big G style. “I can do whatever I wish, you do not.”

    Great post clearly. :)
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  9. says

    I have only been using Pinterest for a short time but it seems to me that as with any other site you need to be careful about what you post. Make sure an image either belongs to you or is free for use. Give the source when you can. When I pin a blog post I usually copy/paste the link into the description. It gives credit and makes it easier for other pinners to find the original source. Not to mention it covers me! (I hope!)

    Also it whenever there is a new and exciting social media platform drama arises and freaks everyone out. It’s just part of the circle of social media!

    Stacy just posted 9 Ways to Overcome Frustration and Discouragement

  10. says

    I remember being told and/or reading that these clauses for user generated content exist for liability sake only. I have never seen someone’s content sold or used by the network hosting it.

    I wonder why companies feel to protect themselves they need to have all inclusive rights. It seems far-fetched and then they transfer the liability for copyright infringement on their users. I guess that has become the standard clause as you have pointed out with their quotes.
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  11. says

    Well, Pinterest is in the bullseye because all their site does is post images, and most of those likely violate someone’s copyright.

    Fair use doesn’t really apply to images because you can’t show an excerpt of an image. All of my legal documentation is primarily in reference to written work though, and the fact that Google can index images makes me think there’s something more to it (Maybe in adding a rel= tag or something). You won’t usually see proprietary images showing up in Google image search if they come from a paid gallery. I don’t think anyone will ever shut Pinterest down over it, but if a prominent user ever gets caught dumping pics from Shutterstock or something, we’ll probably hear about it.
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  12. says

    I have been seeing a lot of talk about Pinterest lately. Honestly I have not read the terms of service. I find a lot of them confusing and difficult to understand. The other day I was reading something that was talking about privacy policies. I know they are slightly different, but it said if you read every privacy policy on every website you encounter throughout the year, it would take you 76 work days. My guess is most people don’t read either, or not on every site anyway. We just signup and hope everything goes well.
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  13. says

    What an amazing peice. I think many people don’t know much about repinning and just share all over the place. I think that being able to do this is beneficial, in the sense that you’ll be able to gain more followers. The downside is that the image may be repinned thousands of times. But isn’t that the case with all social media. One example is Facebook. People can reuse your images from your profile.
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  14. says

    I’ve only recently taken a look at Pinterest and I haven’t gone through the Ts & Cs in detail yet. But that is a bit concerning that they will store a full resolution image of what you post on their servers. I guess I’ll have to consider what I post and whether its worthwhile using the site.

    From the limited exploring I’ve done, it does seem like a pretty neat concept, no wonder there’s so much buzz surrounding it!
    Mark Adrian just posted Law of Reciprocity: Give and You Shall Receive

  15. says

    This is awesome, thank you SO much for sharing! I was on a panel about Pinterest at an event last night (St. Louis’ ‘SXSTL’ sponsored by Social Media Club STL and STL Women in Media) and this topic came up, as it should. My answer was similar to yours here – I don’t think Pinterest is the only site where this is an issue. I hadn’t done research yet (like you did!) and am NOT a legal expert, but hasn’t this already been an issue on blogs, on Tumblr, on Google Image search?

    This is an awesome, and eye-opening post. Curious to see if it makes it to courts, what the decision would be.

    – Danielle Hohmeier
    Online Marketing Manager @Atomicdust

  16. says

    As you have already pointed out in another response any click through from Pintrest will show up on someones stats so they will know it has been pinned there. The only issue come if the owner takes offense and how they they can have it removed.
    Matt Kinsella just posted Emotional Freedom

    • says

      Yeah that’s true its so easy to overlook the Ts&Cs, and I admit I often just click “accept” without even reading them, but sometimes it really is important. Especially when its concerning your IP, such as photos you’ve taken or sharing sometime businss-related.

      Very good point though, I’m definitely seeing some traffic coming to my site from Pinterest already. Its an interesting concept, seems like a cross between Instagram and Twitter.
      Mark Adrian just posted How To Persuade People: 5 Essential Persuasion Tips

  17. says

    It begs the question of why a horde of lawyers have not descended on Pinterest – or any of the other sites you describe.

    I think it may be because Pinterest references the images from their URL – in a way it is no more than providing a link – it’s just that unlike text, the link shows as an image.
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  18. says

    I like Pinterest, but I am gonna stress about it either. What’s said is that a fun site has become the brunt of so much drama and people freaking out. We should all practice responsibility with images no more than we do with our own business or blogs. Maintain some type of disclosure and when in doubt link back to the original source so that person or persons get the credit they deserve.
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  19. says

    I think this pinterest stuff is just crazy. Most people are just using the site for fun and not trying to steal copywrited stuff or use other peoples things for profit. It is just a fun site for sharing. If they are going to stop people from pinning then they need to have a close look at all the other sites from Facebook to Delicious and every other site like that out there. They would also need to monitor every blog out there. I always try to reference where I got my pins from to drive people back to the original person, but in the beginning I did just pin things I liked as I thought it was for fun

    • says

      I’m not so sure they would. Because people are merely pinning links to the original content. They’re not copying that content or plagiarising it.

      I think that’s the difference between Pinterest. Its simply sharing something you like with other users. I think artists should be delighted to have people pinning their songs and sites, it’s just free advertising and more traffic to their sites, which builds awareness and grows their fan base.

      Its really no different to Tweeting a link to your favourite band’s site. Except on Pinterest its picture-based. A picture says a thousand words after all!
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  20. says

    Hi Kristi!
    Great article share.There are many social networking sites that shares a lot of content or information that can be righted.If copy this content is shared using pinterest, the content owner can decide what to do and even ask the publisher to withdraw if he does not like promote.Thanks for sharing.

  21. says

    If Getty images gets hold of this and starts claiming their copyrights it could well be over. They have been aggressively threatening with lawsuits or pay-up for their images. Just type “Getty Images Lawsuits” in google and you know what I am talking about.

    Who knows what all these companies put in their terms, who reads 40 pages of it? Not many people.

    I agree, these sites should have a simple and easy process to get stuff removed.
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  22. says

    There will naturally be companies who will be thrilled for the exposure. I think the issue will come into play with artists work who isn’t given attribution.

    For example, a license may grant you use on your site, but not necessarily to be pinned. I should see what iStockPhoto and similar sites are setting out in their licenses.
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