Pinterest and Its Terms of Service: an announcment

Pinterest has been A) growing like crazy in popularity, and B) catching lots of criticism because of its terms of service. There were issues of copyright and Pinterest’s claim to the right to sell your images. See Pinterest and the Intellectual Property conundrum and Don’t Pin Me ‘Bro! The Saga of Copyright and Pinterest, and Pinterest’s Terms of Service, Word by Terrifying Word for background on the issues.

To its credit, Pinterest listened and is responding to the criticism and making changes to their terms of service. They posted on the Pinterest blog and emailed all their users with news of recent changes in the terms of service, privacy policy and acceptable use policy. Those changes go into effect April 6, 2012. Here’s the summary of changes:

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

We updated our Acceptable Use Policy and we will not allow pins that explicitly encourage self-harm or self-abuse.

We released simpler tools for anyone to report alleged copyright or trademark infringements.

Finally, we added language that will pave the way for new features such as a Pinterest API and Private Pinboards.

It’s the third change mentioned, the one about reporting copyright or trademark infringements that we’ll look at first. Elisa Camahort Page started a conversation about those changes on Google+. Here’s some of what Elisa brought up:

1. Do these terms still allow them to swap user links for their own affiliate links? (The terms say they can re-format”, but do not explicitly mention link-swapping at all.) [Editor’s Note: See LLSocial for information on the link swapping or link skimming issue.]

2. Their terms have removed the exhortation not to self-pin or self-promote (kind of a duh update there), but they do specifically say not to use Pinterest to promote any third party or for commercial purpose. How does that work in real life?

3. They continue to put the onus on the user to know they have the right to pin what they pin. That probably aligns with legal precedent, but it also means that they’re not planning to change how visuals display within Pinterest in order for users to have the “thumbnail defense”.

There are many interesting comments in response to these questions that I urge you to go read. One in particular, by +Kelby Carr, who is writing a book about Pinterest, said,

As far as the copyright issue, I think at some point they will need to scale the size of all images even on the pin page itself. If they thumbnail them, yes it isn’t as pretty. But the full size image pin page is the only thing that makes Pinterest different than every other bookmarking/sharing site that pulls in a thumbnail from content shared.

A few minutes later, she added:

I also think it would go a long way if they would ban pinning from sites that are never the original source like Google image search.

No one specifically commented on the fact that the copyright owner is still the person who must police the site and go through Pinterest’s reporting process when they find a violation. As the Pinterest user, there were several ideas in Pinterest and the Intellectual Property conundrum that talked about how to be a responsible pinner and to try to be sure your pins were not in violation of anyone’s rights.

Dropping the idea that Pinterest might sell the content you pin is the topic of The Scientific American blog Symbiartic. They commented on what they call the misconception that sites like G+, Twitter, Facebook, deviantArt and Tumblr are all similar in terms of service in Pinterest updates Terms of Service, drops the “sell”. The writer points out that such sites,

do not claim to right to “sell” and “otherwise exploit” your content. The idea that this was some sort of stock, boilerplate Terms of Service is wrong.

The Symbiartic post cheers on all the bloggers and tweeters who spoke up about Pinterest’s terms with such success, and comments further,

For the people who posted the “but all sites are the same” sentiments, even if that were true, does that mean you have to roll over and take it? Most social media savvy sites like Pinterest do actually listen to their users – they understand the two-way street.

Pinterest itself echos that comment, saying users have had a big influence:

Like everything at Pinterest, these updates are a work in progress that we will continue to improve upon. We’re working hard to make Pinterest the best place for you to find inspiration from people who share your interest. We’ve gotten a lot of help from our community as we’ve crafted these Terms.

Pinterest may have a ways to go, especially on copyright, but they’ve made some significant changes. How do you feel about these new terms of service at Pinterest?

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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