I love Pinterest, but its purpose and terms of service don’t quite line up

I don’t spend as much time on Pinterest as I spend on Facebook and Twitter every week, but the virtual pin board is my favorite social network. I can collect a  week’s worth of recipes and a weekend’s worth of home projects in a visually appealing way that doesn’t take up any space on my desktop or my bookmarks bar, and at the same time I can share all these ideas, goals and inspiration with my friends.

My Pinterest time, squeezed in between work and grad school, is sacred.
My Pinterest time, squeezed in between work and grad school, is sacred.

Unfortunately, my favorite thing about Pinterest is part of its problem. Pinterest is built on the idea that people will share content that spans a number of categories, and it’s unlikely that anyone with more than a few pins owns every piece of the content they pin. Pinterest has received criticism from the blogosphere for its terms of service, which basically say that the way the majority of its users use the network — pinning content for which they don’t own the copyright — isn’t legal.

Georgia photographer and lawyer Kirsten Kowalski even deleted her Pinterest boards and wrote a blog post about it two years ago. The terms that sparked the controversy are similar to YouTube’s and Tumblr’s, the folks at Above the Law point out. All three sites conveniently relieve themselves of responsibility for what its users post, even when the culture of those networks promote sharing others’ content — especially on Pinterest.

From Pinterest’s terms:

Pinterest allows you to post content, including photos, comments, links, and other materials. Anything that you post or otherwise make available on our Products is referred to as “User Content.” You retain all rights in, and are solely responsible for, the User Content you post to Pinterest.

And, from the condensed version of the copyright section:

We respect copyrights. You should, too.

It’s unfortunate that Pinterest’s purpose as a social network and its terms don’t seem to line up. But the good news is, most content creators actually want other people to see their content — whether it’s a blog post, a photo gallery or a product page — and promotion via pins from others is appreciated. Pins link to the source of the content, so having a number of people sharing that content they don’t own is good for the business’ or person’s page views and/or sales. (I should note here that Pinterest now requires businesses to set up an account specifically for businesses, which has its own terms of service.) For those who do have a complaint about content pinned without the owner’s permission, Pinterest offers a copyright complaint form along with some guidelines for when and how to use it.

With all that said, I don’t know how to fix the Pinterest problem. I know the company has to protect itself, but they’ve basically created an “at-your-own-risk” playground. It’s super fun, and chances are, you’ll be able to play and not get sued or lose your account. But if something goes wrong, you’re on your own.

Are you a Pinterest user? What do you think about the terms you agreed to? What do you think Pinterest could do to be more helpful to its users?


2 thoughts on “I love Pinterest, but its purpose and terms of service don’t quite line up”

  1. Great post Julie! I don’t go on Pinterest often, but when I do, I’m usually there for hours pinning new things or looking around. I like these terms of service because they seem to be more accessible and easy to understand than everything else we’ve read this week. It wouldn’t be a terms of service document if we didn’t find flaws in it! I love your outside sources in this post and I agree about the YouTube controversy. Whenever possible I try to view videos from official accounts or Vevo on YouTube because it makes me feel better.

    1. Thanks, Steven! I’m the same way when logging on to Pinterest — I get sucked in and spend hours there! The pins that say things about not having time for projects because you spend all your time pinning them make me laugh, because that is totally me!

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