How to Use Pinterest Without Breaking the Law

Watch out, Twitter! Pinterest is quickly becoming one of the most popular social networks, edging out other social networks like Twitter for referrals to other websites. Its traffic patterns are also one of the most stunning compared to any existing social network, already amassing over 10 million monthly users since its launch in early 2011 — which is faster than any standalone website, ever.

However, this growth comes with growing pains, many of which are big, awkward, and ugly. Users of Pinterest love are addicted to the site because of its opportunity for each individual to develop their own niche in the network by creating boards devoted to their own interests and surfacing other pins and boards related to these topics. However, the images and content pinned is not always in line with Pinterest’s Terms of Service (TOS), which most users likely have never read. As a result, users of Pinterest could easily find themselves in the middle of a legal battle after innocently sharing (or pinning) content. We want to make sure you can keep finding and sharing your favorite recipes, outfits, and inspirational quotes, so we’ve put together a small list of ways to keep using Pinterest without breaking the law.

Own the Content

How to Use Pinterest Without Breaking the LawLet’s start with the basics: Have you even ever read the Pinterest TOS? Let’s take a look (keep in mind the Cold Brew Labs are the developers of Pinterest, and Member Content is the stuff you share on Pinterest):

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.

According to Pinterest, the startup does not own your content — only Pinterest users do. And this is exactly where things get murky, as Pinterest users are sharing pictures, recipes, and other data that is not theirs to share, which is a clear violation of copyright law. The Pinterest TOS actually explains this quite clearly:

You acknowledge and agree that you are solely responsible for all Member Content that you make available through the Site, Application and Services. Accordingly, you represent and warrant that: (i) you either are the sole and exclusive owner of all Member Content … and (ii) neither the Member Content nor your posting, uploading, publication, submission or transmittal of the Member Content or Cold Brew Labs’ use of the Member Content (or any portion thereof) on, through or by means of the Site, Application and the Services will infringe, misappropriate or violate a third party’s patent, copyright, trademark, trade secret, moral rights or other proprietary or intellectual property rights, or rights of publicity or privacy, or result in the violation of any applicable law or regulation.

Whew… that’s a lot of legal mumbo-jumbo, I know. (Hopefully, some of those words in bold helped.) Luckily, I was able to sit down with Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation and IP law attorney specializing in online intellectual property, who detailed not only what this means, but why it’s important that Pinterest users only repin content from the original source, or otherwise share content they actually own.

Deborah first explained the value of copyright, as “when works of art are created, they have a copyright assigned because owners find a value in their work, either monetary or emotional.” In light of Pinterest, Deborah said that “when this work is placed on third party websites, the owners lose their financial benefit gained or emotional benefit.”

As a result, it’s incredibly important for Pinterest users to respect copyright and essentially not steal these “works of art” — especially if they repurpose them beyond Pinterest, which many Pinterest users do. Deborah advises that if you do use an image from Pinterest elsewhere, “be clear that if you use this image or on your blog, it is not yours — and give proper credit… Also be aware that in any [use] of content that relates to commercial content… you could have legal liability anyway.” She advises however, that you should always own what you’re reposting. That said, she notes that there aren’t likely to be many lawsuits from this, as many copyright holders are likely unaware of Pinterest altogether and, if they are, the cost of litigation might be prohibitive anyway.

Of course, if you are a website owner, you can now take control of your own content by using a new bit of code offered by Pinterest to block Pinterest users from pinning content from your site. But, as Deborah mentioned to me, how many content owners on the Internet who are truly concerned about rights to their work even know about Pinterest — let alone know how to use this code?

Don’t Post Pornography

Recently I peeked over the shoulder of a friend using Pinterest and was shocked at what was on their feed of recent pins by their friends. Whereas I typically see nothing but wedding dresses, boots, and bracelets, their main page of Pinterest was nothing but nudity. Is Pinterest the new Pornhub? According to a recent article in Mashable, don’t worry (or, otherwise, get your hopes up); sharing nudity (or hateful content) is not allowed on Pinterest, per its Pin Etiquette under section four. Pinterest community manager Enid Hwang told Mashable: “Photographic images that depict full-frontal nudity, fully exposed breasts, and/or buttocks are not allowed on Pinterest.” However, Hwang did say that “this does not apply to sculptures, paintings, and other mediums.”

Viewing (not to mention, sharing) pornography in certain places can be a violation of the code of conduct wherever you are, whether you are at a library or at the office. Depending on your jurisdiction, certain types of this behavior can also be a state or federal crime. Pinterest obviously does not want to be associated with this type of activity for not just these obvious reasons, but because, as Deborah explained, “Google does not want to rate sites that have questionable content, so Pinterest is likely worried about this,” and thereby is allowing users to flag inappropriate content to help moderate and remove this content.

Of course, if you don’t want to potentially land yourself in hot water both with Pinterest and your local police, it’s likely best not to engage in this type of behavior with Pinterest at all.

Read Your Affiliate TOS

Finally, if you use any affiliate programs — which are popular among bloggers as they can generate quite a bit of additional revenue as a hobby — be sure to read your affiliate program’s TOS. Some affiliate programs have added to their TOS that sharing affiliate links via social sites — even specifically Pinterest — is a violation of their terms. Pinterest undoubtedly can generate a great deal of traffic, so be sure to review your affiliate programs before you get the boot for leveraging the power of Pinterest to make a little extra cash.

Do you use Pinterest? If so, are you concerned that you could get in legal trouble for using this social network? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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Kelly Clay, author of Blog Without Boundaries, is a freelance writer and lifestyle advisor.