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Pinterest Announces Changes To Its Terms Of Service

Pinterest, the latest social media craze, announced on Friday night in an email to users that it intended to make certain changes to its Terms Of Service.  The changes will not go into effect until April 6, 2012.  Pinterest has come under fire for allowing (or arguably encouraging) its users to infringe the copyrights of others by posting copyright protected content and/or images on their Pinterest boards without first obtaining permission from copyright owners to do so.  Indeed, Pinterest is all about allowing its users to generate Pinterest content by "shar[ing] beautiful things [users] find on the web."  With over 10 million unique users and no signs that Pinterest is a passing phase, the copyright issues posed by Pinterest have come front and center.  So what was Pinterest to do?

Well, to start, it announced that it was changing a few provisions in its Terms of Service (TOS).  First, Pinterest's new TOS omits the provision contained in its original TOS that allowed Pinterest to sell user's content.  In announcing this change, Pinterest stated: "Selling content was never our intention and we removed this from our updated Terms."  The new TOS provides (in Para. 1(b)) that users grant Pinterest 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 [the user] and to our other Users."  The new TOS also deletes the words "irrevocable" and "perpetual" from this grant provision (which had been included in the original TOS under the heading "Member Content").  This clarification that Pinterest will not commercialize potentially infringing content is helpful -- particularly to Pinterest.  So far, Pinterest is not a commercial enterprise.  It is funded by"outside investment from entrepreneurs and venture capitalists."  Though, Pinterest acknowledges that "making money" is a "long term goal."  Will it be able to make money and stay within the safe harbor of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act?  Well, not making money by directly selling user-generated or aggregated third-party content certainly helps.

This change, while welcomed by most users, does not address the underlying copyright issue.  On that front, Pinterest announced the release of "simpler tools" to report copyright infringement.  Pinterest now offers an online Copyright Infringement Notification form, which allows a copyright owner to submit information regarding allegedly infringing content.  Previously, Pinterest required that takedown requests pursuant to the DMCA be submitted by email or by mail.  Moreover, Pinterest's Acceptable Use Policy requires that users agree not to "pin" any content that infringes another's intellectual property rights. Pinterest further encourages its users to:

  1. Pin from the original source.
  2. Pin from permalinks.
  3. Give credit and include a thoughtful pin description

In addition, Pinterest recently released a piece of code that allows website owners to prevent the "pinning" of content from their sites.  The usefulness of this code, however, is limited given that every content owner would have to implement this code on every webpage.   But, it nonetheless offers a degree protection.  Indeed, Flickr has implemented the "nopin" code to prevent the copying of images from its site to Pinterest.

Importantly, Pinterest has also changed some of guidelines regarding "Pin Etiquette."  Formerly, Pin Etiquette instructed:  "Avoid Self Promotion" because "Pinterest is designed to curate and share things you love. If there is a photo or project you're proud of, pin away! However, try not to use Pinterest purely as a tool for self-promotion."  Now Pinterest says it is ok to pin your own content.  This makes sense.  Although perhaps it is self-promoting, pinning your own content also means that you own the rights to the content (and thus are not running afoul of copyright laws with such posts).

Pinterest's new TOS policy most likely will not quell growing copyright infringement concerns, but the changes acknowledge the issue and reflect that Pinterest itself appears to be struggling with the issue along with its users.

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Geri Haight is a Mintz Member and former in-house counsel who focuses on employment litigation, counseling, and compliance, as well as intellectual property and trade secret matters.