Using Pinterest Will Make You Cry, Get You Sued, and May Cut Those Tags Off Your Mattress That Should Never Be Removed Under Penalty of Law

Pinterest has been the hot social media platform for a good chunk of time now. In the social media world that means more than two weeks. But despite the SoMe world’s otherwise fleeting affections, Pinterest is sticking. User base is exploding, content is exponential, and the amount of time that people are spending on the site is approaching or exceeding other established platforms. It would appear that Pinterest has the chance to become a major player in the social media world.

But what kind of player it will become still remains to be seen. The social media commenting universe can’t decide if Pinterest is Julia Roberts or Snooki. Is this the new darling site that everyone can safely appreciate and flock towards, or do we need to be a bit embarrassed when someone stumbles into our living room and finds out we’re browsing boards?

One of those Do Not Remove Under Penalty of Law tags you can find on mattresses.

Pinterest broke into my house and removed my mattress tag. Please repin.

Perhaps it is that core confusion that has led people to read Pinterest’s terms and conditions. “Well, I’m already confused, so let’s read some even more confusing Legalese and then maybe the confusion will cancel each other out,” they may think. Sadly, that’s never the case. And it has resulted in a number of posts across the social media world about Pinterest’s terms. I’m not going to break down Pinterest’s terms but I would like to point out some of the flaws concerning analysis of those terms working their way around the community. I wanted to do it all in one post but there’s just too much going around so we’ll make this into a series.

First up: the infamous blog post Why I Tearfully Deleted My Pinterest Inspiration Boards. In this post the author went through some legal analysis that resulted in her conclusion to take down her Pinterest boards (tearfully, really?). It’s a long post but has two basic points:

  1. You should only pin content that belongs to you or that you have the appropriate licenses for;
  2. Because if not and Pinterest gets sued you will have to pay for defending the lawsuit.

These are both technically true, although the second scenario is highly unlikely to ever occur for practical and tactical reasons we’ll discuss later.

What I find more interesting is the author’s opening paragraph. In it she describes how she came to analyze Pinterest’s terms in the first place (because, unlike me, most lawyers don’t read those Terms and Conditions either just like you). She wanted to find out how the Pinterest terms were different from Facebook terms.

On the issue of copyright and paying for the lawsuit, the two platforms are the same. Facebook’s terms require you to post content that doesn’t infringe another’s rights and they require you to pay for the lawsuit (that’s called indemnification in Legalese). You’ll find similar language in the terms of approximately 100% of all social media platforms. I’m not sure what led the author to conclude that Pinterest was somehow different from all other sites so that she needed to delete her boards (tissue at the ready) while still gladly infringing copyright on Facebook where about 800 million other people can see it.

As I discussed in the previous SoMeLaw Thoughts about social media terms, these conditions are designed to defend the platform against potential lawsuits. But that doesn’t mean they will succeed. Pinterest’s terms are no different than the other platforms and the reason why you haven’t seen a tidal wave of copyright lawsuits get filed against Facebook, Twitter, or other platforms may be due to these terms but probably doesn’t. Large copyright holders know there is little to no value in suing individual infringers…with the exception of the RIAA who is going for the whole Darth Vader approach to music piracy by suing grandmothers and 14-year-olds. Oh, and by Darth Vader I mean back before the prequels turned him into a whiney wuss.

But I highly doubt these terms would save a large platform from defending a massive copyright suit. Platforms have the money–in Legalese they’re known as Deep Pockets. YouTube has already faced a giant lawsuit over copyright concerns but didn’t shift the defense costs to users. Ironically, in the event of a lawsuit the copyright holder might be your best ally in trying to prevent the shift of costs to you—unless you have more money than Facebook or Google. In which case why the heck are you reading this?

There’s plenty to be said about copyright and social media but the main point for this post is that Pinterest is no different than the other platforms. You can decide your own risk profile for posting content that doesn’t belong to you but I see no reason why your behavior should be different on Pinterest as it is on Facebook based on the terms. You should absolutely think about what you post and whether you have the rights to it but it’s no secret that there is a mountain of content on social media that infringes someone’s intellectual property rights.

Next up: Why Pinterest wants to sell your content.

Update (March 15, 2012): There’s been an update to this story which I covered in another post.

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Filed under Copyright, Facebook, Pinterest, Terms and Conditions, Twitter

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