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Posted on 03.15.2012

Pinterest Craze Could Result in Legal Troubles

Not long ago, I wrote a blog post about one of my favorite social media sites, Pinterest.  While I continue to enjoy using Pinterest to discover, organize and “pin” new ideas, I have stumbled upon some recent news that has caused concern. Last month, Kristen Kowalski, an attorney and photographer in Georgia, decided to delete her Pinterest account after conducting research on Pinterest’s terms of use.  As a photographer, she had read various complaints from other photographers who took issue with the fact that anyone and everyone is able to pin a photographer’s work without his or her permission.  In her blog post on the situation, Kowalski states, “Well, this got me thinking.  What is the difference between posting another person’s photographs on your Pinterest page and posting another person’s photographs on your Facebook page?  If the latter is so clearly a violation of copyright why isn’t the former?”  Her lawyer instincts kicked in and she conducted a bit of research on the topic only to find some unsettling answers. Upon a visit to Pinterest’s terms of use page, Kowalski and many others (including me) were surprised to discover that as “Member,” or someone who has completed the registration process, “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 that you make available through the Site, Application and Services or you have all rights, licenses, consents and releases that are necessary to grant…”  Member content is defined in the terms of use as content that members post and upload, and which is made available through the site. It seems unusual that Pinterest would set its terms so that users pinning a photo must own or have permission to pin that image, since the purpose of the site is to quickly share images.   Not only that, but Pinterest also clearly states in its “Pin Etiquette” guidelines that posters should avoid self promotion. Kowalski brings up other concerns about the Pinterest terms of use dilemma, and the site’s founder, Ben Silberman even responded to Kowalski, saying he’s just “a guy with a computer who had a vision to create this site where everyone can share stuff.”  Seems like rather a nonchalant answer for a situation that may result in legal trouble for users in the future. Until there are some legal changes made, Kowalski will not be taking the risk of pinning other people’s work, and, with that being said,  I believe some changes or clarifications should be made or the popular site may end up shutting down as quickly as it became a social media craze.

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