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Think Before You Pin: Pinterest’s Terms of Service Problem on Mar. 14, 2012

With every new social network comes controversy. We’ve seen it with Facebook and Twitter, as well as Google Buzz and Google+. And right now, the popular photo-sharing site Pinterest is suffering from its own controversy. But, it’s much different than past social SNAFUs.  In short: Everything you’re doing on Pinterest could be illegal.

That’s right, illegal. And it’s all because of one minor detail–copyright infringement. In Pinterest’s terms of service, the company states that when a user pins a picture, they acknowledge that they are in fact the owner of said picture. Based on my observations, this makes the majority of the activity done on Pinterest not only a violation of those terms, but also illegal.

One of the coolest things about Pinterest is that it made social networking fun again. It’s kind of like Instagram, just not as cool. Pinning is exciting, even invigorating. With a simple click of my mouse, I could pin nearly any picture I want to my inspiration boards. But, I can promise you now, I won’t be.

In an article for PR Daily, attorney and photographer Kirsten Kowalski explained why she deleted her Pinterest boards, saying the fact that Pinterest even has that language in its terms of service is contradictory to the site’s objective. Which according to the network’s “About” page is to “organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web.”

Kowalski is quoted saying, “At the moment, there is very little that can be done to avoid infringing copyright if you are a Pinterest user. The only way to pin pictures without violating the site’s terms of service and the picture owner’s copyright is to only pin pictures that you’ve taken yourself.”

According to Davis Wright Tremaine attorney Bruce Johnson, as it currently stands, it looks like the only way to protect yourself as a Pinterest user from infringing copyright law otherwise is to contact a picture’s owner before pinning it. Even if you do get permission to use a certain photo, this would take away the spontaneity that has become the network’s keystone. All fun would be sucked out of Pinterest as if it were light being devoured by a neighboring black hole. What was instantaneous just became a days-long or even weeks-long affair. And no one wants that.

I have full confidence that Pinterest will come out of this controversy relatively unscathed, but according to Kowalski, even the site’s founder Ben Silbermann knows there are issues with its terms of service. In her blog, she wrote, “He knows there are issues with Pinterest and the fear of claims of copyright infringement and he wants to figure out a way to make ‘his little web page’ … work within the confines of the law AND in a way where photographers and every user feels comfortable.”

But even as a fellow Web-user and social media fanatic, I am on Kowalski’s side of the line. In one of her previous posts, she said it best, “… until Pinterest changes some things or until the law is more clearly established, I won’t be taking the risks involved in pinning other’s work.  Guess my corkboards and tacks and ripped pages from magazines will live to see another day!”

What do you think of the legal issues associated with Pinterest and its terms of service? Will this stop you from using the site or will you just keep pinning away?

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