Beyond PR

Feb 24, 2012


It was a beautiful cake.  It was tall, golden, crowned with a cloud of whipped cream and festooned with colorful fruit. The picture was a stylist’s masterwork, and it became one of the first things I pinned to my new “Foodie ideas” board on Pinterest.  Others thought the cake looked pretty good, too.  As of this writing, the picture of the cake has been “repinned” more than 2,000 times.

But I didn’t bake the cake, and I didn’t take the picture. The Chicago Tribune, the site where I found the image (and to which the image is linked) has been the beneficiary of some qualified and enthusiastic traffic.  In today’s day and age, when news sites need every eyeball they can garner, I’m sure the Trib isn’t complaining.  Yet.

Last night, stuck at home with the flu, with my satellite dish buried in snow and out of commission and my husband stranded in Roanoke due to the weather, I decided that I’d spend some time really getting into Pinterest.  Anticipating hours of visual enjoyment, I grabbed my laptop, Kleenex and some herbal tea and hit the couch.

However, a closer look at Pinterest’s terms and conditions brought my activities to a screeching halt.  I wound up spending the evening reading the fine print and the associated industry reporting around it – and writing this blog post.

So much for reveling in fantasies of cake, summer houses and wildflowers.

Here’s the deal.  There are two areas of Pinterest’s terms that are really onerous – for both the millions of people happily pinning, and for brands looking at Pinterest as the new social media Holy Grail.

Simply put, the site Terms & Conditions require users to 1) warrant that they own the content they’re posting, free and clear and 2) grant Pinterest operator 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.”

In reality, the majority of pinners are out of compliance with Pinterest’s terms. Now, there seems to be some winking and nodding going on, because Pinterest is not enforcing the terms. That said, the T&C cover Pinterests’ interests.  Users who don’t comply with the terms, however, are at risk of infringing upon the copyright protections of the content they pin.

It could get ugly if Pinterest one day decides to start selling content via their “Services.”   They’re gathering a lot of data around which visuals people find most popular and compelling.  It would probably be pretty easy for them to publish (and sell) the top ten prettiest cakes, most popular spring looks, most sought after wedding dresses, cars, purses, shoes, handbags, vacation homes ….you get the point.  That’s valuable stuff.

After ruminating over this, I marched straight over to the PR Newswire boards on Pinterest, and unpinned a lot of content. Gone are examples of cool client work, PR related humor and interesting infographics that I pinned and re-pinned via our boards. The remaining collection  – comprised of our blog posts and marketing materials – is, frankly, a lot less interesting than it was before I started.  I’m not alone.  Other publishers have been spooked by the Terms, and are taking down their pinboards too.

I’m not begrudging Pinterest the opportunity to make money.  I understand that when I use a free service like Pinterest (or Facebook)  I’m giving away some information about my personal preferences, and at some point, someone is going to probably use that information to market to me.  And I’m OK with that.  If the information I share publicly means that the adverts I see are more narrowly focused on my personal interests, that’s fine.  This is a trade-off I’m willing to make.  And if advertisers pay Pinterest when someone clicks over to an ecommerce site and drops an item in their shopping care, heck, I personally think that is an elegant and unobtrusive piece of marketing.

But assuming the right to do anything they want with the images I upload personally?  That’s a bit more of a problem.  And, I imagine, if it’s a problem for a very casual photographer with zero professional aspirations, I’m sure that language makes Pinterest a non-starter for many photographers and publishers.   And it’s a big problem for brands.

So we’re left with a bit of a conundrum. What to do with Pinterest?  Well, for brands, at this stage in the game, the message is clear.  Share content you are 100% okay with losing control over and that you won’t mind seeing reappearing elsewhere.  For individuals, things are less clear in terms of risk.  Those with vested interests in their content, such as artists and photographers, will probably want to tread lightly if retaining control of their content is important.

Personally, the bloom on this rose is waning.  I’ll still flick through others’ pins, enjoying the interface and treating the site like a picture book.  But my engagement will decrease and my pinning is going to really dry up.  Copyrights and intellectual property are worth protecting and respecting, in my book.

However, I believe Pinterest will continue to flourish, until users bang their heads up against the Terms.  We’ll have to see how this shakes out with respect to Pinterest’s long term model.

I’m pulling for Pinterest, I really am.  The founder hails from Iowa (as do I.) The site is fun to use and is the best discovery engine I’ve ever seen.  It’s a unique and useful service, and would be dead useful for brands, if the Terms were reasonable.  Until that time, brands need to be cautious in their use any free social media service, Pinterest included.   Read the fine print.

Related reading:

Pinterest Users Need to Read the Fine Print

How You Could Get Sued for Using Pinterest

Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and is the author of the free ebook Unlocking Social Media for PR.

4 Comments on Blog Post Title

Peopleunit 09:03 EST on Feb 25, 2012

Facebook has similar terms of use in regard to content. There is another group of social website project called Diaspora that has some similarity with both Facebook and Pinterest, along with some important differences.

Diaspora sites don’t copy third party content, they hotlink/embed the content. Big difference. They also stake no claim on the right to reuse uploaded data/content. Users retain better control of their data as well.

referencegirl 13:18 EST on Feb 28, 2012

You are right on point 2 but a little mixed up about point 1. Read the terms again. You don’t have to own the content you post but you do have to be able to use it and you are responsible for knowing that you can. Most content online can be used as long as you include the original source. There is no winking and nodding going on. If someone takes someone’s work and without giving them credit, then they suck and they should get in trouble. That is basic plagiarism which I hope we were all taught not to do in grade school. Point 2 is definitely disturbing. Pinterest is trying to rewrite copyright and trademark law with it and give themselves a free pass at plagiarism. My guess is that they didn’t mean to but wrote these terms in an attempt to protect themselves from their users stealing content.

Sarah Skerik 13:44 EST on Feb 28, 2012

Thanks for the thoughtful reply, ReferenceGirl. It’s true, I didn’t quote the terms governing member content wholly in my post. For those who are interested, here it is:

“…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 to Cold Brew Labs the rights in such Member Content, as contemplated under these Terms;”

So, yes, as long as you have all rights, licenses, consents and releases to content, and can transfer to Cold Brew Labs the rights they demand in the Terms, you are indeed free to post content to Pinterest. I would wager that many people (most even?) who’ve pinned content to Pinterest are unaware of these terms.

With regard my characterization of “the winking and nodding,” well, I said that because Pinterest doesn’t seem to be enforcing the requirements they make of their Members with respect to content ownership and rights, and quite a bit of content on Pinterest (in my experience) seems to be unattributed or otherwise not linked to the original source. Or, as you succinctly put it, plagarized.

Additionally, you raise an interesting point about the use of online content. Many publishers have long taken umbrage with Google, charging that the search engine misappropriates their content. Applying this logic to an argument about Pinterest is not a stretch. As you rightly point out, the land grab Pinterest makes with respect to rights and licensing of member content is pretty wild, and presents a real problem for publishers. And, by extension, brands, since so many are publishing original content these days.

I arrived at the same conclusion you did with respect to their intention in writing these terms. I hope the, um, “overenthusiastic” language is simply the first iteration, drawn up in a hurry to provide max protection to Pinterest as they build their business. It will certainly be interesting to observe what transpires in the future!

– Sarah

referencegirl 13:55 EST on Feb 28, 2012

Thank you for your thoughtful reply. Agreed on all points.

Fill in your details below: