Philip Jacob

Pinterest and copyright

· Philip Jacob

There’s a little flare-up going on over at Hacker News over a blog post about Pinterest’s TOS (dated March 29, 2011, which I note only in case it materially changes in the future).  Most of the comments on HN are infuriating because the staggering level of naivete of the top voted comments is greater than normal.

So Pinterest has a TOS doc.  People are starting to pay attention because Pinterest is getting really, really, really big.  The theme of many of the HN comments is that this is typical cover-your-ass boilerplate language and that it’s totally normal, so therefore just shut up and accept it.  This is nothing more than teenage peer pressure logic applied to what is possibly the hottest Internet startup in the country right now.

In other words, time to start focusing on it a bit more.

I actually care a lot about terms of service and how users interact with them.  And while I have lot of respect for what Pinterest has built (and have learned a few things from studying them), TOS and copyright are areas that we spent a lot of time working on at StyleFeeder in conjunction with our legal counsel and advisors (including one world-renowned expert in copyright law).  By contrast, here’s the relevant portion of StyleFeeder’s pre-acquisition TOS that I happen to have in an old file on my laptop.

This, people, is how to write a TOS that allows the business to function with flexibility and protection yet doesn’t overreach (bold text is mine). 3. User-Posted Content.

StyleFeeder depends on the content that you post. In fact, that’s the whole point of the Site. While we encourage you to add links to great products and to post your profiles and reviews, some content just isn’t appropriate for the Site, including, but not limited to, links to illegal or counterfeit items or sexually-explicit, racist, or vulgar content. While we have no obligation to monitor use of the Site, we do reserve the right to review, modify and/or remove content, for example, content found offensive by other users or content found to be illegal. … StyleFeeder is not responsible for the manner or circumstances by which third parties may access such public content and is under no obligation to disable or otherwise restrict this access, although we reserve the right to do so when we deem appropriate. By posting such items, information, messages and comments in a public area, you are granting permission to us to use, display, modify, distribute and otherwise exploit such items, information, messages and comments in connection with the Site and otherwise in connection with our business.

9. Copyrights.

StyleFeeder-posted content included on the Site, such as text, graphics, logos, data compilations, APIs, software and the compilation of all content on the Site, is the property of StyleFeeder and its licensors, and is protected by United States and international copyright laws. StyleFeeder makes no claim to third-party content that is rightfully posted on the Site.

Notice that this language is markedly tighter than what Pinterest currently chooses to use.  I wish Pinterest put the same level of thought and innovation into their TOS as they did with their product.

PS Also note that imgur’s TOS doesn’t overreach.  IANAL so perhaps it’s not as good, but my reading of it is that it is philosophically very different from that of Pinterest.