Paying Attention to Sites Terms of Service Pays Off

This post comes to you from Washington, D.C., where I’ve been attending the American Bar Association Section of Intellectual Property Law Annual Meeting.   Social media definitely was among the hot topics discussed, particularly how brand owners can protect their copyrighted material and trademarks when used on social media sites.  One recommended strategy was to address intellectual property rights in the terms of use and policies of a social network or website to explain to users the terms that govern use of the site.  This advice certainly seems appropriate given the recent headlines about popular sites like Pinterest and Tumblr announcing changes to their respective sites’ terms of use due to copyright and other concerns.  

In the case of Pinterest, recent stories have focused on the potential for copyright infringement by users posting pictures on the site.  Attorney and avid Pinterest user Kristen Kowalski broke the story with her blog post about how she deleted her Pinterest inspiration boards after reading the site’s policies and becoming concerned that the site’s terms of use could make her liable for copyright or trademark infringement.  Specifically, the site’s policies state that users are not to post pictures that they do not own the copyright to, and in the event of a copyright or trademark infringement claim by the copyright owner of a picture, the user would be liable, not Pinterest. 

This situation highlights why it is important to read and understand the terms of use and related policies that come with software or social networking sites, and how they could impact you.  Pinterest announced last week that it will be updating its terms of use to allay some of these concerns, and that the new terms of use will take effect in April of 2012.  

Pinterest also announced that its new terms of use would also prohibit posting images that promote self abuse or harm.  This move seems to be motivated by the media flack that was generated in February by the Huffington Post’s story profiling the ‘thinspo’ community on Tumblr that encourages eating disorders.  Tumblr changed their policies to forbid posting content that promotes self harm or abuse, and Pinterest appears to be following suit. 

Another important change announced by Pinterest was the change in its terms of use that would remove the language giving the site the right to sell content posted by users.  With April 6th closing in, these changes will be taking effect soon, and the site is hoping that these changes will relieve the concerns of its users. 

As social media sites grow in popularity and users become more sophisticated, you can be sure that issues related to terms of use and privacy policies won’t be leaving the headlines any time soon.  While that may be a problem for the sites, it’s good for you, our Social Media Club readers, as it will provide the Editorial Team with more interesting issues to discuss with you here at the Clubhouse.   

As always, this post is intended for informational and entertainment purposes, and is not intended to be legal advice or the substitute for a licensed attorney in your area.