Pinterest: Social Media Tool or Just Trouble?

Pinterest is the new social media rage, going from less than 500,000 unique visitors in May 2011 to over 11.7 million unique visitors in January 2012. In the legal world, Pinterest has come under fire for a couple of reasons, including concerns about copyright issues and Pinterest’s terms of service. Many lawyers don’t see any potential benefit and far too much risk in using this new social media site.

In case you don’t know what it is, Pinterest is a social media site in which you create ‘virtual pinboards’ by ‘pinning’ items that you either upload yourself, pin from a website, or repin from another person’s Pinterest board. In addition to ‘re-pinning,’ you can also ‘like’ another person’s pin. In that case, the pin will not appear on any of your pinboards, but instead can be seen under your “likes” on your Pinterest profile. You can also “follow” other pinners whose boards you enjoy viewing and comment on others’ pins. Pinterest pinboards are all public and searchable; although users can choose to hide their Pinterest profiles, they cannot hide their pinboards. Pinterest is a very visual medium. It is extremely low on text, and instead relies on heavily images for its power.

Copyright concerns

Lawyer and photographer Kirsten Kowalski drew a lot of attention to potential problems with Pinterest in a blog post that publicly proclaimed that she was deleting her Pinterest pinboards after reading Pinterest’s terms of service, which stated, in part, that by posting content to Pinterest, users grant Pinterest the right to sell their content. She also expressed concern that the terms of service state that by using Pinterest, users represent that they have the full rights to pin everything that appears on their pinboards. Kowalski noted the apparent contradiction contained in Pinterest’s suggested etiquette (at least at the time) that discouraged self-promotion (i.e. pinning your own content): if pinning your own content was discouraged, you could only pin content created by others, creating a potential copyright problem. (Note: my recent review of the etiquette suggestions revealed no such restrictions.)

It is potentially a violation of copyright to pin other people’s work, including photographs, that you do not have the rights to, and Pinterest’s terms of use specifically prohibit pinning that violates the law. But the outcry against this portion of the Terms of Service is puzzling to me. Are these so different than terms of service on other social media sites? Even the provisions of the Pinterest terms of service that state that anyone violating the law must defend and indemnify Pinterest if they are sued as a result of such a violation do not seem unusual for a social media site. Frankly, I don’t see how social media  sites could operate without them; with millions of users posting content on these sites daily, their very existence would be threatened if the sites themselves had to be responsible for the content posted by the users with no recourse against the violators.

Another of Kowalski’s concerns was that the Pinterest terms of service initially did not specifically allow “people to re-pin internally on the site without concern for violating copyrights” by including in the terms of use a provision that in uploading to Pinterest, users grant a license and right for both Pinterest and other users to use their content within Pinterest.

Pinterest Terms of Service

After Kowalski’s post appeared, Pinterest’s founder reached out to Kowalski and others and actively sought opinions about how to improve the terms of service for users. As of Friday, March 23, 2012, Pinterest released updated Terms of Service, Acceptable Use and Privacy policies, all of which will go into effect on April 6, 2012. The updated Terms of Service remove the provision about Pinterest selling users’ content. Other changes include specific copyright and trademark  policies which make it easy for creators of original works to report copyright infringement, as well as a notification to users that pins which are reported as infringing may be removed.

The following excerpts from the updated terms may be of special interest:

“By accessing or using the Pinterest Service, you agree to be bound by these Terms and by our Privacy Policy, whether or not you are a registered user of our Service. These Terms apply to all visitors, registered users, and others who access the Service (“Users”).”

“You retain all of your rights in all of the User Content you post to our Service.”

“You therefore agree that any User Content that you post to the Service does not and will not violate any law or infringe the rights of any third party, including without limitation any Intellectual Property Rights (defined below), publicity rights or rights of privacy.”

The copyright policy states, in part:

“If you receive a notification that a Pin has been removed due a copyright complaint, it means that the Pin’s content has been deleted from Pinterest at the request of the content’s owner. If your account receives too many copyright complaints, you may lose the ability to Pin new content on Pinterest, and your account may be disabled completely.”

While the new Terms of Use certainly do not remove copyright concerns, they may make the rules of Pinterest clearer for both users and those who are concerned about their work being posted on Pinterest.

Using Pinterest in Your Law Practice

But can lawyers really use Pinterest in their practice?

Lawyer and intellectual property consultant Annette Freeman suggests that those in the intellectual property world, including lawyers, “might want to keep their own Pinterest account just to check on the activities of clients using the site. What are they doing with their brands? What reactions are they getting? For solo practitioners, it could also be a tool for networking with other lawyers, and with clients, since its main focus is sharing interesting information. “

Legal Marketing consultant Larry Bodine started a conversation recently on LinkedIn, and followed it up with a post on his Law Marketing Blog  asking lawyers how they will use Pinterest for legal marketing. After reading Freeman’s post, Bodine noted that the key takeaway was her comment that, “Potential clients are unlikely to go to Pinterest to look for an attorney.”

As I indicated in my own response to Bodine’s post, just because potential clients are unlikely to go to Pinterest to look for an attorney doesn’t mean that lawyers should stay off of Pinterest. If regular Pinterest users are in your target market, it might be a good place to be. Attorneys get involved in plenty of activities and strive to become part of plenty of communities where potential clients don’t “go to look for an attorney.” But isn’t it even better if someone you know from one of these communities doesn’t need to look for an attorney, because when the need arises, they already know one? This is known as “top of mind awareness.”

Pinterest may be an opportunity for some lawyers to come up with creative ideas that get them in front of and engaged with the very people who hire them. Or perhaps Pinterest can be used as another way to ‘humanize’ lawyers in the firm by creating Pinterest pin boards that showcase the attorney’s personality and interests outside of the office.

I often recommend that clients network, whether that networking is done offline or online through social media, and build business by getting involved in something they enjoy, because then they are much more likely to participate authentically and consistently and build relationships. As I also said in response to Bodine’s post, “After all, I’m not convinced that potential clients go to the golf course to look for an attorney either, but that doesn’t mean that attorneys shouldn’t play golf, does it?”

The bottom line is that Pinterest, like Facebook or other social media sites is just that: social. As Kevin O’Keefe has pointed out recently on Real Lawyers have blogs, the real value in participating in these sites is in using them as a relationship building tool.

Encouraging or Discouraging Pinterest Use

If you do decide to use Pinterest and want others to pin content from your site (or blog), make it easy by including a “pin it” button on your page. It also pays to track traffic from Pinterest and be aware of what is being pinned from your own site (or your clients’ sites) which you can do by using the following url: or by using Google Analytics to track traffic from Pinterest  (thanks to for these tips).

If you are concerned about others sharing images from your site (or your clients’ sites) on Pinterest, there are things you can do to prevent your work from being pinned on Pinterest, including adding a no-pin code (a snippet of code provided by Pinterest) to block pinning. Paste the following code inside the header tags of your website: <meta name=”pinterest” content=”nopin” /> , which will generate a message when someone tries to pin something from your site saying that the site forbids pinning images on Pinterest. You can also add a watermark to images to prevent full display of the image on Pinterest.

There are certainly ways to use Pinterest lawfully and ethically, either by pinning only images you own (your personal photographs) or have the rights to use (including those on your website) and images you have obtained permission to reproduce. Where questions arise about re-pinning an image, going to the original source is the best bet. And lawyers can always simply follow other pinners and comment on their pins, rather than re-pinning them to their own boards.

To see how one lawyer is using the service, check out Mitch Jackson on Pinterest.

If Pinterest piques your interest, it might just be worth taking a look at.


  1. Sam Glover Sam Glover says:

    “Lots of people use it” just isn’t a very compelling argument for signing onto a new social network anymore. Neither is “brand management,” when you can monitor that just fine from Google.

    The only question I’m interested in is whether I enjoy using a social network. Pinterest looks like it might be fun, but it also looks fairly pointless, so I’m not biting.

    • Sam, I agree that “lots of people are doing it” isn’t the reason to add something to your toolkit. But “my target market is crazy for it and spending all of their time there” might be. Pinterest is so new that it’s really hard to tell whether it’s going to be useful for lawyers, but as you said, it can be fun – and for those out there who like creating pinboards or scrapbooks, etc. and want a new way to collect things, fun could also be a new audience and a new place where work comes from. Or it could just be fun.

      I just like throwing it out there with a little bit of a contrary viewpoint because the first thing everyone thinks is, “no one is going there to look for a lawyer,” and I don’t think that’s the only thing lawyers should be evaluating.

      As for you not biting, I’m not surprised – stats show that Pinterest is populated in large part by women. It will be interesting to see how it evolves.


  2. I agree with Sam that the argument that everyone is doing it is not sufficiently compelling one for lawyers to jump on board. But I do not think that is an accurate characterization of Allison’s point. I use Pinterest in my practice to show that I share the same interest in green energy as many of my clients by actively following it – In addition, by being a lawyer who is at the cutting edge of sampling social media tools, I am able to introduce these tools to my clients (at least those that I advise on social media in regulated industry) and get out in front on the legal and ethics issues to keep my less nimble competitors at bay.

  3. Avatar Bruce Godfrey says:

    I suspect that this is a greater tool for corporate or trade industry attorneys, whose clients may well be publicizing the projects, etc., that happen to require an attorney, than it would be for a divorce attorney or an unemployment insurance appeals attorney.

    In consideration of Carolyn Elefant’s example, companies that are in the green energy business in some way do not generally hide that fact. Green energy has a great deal of social appeal within certain market and population segments. I am reminded of the counter example from from the sitcom Frazier, however, Niles’ blue-blooded wife Maris carefully hit the fact that her family’s money came not from timber but from the less country-club friendly urinal cakes. In that case, one shudders to think of the Pinterest tie-in.

  4. Avatar Alison Gilbert says:

    Dear Allison,
    Thank you for the information that your blog post on Pinterest provided. It was so helpful that I used it as part of my documentation material on a post I published called,
    I discuss some of the current concerns about copyright law infringement and the legal aspect is very important.

    Sincerely yours,
    Alison Gilbert . . . in hot pursuit of blogging self-pinterest!

  5. Avatar Draeke says:

    I’ve not spent much time on Pinterest, although I like the idea generally. As we move to a more visual society, it makes sense to express ourselves by curating our own collection of the visual images we find interesting and sharing them socially. Copyright law might get in the way, but it hasn’t yet killed Youtube, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, BitTorrents, Blogs or a host of other digital media outlets with there own copyright concerns.

    What I’d like to add is that if I were Pinterests legal counsel (I’m not), I would be concerned about using a “Like” button. Facebook has numerous pending trademark applications that claim rights to “Like” in relation to a variety of social media services. I can’t imagine they like Pinterest’s use of “Like.” I think the possibility of a trademark claim brought by Facebook is definitely on the horizon, although I’ll withhold judgment about the merits of such a claim.

    I also quickly looked through the USPTO database for “Follow” as a Twitter trademark but didn’t find one. If there is one, then similar issues would surround Pinterest’s use of “Follow” as well. — Draeke Weseman

  6. Avatar Manfred says:

    I looked into Pinterest and while it might be fun for personal reasons, I saw no benefit for legal marketing purposes. I’m not even sure how we would use it for our firm.

  7. Avatar Jamison Bell says:

    It is a Social Media tool and good ole’ fashioned trouble. Without too much thought, sites like Pinterest help to define the market legally, but we all know this is not easy, nor should it be.

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