Why Pinning May Be Sinning in Real Estate (and elsewhere)


Source: google.com via Diego on Pinterest

If you are even remotely connected to the real estate interwebs you have seen all the buzz lately from real estate agents about Pinterest.

Pinterest is booming, according to some it is “the fastest growing social network site in Internet history.” As such, real estate agents are flocking to the site in their never-ending quest for lead generation nirvana. Shortly after Pinterest “jumped the shark,” agents began barfing real estate listings all over the shiny “new” social network.

I wonder though, how many agents actually read the Pinterest Terms of Service (TOS) when they signed up for the account that is sure to bring them untold wealth, fame and clients?

Just in the past week or so, dozens of articles have been penned regarding potential copyright issues with Pinterest. (The best article I’ve found on the subject is by photographer / attorney Kirsten Kowalski – Why I Tearfully Deleted my Pinterest Inspiration Boards. Go. Read it. I’ll wait.)

What I see mentioned far less often than the copyright issue is the “ownership issue” — that being what Pinterest can do with things you “pin” on their site.

It’s pretty scary stuff.

From the Pinterest TOS:

Except as expressly provided in these Terms, Cold Brew Labs and its licensors exclusively own all right, title and interest in and to the Site, Application, Services and Site Content, including all associated intellectual property rights. (My emphasis in bold.)


By making available any Member Content through the Site, Application or Services, you hereby grant to 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. (My emphasis in bold and red.)


Now I’m no attorney, nor am I an expert in copyright law or intellectual property rights, but it sure looks like if you pin an image on Pinterest the owner of the site can do pretty much whatever they want with it. They can use it, modify it, sell it, and exploit it. In short, they own what you post to their site.

And there is further verbiage in their TOS that shoulders YOU with all the responsibility of pinning material you have the right or permission to use. They absolve themselves of responsibility for what you post on Pinterest.

That should cause you to pause, and ponder. And consider the implications.

But I only…

Here is what I see many real estate agents saying about Pinterest (I paraphrase. Just look in the countless posts, comments, Facebook Groups, etc that are sprouting up like the weeds in my front yard if you want specific examples.)

There is no copyright issue if I pin from the original source. The pin has a link to the source!

Well, attribution alone isn’t enough. You can’t copy a blog post, a web page, a book or a song and simply link back to the orignal and thereby be absolved of a copyright violation.

Plus, are you really linking back to the original source? Every time? Take a look at the image at the top of this article. I embedded that from Pinterest, using the code they provided. See just under the image where is says, “Source: google.com”?

Yeah, that’s not the original source…

Ironically, Google indexed that image from the Pinterest blog. Is that blog the original source? Maybe, maybe not. Even if it is the original source, do you have the right to republish it? Maybe, maybe not. The person that would ultimately decide that could very well be the judge hearing the copyright infringement case you and your attorney are trying to defend. Oh, and speaking of that, should you be sued for Pinning something you shouldn’t, the Pinterest TOS lets you know that you get to pay for your lawyer, and theirs.

I only pin my own images!

Okfine, knock yourself out. Just remember, once you pin your own image, Pinterest can do whatever they want with it. Per the Pinterest TOS, the moment you clicked “Pin It” you agreed to give Pinterest 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” your image. If you are OK with that, then go ahead and Pin your own images.

Just don’t call them “your own” once you pin them…

Sharing on Pinterest is no different than sharing on Facebook, YouTube, whatever!

Maybe, maybe not. Did you read (really read) the TOS’s for those sites? Or did you do what probably 99.9% of people do (myself included) and just check the box that said, “I agree to these terms”? Be honest…

Facebook has been publicly eviscerated in the not-so-distant past for privacy concerns. YouTube regularly gets press for shutting down accounts and is filled with song videos where you’ll see something like, “No copyright violation is intended by posting this video”. That one always cracks me up. Like saying just because you don’t intend to infringe on someone’s copyright makes it OK.

But I haven’t heard a copyright / ownership backlash against these other “sharing sites” like I’ve heard against Pinterest. Maybe they are just as equally guilty. I don’t know, I haven’t really read their TOS with a critical eye… Yet.

The Bottom Line

If you enjoy Pinterest, and MANY people do, then enjoy it. Personally, I don’t think it will ever be a lead generation machine. I’m just not convinced that people go to Pinterest to search for homes and I am fully convinced that home search registration is (far and away) the primary avenue for generating buyer prospects on the internet.

Can you connect with people on Pinterest? Of course you can. It has great potential to be a vehicle for seeing what sort of things appeal to others. Find some common ground, find something mutually appealing with someone, and you’ve got a connection. Or at least the potential for a connection. Should that connection ultimately lead to business, well good for you.

Not every social network needs to have a business ROI for every business imaginable. Maybe Pinterest isn’t the right venue for generating real estate business. Maybe it is. Hey, if I owned a restaurant, I would be ALL OVER Pinterest pinning images of my food, of clients enjoying their meal, what ever. Closer to the real estate space, if I was a home stager, I’d be pinning before and after images of my staging efforts.

I’ve seen some killer boards by real estate agents that show off their community. That’s a terrific way to gain exposure for the neighborhood, which obviously has positive connotations for a real estate agent’s business of selling homes in that neighborhood.

Just be sure when you pin those images you have the proper license to do so, or that you’re willing to give up your rights if they are your own images. Otherwise, the potential for “sinning” is huge.

For me, it’s not worth the risk. Your mileage may vary.

Others Opine:

The always brillant Jeff Turner gives us these gems: Pinning For Gold and Why You’re Not Winning At Social Media.

Emmy Basch on Active Rain: Just Say No – To Pinterest

The Obeo Blog - Pinterest for Real Estate Agents- Make it Social ”It’s not about selling properties, it’s about building relationships that lead to business.” Amen.

The UK Telegraph - Flickr blocks Pinterest ‘pinning’

Social Media Today - Pinning Copyright Complaints on Pinterest




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About the Author
Jay Thompson

I'm a real estate broker in Phoenix, Arizona and the publisher of the Phoenix Real Estate Guy blog. I tend to drive too fast and scream at the University of Texas and Denver Broncos football teams. My two kids are smarter than most adults I know and my wife is simply amazing.

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