If only two things are known about Pinterest, they must be that it drives traffic back to commercial websites, and that overly broad Terms of Service, however much they might make you "tearful", are unlikely to be enforced against the end user.

In a much-hyped revamp of its Terms of Service in March 2012, Pinterest maintained that its users could not use Pinterest for anything other than personal, non-commercial use. That prohibition was largely ignored, however, as users continued to post images in order to drive traffic back to websites selling their products. There is no indication that any accounts were terminated or even suspended for this (apparently blatant) breach of the Terms of Service.

On 14 November 2012, Pinterest took steps to regularise commercial use of their services by introducing a new platform for commercial accounts together with separate Business Terms of Service. By embracing business accounts, and by allowing users to transfer their personal accounts to business accounts, Pinterest adds itself to the growing list of service providers engaging with Big Data business models. While Pinterest does not charge for its services upfront, however, a couple of points are worth noting:

  1. Pinterest retains broad rights to use and modify anything posted to its service ("User Content"), and to license others to do so. While this does not explicitly include the right to use User Content for advertising its products, it appears to be wide enough to allow Pinterest to add its own affiliate codes to links going back to the commercial users' websites.
  2. Commercial users are still required to contract with Pinterest that they will only use Pinterest's products as permitted under the Terms of Service. This would mean, if the provision is enforceable, that commercial users cannot exercise their "fair use" or other rights under the common law in respect of Pinterest products, whereas non-users suffer no such restriction.
  3. Pinterest not only reserves the right to collect and use information from you and your users, but may also analyse the entirety of any commercial users' sites or services if they incorporate Pinterest's "Pin It" and "Follow" buttons.
  4. Commercial users may not use third party applications for Pinterest features or functionality if Pinterest offers the same service itself (unless they have been "authorized" by Pinterest). In other words, innovators hoping to offer one-stop functionality across multiple social networking platforms have just had a stumbling block put in their way.

The new Business Terms of Service have no impact on a commercial users' potential liability for copyright infringement if they pin third party images without permission: best practice for all users remains to only pin or repin images owned or licensed.