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Pinterest, Inspiration, Copying and the Whole Ethics Thing
Here's another big debate brewing in the community, and this time, it's about Pinterest. I caught wind of it when Rachel sent me a link to an interesting discussion on Salt City Spice. The premise of that discussion is:
"Here's the thing that's been bothering me though - after a few months of pinning and in speaking with a variety of Etsy sellers, the same issue continues to come up: Artists, designers, & crafters are continually finding their original works tagged or categorized as "DIY" - is this wrong?"
The comment discussion is really interesting, and I can agree with elements of all sides. So I shared the link over on Google +, and even more interesting comments emerged there. (I do believe you'll need a G+ account, and to be logged in, and be in one of my circles, to see that discussion.) Then Kim blogged about how creatives need to get over trying to control what happens to their creations. And then Katrina (the original author of the Salt City Spice post) had a second post on Oh, My Handmade.
All of these discussions bring up many of our community's most recurring themes: original ideas, copying and protection. There are no universal answers (as usual), but the conversation brought up a few thoughts about Pinterest for me, and I thought I'd share them here.
Private Inspiration vs. Public Inspiration
Pinterest is an interesting (and sometimes messy) hybrid of public and private. By that I mean, it's a tool we use to publicly do something we've been accustomed to doing privately.
We crafters have always saved examples of interesting projects and pictures – whether they were torn from magazines, earmarked in books, or bookmarked on the web. These archives are like bank accounts for creatives: stuff we plan to make, stuff that sparked an idea for making something different, stuff that just makes us happy to look at. When this archive is private, it can take any form that's useful to us – a shoebox of paper clippings, a bulletin board, a series of bookmark folders. And in a purely-private archive, it's less important to note who created what, because it's all a kind of personal creative soup we draw from.
But when our inspiration archives are made public, as on Pinterest, we have a bigger responsibility: we need to make an effort to maintain a clean, well-attributed archive that respects original creators. (That's a big idea; keep it in the back of your head for a moment.)
A Dangerous Sort of Boiling-Down
I should say at this point, I adore Pinterest. But the thing that I love most about it is also the thing I find troubling about it. Pinterest, as we know, boils a website page down to a single picture. When you "pin" a great blog post or tutorial or roundup or anything, you choose one image from the page to represent it. These pictures, then, can be "repinned" by other Pinterest users. And thus, the pictures change hands and change hands. If the original pinner hasn't properly credited the original creator, then the pins have a way of becoming just pretty pictures – their original context is lost.
Throughout the summer, I would often find interesting images on Pinterest and want to share the accompanying posts on CRAFT (like the one above). But unfortunately, so many times (like, one in about five), I would follow an image through one repin after another, only to finally land on the original pin and discover that someone had pinned only the image itself without its accompanying post, or they'd pinned the homepage of the site where the image appeared on a single day six months ago. In other words, bad attribution practices on Pinterest rendered it impossible for me to find and share the original creator's work with a larger audience.
This loss of context also contributes to what Salt City Spice pointed out: Etsy sellers are regularly seeing their products-for-sale pinned, not as reminders to buy the product but as reminders to make a DIY version. The images come to represent ideas rather than products. (For the record, I also see this happening constantly with mainstream manufactured products, but I don't see as many people up in arms over that.)
The Nature of the Crafty Beast
All of that said, I still agree with Kim's point: once we post something on the internet, we cannot control its destiny, even if everyone in the community is using stellar attribution practices (or practicing ethical pinning).
The thing is, we creatives have grown accustomed to having access to thousands of pretty images 24-7. We now expect to look at unlimited crafty goodness, and then draw on those visual ideas as we make our own things. Some of us want to then sell what we make. And some of those who sell what they make seem to want to wall off those specific images, making them off-limits in a sea of visual inspiration.
Obviously, copying is bad. Stealing is bad. But every single one of us draws on other peoples' work for inspiration. It's our nature, and frankly, our privilege to have access to this rich and constantly-renewing treasure trove. Once you put an original design out there, you simply have to be prepared for others to draw upon it. I think Jessica said it best in her excellent comment on the Google Plus discussion:
"At the end of the day there's always going to be the people who make and the ones that buy."
This brings me to…
"Online" is Not Always "Marketing"
Crafters have been asking me whether Pinterest is a good marketing tool for their businesses almost since its first day. I see plenty of Pinterest accounts with Etsy shop names, where the users pin only pictures of their stuff for sale. If you ask me, that practice is more or less like sending engraved invitations to the people who make instead of buy.
One important way craft businesses can minimize the copying of their work is to get a lot smarter about their online marketing. At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself whether any website is a place where your actual customers are hanging out (not your online buddies, and yes, there is a difference). In an environment like Pinterest, where everyone's throwing pictures around like they're candy, how does throwing your own pictures into the melee communicate the ways your product is unique and special?
(Interestingly, Pinterest's Pin Etiquette page addresses self-promotion, too.)
Of course, people other than sellers pin images from Etsy, and equally sadly, no Etsy seller can control where images from his or her shop will end up. But I do see an awful lot of Etsy sellers voluntarily putting their images in front of other crafters in the name of "marketing." I've said this before, but I don't think other crafters are necessarily the best customers for many handmade products. We're good re-interpreters and reverse engineers. And Pinterest is an environment where we like to feed those skills.
What are your thoughts on Pinterest? What steps do you take when you pin (or repin) things to make sure the original maker is credited? Do you pin as a reminder to buy, or a reminder to make?