Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pinterest... not the problem or the answer

So, I have a new playground and it is called Pinterest. For those of you who don't know about Pinterest, you should maybe check it out or not, it is what I like to call visual crack. Luckily for me the iPhone app has some issues and I unistalled it, otherwise I might well be in trouble.

Pinterest is the Internet equivalent of my stacks and stacks of notebooks, full of clippings and pictures and notes. I have killed a fair number of glue sticks, creating these notebooks full of pictures I liked, looks I enjoyed, pictures I found breathtaking. I even have one for my still half written novel.

The great thing about Pinterest is you can easily share these notebooks, I mean pin boards with your friends and heck anyone who shares your interests. You can create a group board and you and all your friends, your wedding party, your BFF, or your writing group - just to name a few options here - can pin and pin and pin. Sharing effortlessly. I really wish Pinterest had been around while I was in MBA school. It would have made collaborating a bit easier. During my kitchen remodel, what a great way to keep track of my wishlist, ideas, things I liked, things I didn't like. I actually currently have a board, where I am collecting ideas for the living room project. (which may or may not ever happen.)

In all fairness, I think Pinterest is simply a better organized version of what many Tumblr blogs are at present. People are visual creatures. A picture is worth at least a 1000 words and in our fast paced culture, we see so much of our lives in images.

I have been online, in a writing capacity for about 6 years, maybe 7 if we count my very early and now deleted MySpace blog. I have had my work taken, reposted by someone, who made it out to be her own original work. It made me hopping mad. I made her take it down and I made it clear she had taken it. It was uncool.

To me this is a clear violation of the trust we all place in our fellow bloggers and writers. Write your own words or PAY someone to do it for you. I have ghost written blog posts and been paid for it. I am happy to write for pay and let someone else post it on a blog under their name, provided the check clears.

That said, I have been 17 kinds of flattered when someone has liked my work so much, that they have willingly reposted and credited me or quoted me and credited me, with a link back. This is the right way to share. The Internet was designed, I think, as a way we could share and share quickly. Since I have been beating the letter writing horse, let's think about how we shared things in the past. Through the mail. You had to tear a picture out of a magazine or an article, and this meant you lost your copy or you had to make a copy or buy a second copy, and mail it. Turn around time of this sharing event - like 5 days, give or take.

Now I can share instantly.

I spy with my little eye something shiny and I can post a link here on the Edge, on my FB, my twitter, my Tumblr (I don't really have a Tumblr, but I could...) and Pinterest in about 10 seconds. I can send a link via email.

Over the last month, I have read dozens of opinions on copyright and Pinterest and who owns what and how Pinterest is evil. I don't really think Pinterest is the problem, just as Tumblr isn't the problem and Facebook isn't the problem.

The problem is as a community, as a creative community we have been lazy about copyright issues and we have stuck with an old model, which frankly does not serve to protect us, the artists, exactly, but those who have paid for our content. When the content is free and we willingly post it to our own blogs or Flickr or website, sometimes that is one and the same, but sometimes not. I also think, that in the early days, we got sloppy. This new medium, this information superhighway offered us a direct link to readers and buyers and fans. We are now able to self publish our books, produce content and make it available in the blink of an eye. Publishers were our watch dogs, not because they liked us but because they were going to protect and hopefully recoup their investment, a few times over.

What we all failed to do, is to come up with a convention, which would make it easy to identify online - what was content which was protected and what is content, which is not. Some people watermark and some don't. Some artist watermark items for sale and have it act as an online business card, some remove the watermark after they have been paid. Without a solid convention, who is to know? For those of us who produce text, there is no way to know. Perhaps we should have picked a font as the deliminator or agreed that text with a double underline meant something had not been paid for.

Being in the drivers seat was exciting and heady stuff. Too bad, we did not think 10-15 years down the road. Broader reach means the old model is outdated. Our lack of foresight has also meant we are starring into a muddy pool of our own making.

Also as Internet users and consumers, we don't like to pay for things. We want to read quality material for free. We want to look at pretty pictures, for free. We want to look at pictures of our best friends new baby or puppy or dress or handbag, for free.

And just as magazines depend heavily on advertisers to stay in print, the Internet is powered through ad dollars as well. Someone pays to host the site, where the pretty pictures live.

I also am not unconvinced that Pinterest is a reflection of a larger issue facing social media and the Internet right now. I am not sure Pinterest ever thought that its platform would be a place where brands went to build their brand image. Maybe I am just naive. This uncomfortable balance of sharing and selling is just getting more and more complicated with each passing second.

I also think that Pinterest Users should be honest and share their sources. Link back to the creator of the photo or the publisher of photo they are reposting. It is proper blogger etiquette and it is how the net is supposed to work.

I think splitting hairs about the TOS and what constitutes ownership in this day an age of click and share and not going to bear any fruit. The playing field is different now. Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and the like, have changed how we communicate with our families, our friends, our work groups and with each other, even when we don't actually know each other.

Like this article says - "Pinterest is in someways just like Xerox and a VCR."

As a creative person, believe me I am concerned about the use of my work for profit, without me being compensated or credited properly. I also want my work seen and read and talked about and frankly shared. I love when my DIY pics get re-pinned on Pinterest.

Our current copyright laws do not balance this well. The intersection of commerce and creativity have always had an uneasy marriage. As artists and as publishers - we have limited control over what happens with our products. Is selling a used book a copyright violation? What about those magazines found in the garbage and resold by the someone who found them.

The Internet has only made this intersection all the more complex and confusing.

I don't think Pinterest is the problem or the answer. Just like I think SOPA and PIPA weren't the answer either. I think it is time to figure out a crediting convention that we can all live with and I think it is time to come to terms with the fact that we no longer share information the same way we did even five minute ago. We cannot quibble with whose server has the content and the storage resolution, because in two years it is all going to be bigger capacity and more storage. We cannot quibble with whether posting a link on FB or Twitter or even Pinterest is claiming ownership, it is sharing and if the reposting or sharing mechanism are engineered correctly, platforms like Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter are a means to spread the word and share one's creative output.

If someone takes a picture or some writing or something and says it is their creative work product, when it isn't that is not only a possible copyright issue, it is plagiarism.  That is off the charts wrong. If someone shares something on a board titled "Rocking cool photos" - on Pinterest -- and properly credits his/her source(s),  that is a compliment. Be happy your picture is now highlighted by someone with 1000 followers.

Being adequately compensated for ones creative output is a wholly separate issue. I am not sure many famous artists or writers would say they feel adequately compensated. Pinterest et al, is not the problem with that paradox, nor is it exactly the answer, either.

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