Pinterest and the C words

Pinterest: Where creativity means a conflict between copying and control.

There have been some discussions recently about Pinterest and the etiquette of pinning handmade items. It first started with a post that described How to Suck at Pinterest on the Salt City Spice blog. Katrina started with the question: “Artists, designers, & crafters are continually finding their original works tagged or categorized as “DIY” – is this wrong?” and ended with an emphatic yes:

The fact is, it’s hurtful and discouraging to find one of your items tagged or categorized as DIY and more importantly, it can negatively impact your small business. This is the internet, where information travels fast and ideas spread even faster. How many others will be influenced by the original pin to “do it themselves” instead of visiting the original source?

She also asked readers to take a pledge to not pin handmade items as DIY, and to even pin a graphic to that effect on their DIY boards.

I first learned about this post from Kim Werker, who posted her response disagreeing with the premise that it’s wrong to pin items with the intention of making them, and pointed out:

With a couple of important yet not universally applicable exceptions1, you cannot control what others do with your work…The onus is on crafty businesspeople to make products that people will buy.

From one of Kim’s posts on Twitter, I went to another take on the subject by Sister Diane of Crafty Pod. She agreed with Katrina regarding the issues of attribution…

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.

…but also pointed out, as Kim had, that once an item is out there in the great wide internet, a creator has lost control. Some of those creators, in fact, start this ball rolling themselves by pinning their items on Pinterest, which Sister Diane points out is not the best marketing practice.

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).

Finally, it was in Sister Diane’s post that I learned that Katrina had written a follow on post as a guest on Oh My! Handmade…and if her comment about sucking had bugged me in the first post, this title really raised my hackles: Ethical Pinning: The Golden Rules of Pinterest. Someone, we’d gone from talking about pinners hurting people’s feelings by being disrespectful to pinners being unethical:

To me, ethical pinning means generating responsible content that takes into account the original source along with the intent of the idea or item in question. Lately, before pinning, I’ve been following what I like to think of as The Golden Rules of Pinterest:

I believe what’s supposed to follow is the large graphic stating “I promise not to pin original works as DIY on Pinterest;” I’m not sure if the blog formatting is a bit off or my browser is rendering it incorrectly. At any rate, somehow this has morphed from a pledge to a “Golden Rule”…written by Katrina.

I am fully in agreement with Katrina  and Sister Diane on one point: proper attribution of pins is important (not to mention part of Pinterest’s Pin Etiquette). Those who have created an item deserve the credit for it. And I know I’ve been guilty (and probably still am; I need to run through my boards and clean up anything I’ve repinned, which is most of what’s there) of pinning items that lack that necessary linkage back to the source. I’ve gotten better at it; I’ll often click through to make sure the pin goes to the source. In cases where it doesn’t, instead of repinning I’ll pin from the source. If I can’t find the source (i.e, the pin goes no where but to another pin, or to a front page with changing content) I’ll leave that unpinned.

But that’s where my agreement with Katrina ends. To my mind, the real failure of logic to her argument lies in this question from her original post:

How many others will be influenced by the original pin to “do it themselves” instead of visiting the original source?

I believe it’s incredibly faulty to argue that because a handmade item is pinned to a DIY board or with a DIY tag, then crafters will suddenly decide it’s something they can make themselves. Crafters are inspired by what they see all the time, whether the item was hand-crafted or mass-produced; whether it was a personal one-of-a-kind creation or one of many for sale in an etsy shop; and whether it is tagged DIY or fully attributed down to store and price.

It’s not the tags that determines whether someone is going to use a pin as a creative inspiration–or even copy it exactly–it’s the crafting spirit. It’s the spirit that looks at something that speaks to it and says, “I can make that”…or better, “I can make that mine.”

I’ve mentioned previously that I am using Pinterest to redecorate my kids’ rooms; they each have a Pinterest board dedicated to their obsessions:

Much of what I pinned to each board were finished items, many for sale. Since I was doing the original pinning, I made the effort to ensure proper attribution, down to including prices for many of the items (especially ones I thought others on Pinterest might want to buy). I did buy many of the items I pinned…but not all. Some, I used as inspiration. I combined the gauzy overbed hanging with the ribbons hanging from the embroidery hoop to create a personalized overbed hanging for Lexie (she picked out the fabrics I used). I won’t be having someone paint a wall mural; instead, I’m using that picture to inspire the placement of some of the large fairy wall stickers I bought and the name display I made. In each case, my comments make it clear that these aren’t items I’m going to buy, that they are inspiration pieces for things I will make or do.

I’m a crafter. And I see nothing unethical with being inspired. What’s your take?

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8 Responses to Pinterest and the C words

  1. Sister Diane says:

    This is very well-said, Jen – I love the sentence, “I see nothing unethical with being inspired.” You’ve beautifully encapsulated the way I think many of us use a purpose-based Pinterest board, too – every pin may represent only a fraction of our creative concept. Heck, I might pin something because it has one button on it I really like, and I want to remember what that button looks like!

    You’re making me realize this, too: I wonder what Pinterest’s eventual monetization model will be. Seems like having some kind of “sponsored pins” might make sense – and wouldn’t THAT muddy these waters nicely? :-)

    I’m so glad you joined this discussion!

    • Jen says:

      Thank you! I think it was a discussion very worth having, and I’m glad I was able to contribute something worthwhile. :-)

      I think Kim made some great points on the potential chilling effect of creators trying to exercise so much control over their creations. I found my own attitude on the subject has changed since I’ve started designing–from a feeling that designs of others were totally sacrosanct to realizing that I only have a limited amount off control…and that’s not a bad thing.

  2. Rhiannon says:

    Apparently, I’ve had my head in the sand for the last little bit; I totally missed this controversy.

    I find this whole thing weird, frankly. I don’t think it’s unethical to pin something handmade as DIY–confusing and misleading, maybe, but unethical?

    Maybe I’m using Pinterest wrong? I don’t know. To me Pinterest is about an aesthetic appreciation of things; my boards organize inspiration for home decor projects, seasonal clothing I wish I could wear, colours I love, and so on. I don’t think you can exert much control over an image once you’ve put it out there, and I also don’t know that you should, really.

    Great post, Jen!

    • Jen says:

      I like the phrase “an aesthetic appreciation of things” – I’ve got several of boards that can be described thus. My knitting board for example, is just a board of beautiful knitting projects: not design inspiration, not even projects that I plan to do some day, but just pretty things I like to look at.

  3. Michelle says:

    Thank you for this article. As a crafter I often think “I can make that” or “I can make that mine.” If I pin it to DIY, it’s as something I want to try.

    As someone who loves to craft & would like to possibly make some money selling my projects, I can understand both sides.

    I will definitely be more diligent about attributions & go back to redo my boards, but if/when I put a project out there- I fully expect that it will be copied/altered and possibly sold by someone else. It is the nature of the community & it’s hard to define where it goes from copying to being someone elses style.

    • Jen says:

      I’ve begun the process of editing my pins to ensure proper attribution, and I can tell you I really didn’t realize how deep the problem ran until I started looking. I have pins I’ll never be able to track down the exact attribution for, and others where it’s taken me hours to figure out where something came from. It’s definitely a challenge!

      Like you, I know that once one of my creations–in this case, my designs–is out there, it’s fair game for copying. No, I’m not thrilled about that fact, but I recognize I can’t stop it. All I can do is make my design the best I can, my pattern as well written as possible, and my method of construction such that a knitter says, “THAT is the way I want to make that.”

  4. ALEXANDRA says:

    As with anything, from the spoken word to the use of images on the web GIVE CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE, now THAT is a golden rule! I’m glad I linked to this post from @designseeds. Because it’s an issue that’s been on my mind: how much should something change to be considered MY CREATION when inspiration came from an image or a DIY tutorial? I paint, and I know that whenever I post my paintings someone might use it, and believe me, painters are jealous of their art, BUT INSPIRATION IS PERSONAL and the motivation to make something will vary from one crafter/artist to another. Besides, if you don’t want to serve as inspiration then keep your art to yourself…not fun, huh? Be glad you,ve inspired! I recently came upon this post through @brainpicker and I used it on my blog…please take a few minutes to watch it. It’s called Steal like an Artist…the word steal has a negative connotation, but it talks about how creativity has a history…
    thanks for writing about this!

    • Jen says:

      Very interesting point -while there’s certainly a commercial aspect to creating for many of us, I think we all hope to inspire. Granted, I would PREFER to inspire someone to buy my patterns to make one of their own…but if I instead inspire them to come up with their own interpretation, I have to be happy with having made something beautiful enough to cause someone to go to that effort.