All in one. Lucky you.
In the past two or three weeks, I have been doing a lot of thinking and reading and stewing about Pinterest. I've been skipping all over the internet - I'm not even sure where to begin on links; you can just Google "Pinterest etiquette" and "Pinterest and copyright" or "how does Pinterest make money" and that can get you started. I've been thinking about copyright in general (see earlier post). I've had several lengthy conversations with friends on the phone and via Facebook.
Most recently, I was trying to figure out what it is that is bothering me so much. Why do I feel betrayed? I mean, I realize that the people behind Pinterest need to make a living, too. What is so irksome about the way this is being done? Well, for comparison, let's take Facebook. I use it, I love it, I'm addicted to it. I use it to connect with people personally, but I also use it for marketing of our business. Pretty low cost marketing at that, even when I do run an ad. And in return, I don't mind that other businesses are using it for their marketing. I figure the advertising (subtle or blatant) is my "cost" for using the services of Facebook. And that's fine.
Pinterest, on the other hand.
Well, maybe some background is in order. Here's how it first started for me: an artist friend/customer recommended that I check it out and sent me an invitation. What was initially so appealing was the way it was like Etsy treasuries - I had control over what I saw, I could curate a collection, follow the boards that I liked. For me, then, it is a way to narrow the focus of the internet to things that interest me. At the same time, I felt that it was less commercial than Etsy. Yes, there are things that are obviously for sale, yet the rule that you are supposed to minimize your own self promotion made it feel like your role as a pinner is not to sell your own work, but to share with the Pinterest community things that inspire you. In short, it felt wholly uncommercial and uncommodified, more about community and conversation between fellow pinners.
And yet, obviously, Pinterest has to make some money out of this. So perhaps I am just being naive when I feel betrayed, when it turns out that the conversation I was having with someone about a book might actually end up in a commercial transaction between Amazon and Pinterest. And of course, as pinners, we are all happy that we don't have ads forced upon us, but if it turns out that we are inadvertently advertising for Amazon or someone else, there is a bit of a distasteful feeling that one is left with. So, the fact that there is some underlying commodification of our conversation is, despite my addition to Pinterest, bothersome. It does relate back to my earlier post about copyright and the reading that I am doing of Lewis Hyde's book Common as Air: about a philosophical and moral objection to the way that corporations are claiming ownership over conversation and communal sharing, over knowledge and inspiration which, to my mind, really belongs to the collective cultural commons that no one (or everyone) owns. Pinterest's Terms of Service (you hereby grant 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) seem especially annoying in this regard, but I am finding the terms to be pretty similar to other internet sites.
In addition to the question of what rights Pinterest has over the content people have added to its site, there is the matter of copyright violations. Naturally, Pinterest has covered its bases, more or less, by assuming that the pinner is not pinning anything that would violate copyright laws; however, on the user end, I have a feeling the violations are more prevalent than not. That is to say, for every single item that is pinned, has the user obtained explicit or implicit permission to do so? Explicit meaning the pinner has contacted the artist; implicit meaning the artist/blogger has a "pin it" button on their site, or some "creative commons" type of language, as opposed to the "this is my original work and cannot be reproduced/shared/etc without my written permission" language of copyright law. I am as guilty as the next person of making assumptions, or being careless, or getting carried away by the ease of hitting that "re-pin" button. It is common for me to think that since I provide a link back to the original blog and give credit to the artist, that I'm doing that person a PR favor, but the fact remains that I am making a decision on someone else's behalf, and that ain't right. It has been pointed out by some that this makes every Pinterest user liable should/when the lawsuits start up. As an annoyingly "good" girl, being a lawbreaker doesn't sit well with me, even though I have some qualms about copyright law as mentioned in my earlier post.
But here is what I love about Pinterest: In those early days, before I did all this reading, what a thrill it was to be following boards of other people, to trade pins back and forth in a quasi-conversation ("here's what I like, here's what I'm thinking about making" "oh, I see you like that, too! Don't we have such good taste?") - all non-verbal and completely via pins, with friends and strangers... this is the communal aspect that I love so much about our modern technology; the way that geographical boundaries are crossed so readily, in the course of finding people who will share our inspirations. It is this that I am especially reluctant to give up on, as well as some of the lovely pins that I've found over the last few months.
And to tell the truth, I am not much of a blog reader. I am well aware that I am missing out on a lot of inspiration and possibilities, but I just don't have the time. However, being someone who processes things very fast visually, Pinterest is tremendously useful because I am essentially "reading" zillions of blogs just by looking at a picture. I have found out about new blogs and new artists by following links to original sources. I have made new connections with people I don't know at all other than I sure do love their taste and color palates. I have been inspired to make at least three new projects as a result of things seen on Pinterest.
SO, where does that leave me. I love Pinterest. I hate Pinterest. There are three basic detractions:
1. Do I, as an artist/store, want to share my ideas at the scale that Pinterest does? The risk is....what? that someone else will pick up my idea, make a zillion dollars, and I will have neither fame nor profit. That someone will "knock-off" my work and I will lose my uniqueness. If I were really concerned about protecting my unique artistry, to be honest, I wouldn't open a store, since every week someone comes in, comments on what a good idea I had, takes a picture with their phone, doesn't purchase anything, and walks away. Ultimately, I feel that my creativity is not lessened for sharing it and that much of what I create isn't anything I can claim solely as my own, so I am reluctant to enforce ownership and copyrights, and I feel that the benefits of sharing outweigh the risks. That said, that is a personal decision that every artist should make for themselves.
Which brings me to 2. Are you as a Pinterest user willing to assume responsibility for making that decision for every single item that you pin? You should be, and therefore whatever you pin should have explicit or implicit permission to be pinned. THAT one is going to require some work and backtracking on my part, because I was a crazy pinner there at the beginning. You cannot assume that permission has been granted because the item is already on Pinterest. You really ought to check on every single pin and make sure it links back to the artist AND that the artist has given permission to share it. The good news is that checking my work is causing me to revisit things that I still like, and follow links back to still more cool blogs. Wow. People are so creative!
3. While the copyright issues above can actually be addressed through careful pinning, the largest question in my mind is the way Pinterest's terms of service seem to abrogate an artist's copyrights. We were just having a nice conversation about things that inspire us and projects we'd like to work on and blogs and books that we love, but we must also remember that Pinterest has inserted itself into the conversation. Not just as a facilitator, which it certainly does, but also as someone who wants to profit off of our conversation. I KNEW it was too good to be true!
Well, to be honest, that is still a price that I am willing to pay for using Pinterest. That said, I am being more cautious in my use of Pinterest - which, in some ways, detracts from the free-for-all nature of a creative commons (as Lewis Hyde would describe it). When you have to start guarding your words and tiptoeing with care, you are less likely to make those unexpected finds and connections that could bring about genuine innovation or creation. That is our collective loss and that is the real shame of our modern times. We regularly and habitually grant individual and sole and propietary rights over a thing or an idea and if we carry that to the end, there will be nothing left that belongs to everyone. Where, for example, would the Renaissance artists have been if current copyright law was enforced in their day? Where would we be as a nation, or even as a world, as artists, as a culture, if we weren't constantly copying, but then modifying and innovating?
In any event, that is a larger question that I wrestle with, not solely belonging to Pinterest. Ultimately, I think it is our responsibility to USE technology and not let it rule our lives, to think of the ultimate purpose (for Pinterest, for me, that is being creative, sharing/facilitating creativity), and hold ourselves to that ultimate purpose. This means constantly asking, how does what I am doing now support my ultimate goals? As far as Pinterest is concerned, I have come up with my own personal... resolutions? intentions? manifesto? for how I will go forward (and also backward as I really need to check back on all my existing pins). In addition to the Pinterest detractions, they connect back to my intentions/resolutions from last year - about being creative and sharing creativity but also supporting the small and the local and the independent, as opposed to the big and the commercial and the corporate. Because, seriously? Does Martha Stewart or Anthropologie REALLY need me to pin/advertise on their behalf? Finally, there is the matter of how much time a person spends on a computer, specifically on Pinterest. Does that time inspire and fuel you to make/do/be more than when you started, or does it just take time away from what you should be doing? I am not dismissing the value of a little internet surfing, but I also feel that I need to be mindful about where my time is going, hence the "create more & re/pin less." Feel free to share it, pin it, modify it, adhere to it...