Monday, December 31, 2012

A warning to Pinterest users: Redbook may steal your ideas

(UPDATE, 1/1/13: According to Jen, Redbook is promising to make things right, and according to Michelle, I got some things wrong. UPDATE UPDATE: And Jen got something wrong, too! See updates at bottom.)

The first time I ever saw anything from Pinterest I had no idea what the site was about. It was a photo of cakes baked in mugs. Ohh, I see, it's a place where people creatively use mugs - pint mugs? - to...ummm...make cakes? Which I suppose made as much sense as it being a place for people to discuss the works of Harold Pinter, which I also considered a possibility.

Michelle Hryvnak Davies, co-administrator at NEPA Blogs and Queen of All Media, Social or Otherwise, tried to drag me into the world of Pinterest last year when she added a Pinterest component to the NEPA Blogs media empire. Which I still didn't understand; by this point I had determined that Pinterest was some sort of image posting site (though there were already, like, a billion of those at the time) merged with a social network, all of which for some reason appealed overwhelmingly to those of the female persuasion. It also now was coming across as some sort of creative-works outlet, which seemed like an odd fit for a blog about blogging in Northeastern Pennsylvania, but whatever. Even when Michelle and local blogger Karla Porter went on Blue Ridge Communication's ComputerWise TV to do a full hour-long program on Pinterest I still didn't understand - though it didn't help that I fell asleep early on and woke up right at the end. I was exhausted from work. (See updates below.)

So gradually I've worked out that Pinterest is an image posting and sharing site merged with a social network, designed to allow people to share and showcase their creativity and see the creativity of others. Unlike, say, Flickr or DeviantArt these aren't just photos or artistic creations; these are, for the most part, creative projects that can inspire others to their own projects, or even be recreated by other people. Like, say, cakes baked in mugs. It's not just that, so NEPA Blogs can post our blog headers and whatnot and still not be tossed off the site, but it's mostly creative works, being posted and "pinned" and "repinned." Sometimes with attribution, more often - like photos on Tumblr - without.

There are a lot of creative people out there. A lot of people who invest a lot of effort into their creativity. A lot of people who deserve credit for their creativity.

And there are some people out there who want to skim off the best ideas, repost them, and claim them as their own.

Redbook magazine has just done that to one of the biggest names in blogging.

Jen Yates is the blogger behind the wildly popular Cake Wrecks site and the author of two books based on that blog. She also has a spinoff blog, EPBOT, that provides an outlet for her non-cake-related stuff. On this site she also features some creative projects and tutorials, the sort of stuff that finds its way to her Pinterest site. As with her blog, her Pinterest posts tend to have broad general appeal and are enormously popular.

In a recent article, Redbook magazine copied some of the most popular Pinterest posts, created  artwork from the posted photos in an apparent attempt to avoid copyright issues, and presented them without attribution.

EPBOT: Shame On You, Redbook Magazine

Now, this is a dickish maneuver to begin with. But what makes it entirely douchey - perhaps unintentionally douchey, but douchey nonetheless - is the fact that the project of Jen's that Redbook stole and reprinted without attribution was one that was scheduled to be presented with attribution in an upcoming edition of Better Homes & Gardens Good Housekeeping.

You may get the sense that bloggers - especially successful bloggers - see themselves as New Media hotshots who look down upon the Old Media, especially the "dead trees" media of newspapers, books, and magazines.  But nothing could be further from the truth. Most bloggers I know consider it to be the height of success to get your work presented in published form, on paper. Newspaper and magazine articles are considered incredibly valuable for getting the word out about your blog to new audiences, audiences that might otherwise never hear about your blog. So having the opportunity to get her work featured and credited in Better Homes & Gardens Good Housekeeping was extremely important to Jen. Now that may not happen at all, since Redbook has effectively scooped the article by publishing the details of the project first. Will Better Homes & Gardens Good Housekeeping cancel the article? Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Redbook claims that it is planning a response to the numerous messages it has received complaining about this situation. Do they plan to make this right? Or will they hunker down and claim that once an idea is published to the Internet it becomes public  domain?

Whatever happens, be warned: if you're posting the fruits of your creative efforts on a site like Pinterest, you might just be making it easier for someone else to come along, steal them, and claim them as their own.


1. Jen has posted a response from Redbook that promises to make things right:

EPBOT: Redbook Makes It Right

Jen is satisfied with this response, so I guess we can put away the pitchforks and torches. For now.

2. Michelle pointed out that I have mashed together two episodes of ComputerWise TV from the past year: One which Michelle and Karla went on to promote the NEPA BlogCon, and one that featured Michelle by herself talking about Pinterest.

3. Jen misidentified Good Housekeeping, the magazine slated to feature her project, as Better Homes and Gardens in her original post. 

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