At what point does a cool notion go from being the brainchild of an individual to becoming something owned by the faceless hive mind? —Chris Morran, The Consumerist
Bloggers are a rich source for money saving tips and cool do-it-yourself ideas. Take blogger Jen Yates' cool idea for creating flip flop hangers from ordinary dry cleaner wire hangers. She posted a full tutorial with step-by-step photographs on Epbot.com. It was a fun method to, as Yate's writes, "get your mound o' 'flops off the floor and into a tidy system."
So fun, in fact, that her images of the project spread across the Internet according to The Consumerist.
Yates noticed this, but didn't mind, except when no credit was given: "You guys know that one of my most popular creations here on Epbot are my flip-flop hangers. They've been re-pinned on Pinterest thousands of times, so naturally I've seen my share of websites re-posting my pics without credit — but that's kind of par for the course with the Internet, and usually easily remedied with a polite e-mail."
Then Redbook magazine had a project in its January 2013 issue on page 102 that was obviously based upon Yate's idea. It even had a drawing that copied her photographs of the project.
No credit was given.
Yates was not pleased: "Just last week I agreed to have my flip-flop hangers featured in Good Housekeeping for their Spring issue. (I was hoping to save it as a surprise, too. *sigh*) Now that they've been 'scooped,' as it were, it's possible that Good Housekeeping may pull the feature, depriving Epbot and myself of both proper credit and Epbot's first mention in print, which I've been ridiculously excited about. The added exposure would be huge for this blog. HUGE."
Chris Morran asks at The Consumerist about the implications of this: "Here's the thing about the Internet: It can facilitate the spreading of ideas and information at an astounding rate, but this dissemination can come at the expense of that materials' source. So at what point does a cool notion go from being the brainchild of an individual to becoming something owned by the faceless hive mind?"
Did the flip flop hangers belong to the world now?
Yates fans didn't think so. They posted comments on Redbook's Facebook page such as this one from Ken Ellis: "Hey, Redbook. Show some integrity. Give Jen Yates credit for her flip flop hangers."
Redbook responded quickly. They apologized. They offered compensation. They complimented Yates.
"Needless to say," Yates posted on her blog, "I'm utterly relieved to see such a speedy and gracious response from Redbook."
Redbook's online version of the project credits Yates and calls the project "brilliant."
Lani Rosales at AGBeat talked about why this flip flop flap is important: "(B)ecause the web is changing, and copyright laws and ethics are being convoluted as more gray area is established with the increasing popularity of the visual web, as more web users flock to social networks and blogs that feature images rather than walls of words, not only as a novelty but as a time saver."
Rosales wonders where the point is that an idea becomes public domain: "After it's been featured 200 times on Pinterest? Or maybe 300 times? Or maybe after 12 months? And do people care when they see a neat idea online that it wasn't attributed to the true, original source? No, they just want to bend up wires and make flip flop hangers. It's not like the idea was patented, trademarked, or even sold, so the dilemma lies in attribution."
And attribution to Rosales means more than just a television station saying, for example, that a video came from YouTube.
"(A)s if YouTube shot a video of a tornado themselves, not an actual person," she writes.
If the problem Yates encountered with her flip flop hanger project shows anything, it is that "No distribution without attribution!" may be a new rallying cry of bloggers and their fans — and a warning to media to take them seriously.