Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Copyright – does it matter?

Behind the scenes at Hugs, I get email that falls into three categories: friendly hellos, requests for the PDF of the Not Just For Chemo Reversible Cloche (for some reason not everybody can download that), and requests for permission to ignore my copyright.  I find that last one really strange.

Molly finds it strange too.  Excellent cat toy pattern by Sheila Ralston.

The request comes in various forms, my all-time favourite being the one asking to translate the pattern in question into another language... to circulate on the other person's blog, under their own name.

Shocking!! (this cutie is from CGMonster Designs)

The truly shocking thing is that I get asked at all. I know that for every request I receive there are many more people who just go ahead; I am quite sure things knit from my patterns are being sold at craft shows here and there. The patterns themselves are being taught in knitting classes for which the participants paid a fee. Probably they are being translated and circulated without any credit to me. And this doesn't even cover a free pattern website that regularly changes the names of my patterns for something they feel is more suitable – without even telling me. I have had so many requests for help with a pattern I don't recognize as my own, it is ridiculous! You'll know from having been around for a while that the names of my patterns are tied to the meaning of and inspiration for the pattern, so that one really hurts.

Hurts like a mothhole in a giant new knit!

My feeling about creative work comes from being a writer as well as a knitter. I know exactly how long it takes from the time you get an idea to the time you have a finished product in your hands.  It's a really, really long time.  For writing especially - and yet plagiarism happens. We've seen even in very visible venues people using someone else's written work and passing it off as their own. There is an outcry for that when it's words. I've seen an outcry when it's a clothing store chain using artwork they found on Instagram without crediting or paying the artist, too. But for knitting, not so much.

Am I reasonable to be bothered by that?

This week I had an email from someone asking if she could sell Earbud Pouches in her Etsy shop. As always I said no, and explained what "for personal use only" means, which I know is not clear for everybody (essentially, it means other people are not allowed to profit from my intellectual property, as for example by selling things knit from my patterns or teaching knitting to paying customers by using my pattern.) But after I sent my reply I thought, I should really check at Etsy to see how many other people didn't ask.

Answer: quite a few. I wrote to each vendor explaining they were not free to sell products made with my designs, and most were apologetic at least to some degree and immediately withdrew their listings. But one – who did withdraw the listing by the way – explained that there is no legal barrier to selling products made from someone else's design, especially if nothing was charged for the pattern. Hence today's post.

I know this argument, because I have read through many threads on Ravelry debating the issue and how best to deal with people who turn a profit on another designer's intellectual property. But as I said to this Etsy vendor, there is also the matter of granting the designer some dignity in return for the hours and hours they spent creating the design, preparing it as a pattern, and maintaining a platform so that it can be shared freely within the fiber art community. (For the record, just maintaining website names and server space for pattern PDFs does not come cheap.)
And perhaps more to the point, it is not really to a vendor's advantage to use someone else's designs in their shop – if anyone can do that, and many people clearly were, then there is nothing to set one shop apart from another.

The better course is to invest time in designing your own products and selling those, and even selling the pattern so that you can profit just as completely from people who can knit for themselves. Designing takes time and effort, but once you can knit and do basic math it is well within reach for us all.

I have to tell you how impressed I was with the variety of original solutions on Etsy for the earbud problem, be they sewn, crocheted, or knit. My favourite was a tiny bowl shaped pouch, very textured and adorable, for which the vendor had designed and is selling her own crochet pattern. It was definitely a bright spot in a bad morning.

I just can't help thinking it's disrespectful to profit from someone else's creative efforts. But others either don't agree or simply don't think about it first, and I find that odd.

Is it odd?

Either way, there is reality to face. Anything you put out into a public space is at risk of being taken and used by someone else, and since my livelihood doesn't depend on pattern sales like other designers' do, I guess I can either get used to that or stop putting things out there. As the years go on and I try to kindly, respectfully, and successfully educate more people about what copyright means in both spirit and letter, I can see that changing the environment is not going to happen. And there are so many other pressing things in our world today that require energy to overcome these days.

There is a third course I could take.

I could publish my patterns here at Hugs and not promote them anywhere else, even on Ravelry. I write them for you, and you certainly know where to find them, but others wouldn't unless they stuck around long enough - and if they did that, perhaps they would get to know me too well to take advantage. I think it is the anonymity of a free pattern sourced online, the lack of a relationship with the designer, that tempts someone to profit from it – indeed, neither my name nor my blog name was mentioned on any of the Etsy listings for Earbud Pouches I found this week.

Ugh. Not a fun post today, I know. But I'd like to hear what you think for when my hand is healed and the house is finished – keep sharing the patterns, either publicizing them or not? Or just stop and put my time into writing a book?


gapsdd said...

First - thank you for the earbud pattern and all the other patterns you have created. My earbud pouch is one of the best things I ever knitted for my own use. It's unfortunate that individuals take advantage of your creative work.

Write a book. I read your blog for the words, not the knitting patterns. There are millions of knitting patterns out there but very few good authors. I enjoy reading about the progress on your house, trips to the lake, and other adventures.

Mary Keenan said...

Ohhhhh... That brought a tear to my eye... Thank you so much :-)

Unknown said...

I do understand about copyright and there are a lot of people who break it in many ways but in the USA I can buy your pattern and use it to make a million copies and sell the copies. I am not breaking your copyright, I am not selling your pattern I am selling my work of knitting.

Other countries have other laws and in some of them you are right that I would not be able to sell things I made from your pattern without your permission.

This is where copyright laws have problems, especially in our world that is so easily in touch with other countries.

I have problems with designers who don't know the actual law and think they have the right to tell me how to use their patterns. I personally don't knit things for sale so I haven't stepped on any toes.

I do enjoy reading your blog and hearing about your life. Have a great day.

Mary Keenan said...

It sounds like what is sitting poorly with me is the distinction between law and courtesy – it may be legal in the US to do whatever is wished with a knitted object, but to do so without even giving credit to the designer, without whom there would be no object, is not something I personally could bring myself to do.

I just feel so appreciative of people who make interesting designs and take the trouble to write them down and share them… Going through my Ravelry project pages, sadly out of date since I've gotten so busy, I was excited to see all the wonderful patterns I've been able to knit up and enjoy over the years because someone took that time for the benefit of the rest of the community. Particularly when the pattern is free, it seems reasonable to request that in return for the effort made the knitter would respect the designer's wishes that they not profit from the finished result and/or take the credit for the idea... And yet there seem to be even fewer rights associated with a free pattern.

You're quite right – once I share a pattern I have no legal say as to how the finished product is handled by a US knitter, and your reminder puts a firm tick in the box that says 'stop sharing patterns'. That's very helpful, so thank you!

Sharon said...

Mary I am so sorry you have had to deal with this. It is sad that some people just don't get what copyright means. Please keep on sharing you thoughts and ideas and patterns in your blog. It is something I really look forward to reading. A book of your writings about knitting and life would be wonderful.

Kathy S said...

Hello there - I can understand your frustration.

Part of the problem might be that very many pattern publishers state that one is welcome to sell items made from their patterns. They ask to be credited as the designer but that's all.

Thank you for your site, I enjoy it.

Mary Keenan said...

Thank you for that Sharon - I do still have some patterns I've been anxious to write up and share (looking at you fingerless mitts!) but I'll have to figure out a more comfortable way to do that. Meanwhile I'll try to focus on the book!

Mary Keenan said...

Kathy, that's a really interesting perspective - I wonder whether those designers are asking for credit because they knew better than I did how generally it can be withheld! That's something that is really sitting with me at the moment... the way those Etsy postings pitched the advantages of the product as though the credit for the idea belonged with the seller. I really love the unusual-for-me cleverness and practicality of that pattern which probably makes me more sensitive about it ;^)