|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?