Copyright and Crochet: Innovation Saves the Day

ETA: Seems I didn't express my point clearly here. I've clarified in a new post.

I'm one of those people who thinks current copyright laws are ridiculous. I don't think it's reasonable that the US laws grant monopoly rights to creators for 70 years past their death. Copyright exists to strike a balance between the interests of creators and society, and my experiences being published digitally and in print have not changed my opinion that the balance is off – in favour of creators and against the interests of society.

Especially in a field like crochet, the less fear people have about finding inspiration, and the more innovation they're exposed to, the better it is for all of us both as creators and as consumers. And that doesn't have to make it difficult for creators to make a living. Occasionally, creators complain that they can't make a living because of copyright infringements they can't afford to litigate (ETA: In this case, I'm referring to consumers copying and distributing copyrighted works without permission, not to designers ripping each other off. There's way more grey area in the latter, and it's another issue entirely). To that I have this answer: Accept that you can't fight it, and spend your time and energy innovating. Improve your products, experiment with new distribution channels, team up with other creators, and in all other ways focus your energy on your business, not on no-win battles. If you want to let your business go under because you won't adapt and innovate, so be it.

I'll let it all hang out. Overall, there's a lot of room for improvement in professional crochet: in pattern writing, in presentation, in web site design, and in overall written communication — let alone the enormous amount of room for innovation in design.

There is a lot of concern among crochet professionals (and among professionals in many other creative fields) about the proposed Orphan Works Act of 2006 in the US. In copyright terms, a work is considered orphaned if the owner of the rights can't be found after a reasonable search. Since, as of thirty years ago, it's no longer necessary for a creator to register or mark his/her copyrighted works, an astonishing number of works are orphaned. The Orphan Works Act lessens penalties for infringers who try unsuccessfully to find copyright owners and go ahead and use the works anyway. To me, this makes a whole lot of sense, and helps to bring back a tiny bit of balance to the scene.

Contrary to arguments I've heard, this law will not give carte blanche to copyright infringers. It will not make all works up for grabs any more than they already are. Again, it's up to creatives to label their works, to keep their contact information fairly easy to find, and to choose how to spend their time and energy.

Want to read more? I've been keeping a list of bookmarks on I know Vera was right in her comment to my last post when she said the topic of copyright can bring out … strong opinions. Bring it.

Technorati Tags: copyright, crochet, Orphan Works Act of 2006

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14 thoughts on “Copyright and Crochet: Innovation Saves the Day

  1. I think much of the confusion regarding copyright in the crafts communities comes from the fact that many folks understand it to mean that the design itself is copyrighted, rather than the published pattern for the design.

    So, when you insist that designers must resign themselves to accepting the fact that their ideas might copied, I might agree, technically.. but I do not agree that cutting and pasting someone elses published work then making a few small changes should be considered “innovation” by any stretch of the imagination.

  2. I totally agree re: cutting and pasting. That’s not innovation, it’s copying. When I talk about innovation, it’s not so much about designing as it is about business-running. The problem that’s often brought up as threatening to businesses isn’t copying on the part of other professionals (which I’m not denying is a concern on its own), it’s the copying and sharing of published works on the part of consumers.

  3. This *is* a tricky matter.

    There is a *lot* of discussion of copyright on different designers’ lists, and yes, I also believe that it takes up too much space related to more creative matters.

    But – the Internet has given a new dimension to the “sharing” of patterns.

    If I have a nice pattern in an out-of-print book, and my mother asks if I could make a copy for her, I should answer: “No, it’s copyright infringement”. I sincerely find that ludicrious.

    But if I sell one of my own designs on my web-site (in a hopefully not-too-distant future), and someone buys it and puts it up on his/her own site/Yahoo!-group for everyone to use – I’ll have to respond to this in more ways than just making a new design (which takes a *long* time).

    If you have a store, and someone breaks in to steal your goods, you report it to the police, don’t you?

  4. and you think THATs ok?!? hmmmm. please explain.

    ..because I for one am not too motivated to innovate anything if I am probably not going to be compensated or credited for my work.. why bother?

  5. “If I have a nice pattern in an out-of-print book, and my mother asks if I could make a copy for her, I should answer: “No, it’s copyright infringement”. I sincerely find that ludicrious.”

    I agree. I feel the same way about music — a lot of 50s/60s kitschy stuff is out-of-print with no plans to reissue (and no plans to make the songs available on iTunes).

    That said, there’s a difference between the mp3-issue and the pattern-issue. Signed artists can make money touring and selling merch. In fact, I’ve been lead to believe that’s where they get most of their money. There isn’t really a rock-tour equivalent with pattern writers.

  6. Maybe I would buy this argument more if it were coming from a designer, and not someone who admittedly eschews the math and planning.

    Seriously — you have nothing out there worth protecting, so taking a side which panders to your audience is probably the best financial decision you can make, because it is not like anything you’ve innovated will ever get ripped off.

    Speaking as someone whose pattern was illegally distributed to a few thousand people in one blow — I say designers should fight the good fight. It is AGAINST THE LAW to copy and/or distribute copyrighted materials. But it is up to the victim to seek enforcement of the law. Kinda like rape. Would you make the same advice to a victim of rape? Of a mugging? Is it because only a physical violation of trust counts for outrage and action?

    I wonder what the Girl From Auntie would say about this post…?

  7. Looks like I did a terrible job explaining myself. I didn’t give a context for my statements, and I used ambiguous language. For that I apologize. I’ll clarify momentarily.

  8. While it may be easy to see someone buy one of my patterns and look the other way when they give it to all their friends, thereby costing me money, I would rather fight; at least to help people better understand copyright. Because what if Apple looked the other way when people stole their code and made it their own? If they just said “well, never mind, we’ll just make a BETTER program that nobody else has ever thought of!” what’s going to keep code-stealers from stealing the better program as well? I don’t think Apple’s business plan includes being research and development for other people without being compensated (but WITH the other people being paid for work they didn’t do). Similarly, I don’t appreciate doing the work for people who are going to be reaping the benefits (unless I publish free patterns, of course). That’s why there are so many patent lawyers and so many cease-and-desist letters and so many lawsuits about copyright. Just because it’s hard to go after people who steal doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, whether we have very large crochet businesses, or only one pattern for sale up on our website. It’s just part of the cost of doing business; and it seems to me to be a smaller price to try to thwart thieves than to just make a better product that isn’t protected well either.

  9. The catch is that if you want to protect your copyright, you do have to legally enforce it. You can’t just take an eh, whatever attitude about unauthorized copying or your work will be considered in the public domain.

    Even work under the creative commons license needs to be defended against unauthorized use. What if someone took your work out of the collaborative environment you released it into and registered it with a full copyright to themselves? Under current laws, you can’t build a vibrant creative collaborative community like the Open Source software community if you don’t protect your right to share.

    Creatives have to mark and they have to protect their rights, because that’s the way it is. They can also actively lobby to change the way it is, and that doesn’t mean just ignoring laws one things are ridiculous. Sure it cuts into creative time, but maybe we have to accept that there is some sacrifice needed to enable real change and innovation.

  10. No, I expressly *don’t* think that’s okay. But it is a reality. Despite the reality, creators do manage to get compensated and credited for their work.

  11. Yes, you definitely report it to the police. Copyright violations aren’t a police matter, however. Enforcing copyright falls entirely into the lap of the creator. Internet distribution creates a double-edged sword for pattern publishers. On the one hand, it’s affordable and convenient to sell patterns online, and it’s attractive to consumers who want instant gratification and not to have to pay for things like shipping; on the other hand, digital patterns are easy to copy and distribute illegally. It’s up to the creator to strike a balance for herself.

  12. I agree, Megan. Especially that it doesn’t make sense just to make a new product that isn’t protected well, either. A major part of creative business is trying to protect your work better, and it’s certainly the case that in any business, an excellent product will attract threatening attention both from people who want to get it cheaper or for free, and from other creators who want to rip it off. The fight is worth fighting if the costs of it don’t threaten your business. If, however, a creator can’t afford the legal fees, there’s nothing to do but choose between throwing in the towel or coming up with a new way of doing business.