The Counterfeit Crochet Project

May 31, 2006

The legalities surrounding use of creative works are both necessary and controversial. Contrary to some people's impressions, the rules are not clear cut; contrary to those of others, the rules exist for good reason. Because laws of copyright and trademark are complex and full of subtle nuances, it's nearly impossible to sum them up in a sentence or two, and I, personally, support some rules and challenge others.

For example, I think that fair use rules are important and should be respected - being free to quote a work for purposes of critique or education is necessary to foster learning, debate, and innovation. I think setting the length of copyright at decades past the death of the creator is ridiculous, and neglects society's hunger for innovation.

As I said, there's nothing but grey area when it comes to intellectual property rights. And within that grey area, for me personally, there is a factor of industry size that blurs the lines of my logic. Illegally downloading a song is akin to illegally copying a book, and I think it's wrong. However, I also think, for example, that the music industry's crusade against file downloaders and the software that enables it (while also enabling many valuable and perfectly legal uses) is overkill and unfair. When a massive industry is involved, I find I criticize the industry for refusing to adapt to new technologies and to consumer preferences more than I criticize the individual music downloader. It's hypocritical, but it's what I think. Copyright policy is not a moral issue, and was never intended to be. Its purpose is to balance the need for creators to support themselves financially with the need of the common society to benefit from their works and to foster innovation. CD sales slumped for a bit, probably due to online file sharing, and now online for-profit music stores are making a killing and internet distribution has opened up opportunities for countless indie musicians who are finding ways beyond notoriously brutal big label music contracts to gain air time and fan bases on their own.

There's a shocking amount of illegal crochet pattern distribution online, though, and it can't be solved by industry innovation. It doesn't take place on Napster-esque platforms, and our industry doesn't yet have a plan of attack to curb it. Illegal pattern sharing happens over email, through Yahoo! groups, on message boards, and on eBay. The scale of the stealing does have the potential to significantly affect the income of the designers and publishers who put out the patterns.

I'm babbling. I started writing this to draw your attention to a site I just found a while back [via Robyn - thanks for the link]: The Counterfeit Crochet Project. San Francisco visual artist Stephanie Syjuco started the project, and I recommend reading her FAQ. She's an excellent writer, and the factors that came together to inspire her to start the project are interesting and thought-provoking. Her summary on her portfolio page is briefer, if you're in a rush.

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MBT wrote
on May 31, 2006 11:29 AM

I don't think the ghost of CoCo Chanel (nor her legal team) is going to come haunt this artist because I don't think that "counterfeit" is exactly the word to describe what she is doing. The dictionary definition of the word leans heavily on "intent to defraud" and I don't see this artwork leading towards any nefarious purposes. While she might eventually profit from selling rights to an art exhibit, she is not claiming that her handmade copies are designer originals, nor trying to sell them to an unsuspecting customer.

What does make me crazy is those who are downloading free crochet and knit patterns from different blogs, or making illegal copies of one legitimately purchased work, and selling them on eBay or through a message board. That is clearly intent to defraud - someone who does not own the copyright profiting from the copyrighted material.

I am going to stop before this comment is longer than the blog post! But I make my living from article fees and royaly checks, and spend a lot of time thinking about copyright issues. Last week's New York Times magazine had a very interesting article on copyright in light of Google's trying to digitize every book in the world to create a universal library.

vigilant20 wrote
on May 31, 2006 11:40 AM

I've seen knockoff designs before. I think most of them are great and many styles you see often in stores make great crocheted items. This project has some good aspects...getting new designs out there and gearing up to offer free patterns. But...ummm...using big name companies trademarks in your work?

Jen wrote
on Jun 2, 2006 7:30 AM

Kim, thanks for sharing this. I like Stephanie's project because it's creative---the same reason I like designer handbags. But, unlike a Chanel or a Gucci, Stephanie is valuing creativity above profit margins. On a gut level, I'm not bothered by this project and "copyright infringement" ... these counterfit bags are actually interpretations and, again, the motive is to champion creativity, not to sell them for cash on the street.

on Jun 2, 2006 8:42 AM

Yeah, Jen. What I like about this project is that it really is provocative. And the artist has provided an excellent and thorough explanation of her motivations and goals.

Jen wrote
on Jun 5, 2006 10:21 AM

I was thinking about this again over the weekend and wanted to clarify my earlier comment. I think it's GOOD—no, crucial—for creative artists of any type to be financially rewarded for their work. I just think the big designers cross a line. Designer bags (etc.) have become about status, not innovation.

Victoria E wrote
on Jun 21, 2006 10:02 AM

The project is very fantastic - I just interviewed Stephanie for the new issue of Pearl Necklace Zine.

andreea123 wrote
on Aug 5, 2008 3:32 AM

Of course rules should be respected. That's why they are made, right? Some of us might say that "rules are made to be broken". I don't agree with it at all.

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