The “C” Word Rears It’s Ugly Head and Charity Knitting

Over on Ravelry once again there is a discussion on Copyright. The debate this time centers around what happens in the process once someone purchases a pattern. There are many who are solidly in the camp that they have purchased the pattern and that means they can do with the pattern whatever they wish, and others who feel otherwise.

This is in reference to what they knit, as in selling items that they have knit from the pattern. This seems to be an area of great confusion. In all honesty I can understand how it can be somewhat confusing because knitting is both utilitarian and art, the more utilitarian it is the more understandable the confusion becomes when patterns have lengthy restrictive clauses on them.

I think part of the confusion lies in the the thinking on the part of some knitters that the designer thinks they have ownership in the knitted item from the pattern. In actuality this is not true. I have yet to meet a designer who feels they own an item that a knitter made from one of their patterns. What they own, however, is the right to say what happens with that item, and there is where the misunderstanding lies for many.

Copyright law is a complex bundle of laws, that govern the rights of intellectual property and are meant to protect the work of creative people (it protects creative work in general, no matter how creative you are). The bundle of rights goverend by copyright law include diverse rights including distribution of the work, the right to anthologize, the right to publish for the first time (in what ever geographical area, you can insert your continent of choice), the right to publish digitally, the right to distribute digitally, the right to anthologize digitally, the right to reproduce the work, and on and on it goes.

Basically if there is any way to make money off it it, there is a copyright law involved somewhere.

The current debate features also some discussion revolving around pictoral knitting only being the exception, which is not necessarily true either.  The more unique a designer’s work is, the more likely the courts are to see it as an artistic expression. This has happened before.

Other artists are bound to be faced by similar issues, are they not? Metalsmiths, for example, who make silver teapots. A utilitarian object to be sure, but it is also an artistic expression.

I have a very fine art approach in the design work that I do, and it is well documented in my patterns and in the design process. Should someone engage in a cottage industry with one of my designs I have no doubt that I would not have difficulty proving copyright infringement, as the designs are anything but basic (there isn’t a simple stockinette sock, for example, among them). The complexity of how the components fit together along with the story of how everything fits together along with the documentation leaves me very well protected.

As of right now, I simply have a copyright symbol on my patterns and simply state “all rights reserved” on the patterns. I am trusting that there are enough knitters out there who honor copyright laws. To be honest, what I really care about is that my patterns don’t get used for commercial or cottage industry uses…and by cottage industry I mean where someone works craft fairs or regularly participates in work for hire. Those are rights covered by copyright law, and they do have value. They are rights I can turn into income if I choose to go that route.

It saddens me to be honest, that there are those who persistently choose to turn this into an us vs. them debate (the poor knitter denied the hard work of their hands vs. the greedy designer who doesn’t get it that it isn’t theirs). In reality that picture doesn’t do justice to either party. Many designers are in this because they are knitters who love the art and craft of knitting and love to design. They were knitters first, and still are. However, they have a talent for what many do not or are not able to do, and their work is covered by certain laws which give them certain rights to their work which protects their income. Knitting designers are not getting rich off of the work that they do, either, and when that is pointed out in the copyright debates you can be sure there is a smart comeback regarding it isn’t their fault that we don’t come up with a better business plan and charge more for our patterns.

In the end, both parties don’t want to be taken advantage of and just want a little respect. In the hobby industry that we are in, you and I, in most scenarios it isn’t as complicated as these debates make them out to be. So, your friend loves your sweater and wants you to knit one, and they want to pay you a little and they will pay for the yarn. Have them also purchase a pattern. It isn’t that hard. If the pattern isn’t available anymore contact the designer and tell them you would like to pay for a copy. Now, on the debates it would go on and on with the what if’s to the worst case scenario. We won’t go there. We are all adults and can use a little common sense about the terms fair use and know what an honest effort is. We also know what copyright is.

As for the designers? Hey, if your design is very basic and you have a lot of restrictive language on it I can understand knitter’s hackles being raised. Particularly as they don’t understand the work that is still involved even though the lack of originality is there.

What do you do if your guild, say, wants to knit 100 hats for charity? That can be a sticky wicket as well, because your guild isn’t necessarily going to want to buy 100 patterns, and it isn’t fair to ask a designer to give you 100 patterns (that amounts to at least a $50 donation just for your guild, and yours is not the only one they are likely to come into contact with). For every donation like that it takes a lot more pattern sales to recoup that cost so it costs the designer a lot more than you think.

Please note, I am not suggesting anyone use the following for commercial or “pin-money” applications without consent by the owner of the copyright. Just because the patterns are free doesn’t mean copyright laws do not pertain. These are meant for suggested sources for guilds or others where members may need a pattern for a hat to donate to a hat drive for a charity or something like that. They are suggestions for ideas. Please look over the patterns and sites and see if there is anything stated regarding copyright. If it says “all rights reserved” or has any clauses, you need to contact the copyright holder.

The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns, by Ann Budd, is a perfect solution. Using it, someone in a guild can easily write up a pattern tailored for your project for everyone to happily follow. It has a lot of basic patterns like hats, mittens, scarves and so on. Each pattern has multiple gauges listed so you choose your yarn and the corresponding gauge.

Other choices would be patterns that are free patterns on the Internet published by yarn companies.

Lion Brand Yarns has free patterns, as does Bernat , which require a free membership. You then log in and then have access to hundreds of free patterns. Even companies you see at local yarn stores like Berroco have free patterns. I Googled “yarn free knitting patterns”, and those were on the first page. I put yarn first because I wanted to be sure to have sites from yarn companies. Patons also has free patterns. If you are wanting to do some charity knitting, chances are you can find some yarn that has a free pattern to go with it.

Even if knitters do not have their own computer, they almost always know someone who does and has access to the internet…or a public library. Those patterns are there on the yarn companies sites because they want you to buy their yarn and the patterns are there to support yarn sales. The yarn companies hold the copyrights to the patterns, but they freely put the patterns out there for people to share as they are they to drive pattern sales. At least, many of them are that way, particularly the ones we see in craft stores. Look at the labels for copyright information.  Use common sense though. I am not advocating that you go into business using one of their patterns doing knitting for hire. Although if you were using their yarn, they probably would not care. If that is your intention, contact them first and make sure it is okay.

Even publishers like Interweave offer patterns, although on a publisher’s site use is going to be more restrictive, much like a pattern. The reason for that is the nature of their business (pattern sales, in essence, or publications). The free patterns give a taste of what their publications are like. For the yarn companies, the patterns drive yarn sales. They want those patterns in people’s hands to drive yarn sales.

There is a relationship in all these things. We all depend on each other, and our own part of the puzzle fits in with the next person. As long as we treat each other with respect and honor what the intended purpose is, we are not going to trespass on someone’s rights.

Peace and Knitting, JoLene Treace


2 Responses to “The “C” Word Rears It’s Ugly Head and Charity Knitting”

  1. Paige Says:

    Very Educational! I often don’t read past the first page of those copyright discussions because they give me a headache.

    • jolenetreace Says:

      Thanks. I know what you mean, they give me a headache too. This one was even in the designer’s forum, so I don’t think it was as out of hand as it could have been.

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