When Does My Pattern Become Your Knitting…Derivatives, Intellectual Property, and Doing Your Own Thing

There are certain conversations on Ravelry that have a way of draining my energy. Copyright and Intellectual Property being right up there. It is a complex topic, and there are lots of opinions on it out there that are quite heated.

There are a number of good sites that talk about what we can do though and I think that is what I would like to talk about as there is too much divisiveness in this topic.

When someone creates something, as long as they still own the copyright to it, they have the right to license or restrict how that item is used. We see this and accept this all the time for instance with music and movies. With our knitting patterns, what we see are restrictions that we are not to knit up items and sell them. For some this restriction really bothers them.

Rights also extend to derivative works. This means that the owner of the copyright has the right to produce derivative works off of the original work as well. The exception to that is a parody. Let me interject that I am not a lawyer nor am I trying to practice law, so it is always good to to a little more reading on your own. Particularly at the US copyright web site or the one for your own country.

Knitters in general though, are free to knit for personal use and modify for personal use as they wish. You can do what you want, as you want, for personal use. Have at it with our blessing. We love to see knitters get creative. You can knit something for yourself or give as a gift, and take pictures of it and post it on blogs or what have you. You can modify it, change the color or yarn and so on. You can tweak this or tweak that. You can take those pictures too and post them. You can write about your changes and how you made those changes, as long as you don’t include the pattern.

If you are wanting more though, you need to contact the designer. When contacting the designer, remember they don’t know you from Adam, and you are asking them to hand you the keys to the kingdom so to speak.

This is often done by email, so put yourself in their shoes. They have just gotten an email from Rebel Knitter which reads: I have made modifications to your design and would like to sell them. My friends think they are really great and I think I can make a lot of money, but I need your permission first, and I will credit your name on it.

So, for a grand total of $6, the designer is being asked for the rights to the derivative of their work (completely innocently). They do not know if they yarn is being substituted (which can affect how the design looks), they don’t know what the quality of the finishing is (it is going to have their name on it), what the color is (again, it is going to have their name on it), or what the modifications are. Again, it will have the designer’s name on it. Keep in mind that the additional rights the knitter is asking for are a business asset that have a value, meaning that the designer has the right to earn income off of it if they so choose in that manner.

While on one hand designers should and do feel flattered, they prefer to feel flattered in non-commercial ways until they are able to see with their eyes and touch it with their hands so that they are assured it won’t impact negatively on their design business. This is just common sense, if you stop and think about it, because designers have a business to run. While it is romantic to think of them as nurturing knitting mothers, where everything wrought from the hand of their child is beautiful and wonderful and lovely, they are not. Indeed, knitters do not need figurative mothers to vicariously breast feed from. We should be independent enough to be able to stop and think things through and realize it isn’t a crime for them to have to think about their business. Not everyone is going to have the same tastes, and one person’s treasure is another’s “errr, well, I wouldn’t wear it….”, and no one wants to have the yuck forced upon them. It’s bad enough if it is in your personal life, and your Dear Old Antie just gave you a hideous Christmas Sweater and you are going out to dinner with her. The worst you can suffer is a little public humiliation that will be forgotten. If it is connected to your business, the ramifications are much farther reaching. Dear Old Auntie could destroy your pattern sales.

If I were serious about wanting to sell things and I were contacting a designer, I would approach it in this manner: I enjoy your pattern X and would like to sell the item  knit. I understand there are implications for you as a designer related to your business and would like to discuss working something out. I understand this requires a great deal of trust on your part and would like you to know I am sensitive to that. I can provide a sample of the work so that you can be assured of the quality of the item being put out.

Be sensitive to the risk they are taking, particularly if you as asking them if you can knit up sweaters from pattern X to sell, and you don’t have a business name, tid (tax id) or registered retail certificate from your state (anything from your income tax office which you would have received when registering your business). No credentials to prove you are really a business, in essence, means you are a very risky proposition for them. Be open to sending a sample, having a contract that states you will not substitute yarn or other details like that. I cannot gaurentee that they will email you back…in all honesty I think that they should at least take the time to say that they are not involved in that type of licensing with their Intellectual Property at this time and to thank you for your interest, but that it beside the point…there are some who have written designers and not heard back. I don’t know how they asked.

Be professional, be courteous, be compelling, and be specific about what you are going to do to protect their rights, as well as show them you can be trusted. And be prepared to offer a contract. If they are wary, don’t turn around and dis them on some forum a few months later where it will become viral and really hurt their business.

Forums in general abound with people hotly talking about their knitting, bashing designers in general for various crimes against knitters (not providing the pattern in their size, not wanting to custom write the pattern in their size, not wanting to provide a copy of a pattern if someone looses theirs, charging $6 for a pattern, not wanting knitters to sell copies of their designs in Etsy shops, and so on), and in general wittily bitch slapping people that they are forgetting are human beings on the other end of the monitor.

Why is it acceptable that people tear each other apart in public forums for no good reason with no proof other than someone gets mad at someone? This is really a mob mentality and people use less sense online at times than they do in face to face conversation.

We need to remember to look out for each other in many situations.

I was actually feeling quite down and frustrated before beginning this post and then as I went along, writing and re-writing, I remembered that I really have not had any issues with those I think of as my knitters. Those who knit my patterns are really what I think of as thinking knitters (not that others are not, but my patterns require some thinking).

I hope that any of you who read my blog, if they were to see stones cast on myself or anyone else on a public forum, would make an attempt to calm the troubled waters. I know there are always those that thrive on trouble…and for the life of me I will never understand it. I hate abuse in its many forms. We should all spread a little love each day.

Peace and Knitting, JoLene Treace


4 Responses to “When Does My Pattern Become Your Knitting…Derivatives, Intellectual Property, and Doing Your Own Thing”

  1. Ginger aka Beethoven Says:

    Thanks for sharing this! Mum has always wondered about all those knits being sold on Etsy or Blogs, especially scarfs, whether the knitters have the rights to do that in the first place, which she suspected not.

    • jolenetreace Says:

      Well, it can be hard to say. They may have made them up themselves, which does happen. Or they may have contacted a designer and knit or crocheted them or whatever…or they may have just put them up sans permission. Designers love it when people who love their work look out for them, I can tell you that much, and email them when they see their work in places where they know it should not be. That has happened more than once on the designers lists I belong to, where someone sends in an email saying one of their knitters contacted them about a site and to check and see if any of their patterns or designs were involved. God bless the knitters who love our work!

  2. Connie Says:

    Thanks so much for continuing to highlight issues that are important to designers and to the knitting community in general. This was very informative, JoLene! 🙂

    • jolenetreace Says:

      Connie you are most welcome. We designers have to stick together! Might I just say to anyone reading this that Connie is a very talented designer whose work appears in Interweave, and I think your work is awesome.

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