As I’ve grown older, I realize more and more how important it is to put myself in someone else’s shoes for each situation. This especially holds true for copyright laws and intellectual property.
What I want to discuss at length is the sharing of copyrighted material with friends or groups of friends, and also non-copyrighted material.
Let’s all admit it right now; at some time or other during our quilting life, we’ve copied a friend’s pattern (a purchased pattern), and used it ourselves. We didn’t think much of it at the time, other than the fact that we were saving some money in doing so. We knew it was wrong, but pushed that little bothersome thought to the back of our mind.
Have you ever seen a quilt at a show that you really loved, taken a photo of it, and tried to make one very similar. If you did that, were you sure to tell everyone that you were inspired by the maker? Did you even write down the maker’s name? Or did you just copy his or her quilt and never think about it again?
And now with Pinterest out there, we are assailed daily with the most beautiful images of quilts and quilting designs. We are all influenced by them, but where do we draw the line on what we can and can’t use.
And how about on-line classes or DVDs? Have you ever shared your on-line account with someone? What about your DVDs? Is this wrong or right? I think it’s about time we discussed these things (again…).
The first thing I want to say right up front is this: There is a person or a company (and no, not an evil company; just an honest company trying to make a small profit) who gets hurt by these types of actions. Sure, we can assuage our guilt by stating that it’s just a little tiny bit of money in the entire scheme of things. But we all know that pennies add up to dollars, and so on.
I think that we need to discuss each of the above topics to really explore what is acceptable and what isn’t.
I’m pretty certain that each person reading this realizes that we are not allowed to make copies of a pattern that we’ve purchased in order to share with others. If you are a teacher, you must make every student purchase that pattern, unless it’s your own pattern and you wish to give it free to each student. But then the student must realize that he/she does not have the right to copy said pattern and share (unless granted permission by the pattern producer). That’s simple enough, right? Too bad that rule is so often broken. But what’s the big deal? Why can’t we share those patterns? After all, we paid for them, didn’t we? Well, just for a second, put yourself in the pattern designer’s shoes. If you spent countless hours and a lot of money to create a pattern, you certainly wouldn’t want anyone copying it and giving it out for free. That is money out of your pocket. What people forget is that the pattern maker has a life (medical bills, college tuition, a house payment) that needs to be supported. We’re all in the same boat. That pattern maker isn’t some phantom rich person who doesn’t need the money. And that pattern company needs to first of all recoup its expenses, and then hopefully turn a profit to keep its employees paid, etc. There is always someone on the other end of this deal that we are stealing from. And yes, it is stealing.
So what about seeing a quilt at a show? If you copy the color palette but make a different quilt, is that stealing an idea? Not really (in my opinion). But it wouldn’t hurt to state (on the show tag) that you were inspired by the original maker.
What about outright copying of someone’s quilt? I’ve seen this done and heard others talk about it, and this is a horrible practice. Those who literally steal someone’s design should be exposed and notified about the illegality of this. I’ve heard about this happening, and then the copier asking after the fact to use the original makers design (giving credit of course). But still, that is completely wrong. And if the original maker doesn’t grant permission, that is his or her prerogative. The copier should never have copied a quilt to begin with. I guess there’s a line here as to whether the copier wanted to compete with that quilt, or just hang it in her home to enjoy. The latter is less offensive, but still he or she should have sought permission before copying the quilt.
I’ll never forget a situation where I discovered that someone had copied one of my friend’s quilts. I was at the Houston Quilt Festival, shopping in the vendor area. I spotted a booth that had my friend Nancy Rink’s (of Nancy Rink Designs) quilt hanging in the booth. I walked over to the booth to chat about Nancy, and I said, “Oh, Nancy loaned you her quilt to hang”. And the shop owner said, “No, that quilt was made by ‘so and so’ (I can’t remember whose name she said).” My jaw about hit the floor because I knew that Nancy had not patterned that quilt, so I was staring at an imitation that had been made without Nancy’s permission. It was a horrible feeling. I walked away from the booth seething. I took some photos from afar to show Nancy. But I was hesitant to show her because I knew she would feel terrible after finding this out. Heck, I felt horrible and it wasn’t even my quilt. But I thought Nancy should know someone had copied her quilt. Eventually I did show her the photos, and she was quite angry, but felt completely helpless (this was about 20 years ago; I’m sure she would respond differently now and deal with it through legal means). The point is that Nancy’s quilt was blatantly copied and hung in a vendor’s booth to promote sales. That was COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE!
Another time, I was at Road to California and saw a miniature quilt (which had won a ribbon) that looked almost identical (although the workmanship wasn’t nearly as good) to Diane Gaudynski’s “A Visit to Provence”. I read the hang-tag and nowhere in the information did it state anything about Diane. I was incensed, to say the least. The maker should have stated that she was inspired by Diane’s quilt, or that she had taken a workshop with Diane, or something! To not even mention Diane’s name (when she had clearly copied Diane’s work) was completely wrong.
If only those copiers would have put themselves in the shoes of the original designers, maybe they wouldn’t have done that. Copying someone else’s work is really a nasty thing to do (unless you’ve purchased the pattern or been granted permission first; and then always give credit).
Now let’s move on to “on-line accounts” and DVDs. These things get shared all the time. But where is that line between what is acceptable and what is actually illegal? When discussing the issue in an on-line group, Scott Murkin (quilter extraordinaire and certified quilt judge) stated that “The standard wording printed on commercial DVDs is: Licensed for private home use only and copyright prohibits any other use, copying, reproduction or public showings.” He also stated that there is no law against sharing with others one at a time as a temporary loan.
It seems to me that this is a reasonable policy. You can share with a friend, one at a time, for personal use. But the DVD (or on-line class) cannot be copied, reproduced, or shown publicly. This is common sense, right? Well, apparently not because many times small to large groups get together to view a teaching DVD or on-line class. I’m perplexed as to how the person who is “sharing” the DVD thinks this is OK. I guess that he/she just thinks she is being generous, or possibly helping to “promote” the teacher. I can understand those feelings, but there is harm being done to the person or company that produced the DVD. The class was paid for once, but then consumed by many. It is wrong. What is difficult in this situation is that there is no malice intended; the person sharing thinks she’s doing a nice thing. And it is nice for the consumers, but it’s not good for the producer.
So what can be done to remedy this problem? As with most things, the first step in solving the problem is to educate the public. That’s why I’ve written this blog; to bring attention to it. The following paragraph is a portion of what Wikipedia has to say on “Intellectual Property”:
The intangible nature of intellectual property presents difficulties when compared with traditional property like land or goods. Unlike traditional property, intellectual property is "indivisible" – an unlimited number of people can "consume" an intellectual good without it being depleted. Additionally, investments in intellectual goods suffer from problems of appropriation – a landowner can surround their land with a robust fence and hire armed guards to protect it, but a producer of information or an intellectual good can usually do very little to stop their first buyer from replicating it and selling it at a lower price. Balancing rights so that they are strong enough to encourage the creation of intellectual goods but not so strong that they prevent the goods' wide use is the primary focus of modern intellectual property law.
If you have ever produced something that has been copied, then you already know that it is wrong, and I’m sure you don’t do that to others (because you have already been on the losing end of that stick). But if you’ve never had this happen to you, then please take a moment to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If it were something you had designed or invented, you certainly wouldn’t appreciate someone else sharing or stealing your ideas. Just put yourself in the other person’s place and you will quickly understand the problem.
This concept of stealing intellectual property has many facets, and here’s another: What about somebody taking one of your classes, and then going back to their own guild or quilt shop and teaching YOUR CLASS? This has happened to many of us, and it’s a very unpleasant feeling to the professional who originally taught the class. The OG (original) teacher spent many hours developing that class and working on samples, handouts, exercises, etc. He/she has also worked hard to promote the class so that organizations will hire him/her to teach it. So why in the world would anyone think that it’s OK to go and reproduce the class? I know, it’s a real head scratcher, but it happens all the time. Many of these copy-cat teachers don’t have a clue that what they are doing is wrong; they just think they’re helping out their home-town quilters by offering a great class at a reduced price. Well, it is wrong, and it is infuriating to the OG teacher.
Let’s look at the library analogy. We all borrow books from the library for our own enjoyment, but we are not permitted to copy those books for larger distribution. I think this is common knowledge, but maybe not…
We all loan books to others, or borrow them from others. This is acceptable if it is for our own personal use. Heck, just the other day a friend of mine shipped me some of her old quilting books because she had finished with them. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but I’m sure thinking about it now! Luckily, this is acceptable because the books are purely for my personal use. But what would be unacceptable is if I made copies from them and distributed the material to others. It’s also important to remember that if I quote any material from those books (e.g. in a technical paper), I need to reference the source.
Here’s another thing to consider when speaking of intellectual property. What about techniques that have been around for so long that they are common knowledge, even though at one time that technique was developed by a single person. For example, what about “Machine Trapunto”? I believe Hari Walner was the first quilter to develop this machine technique. But now everyone in the quilting world uses it, and teaches it. It seems to be common knowledge because this technique is now used by all of us quilters when we do machine trapunto. At what point does the technique become available for others to teach?
And what about an applique class where someone is teaching Pearl Pereira’s freezer paper method? Is it really Pearl’s though? Many people were teaching freezer paper applique years before Pearl became so well known. Yes, she does things a bit differently, but is it really all that different? Where do we draw the line? What’s right and what is wrong?
And speaking of applique, how about traditional applique patterns? Who do they belong to? Aren’t many applique patterns or shapes similar to ones that have been around for hundreds of years? Can we use them as we wish, or do we have to be careful about that? I mean, seriously, aren’t most applique leaves quite similar? Do they belong to one pattern designer? I really don’t think so, unless you place your applique elements exactly in the same arrangement as the pattern maker. But you could just change things up a bit, and voila, you have your own pattern, right? Who knows? I sure don’t. And if you ask me, it would appear that some of the current applique pattern designers have “borrowed” a few ideas from the appliqué-ers from the past. Is that legit?
I do a weekly YouTube tutorial on grid designs called “A Grid Design Every Week”. I honestly can’t say that any of these designs are “mine”. They’re designs that have been around for hundreds of years. Even something that seems new has probably been used at sometime, somewhere. Whether it was during Ancient Greek or Egyptian times, who knows! But I’m sure most of these designs that I’m demonstrating have been done somewhere in the past. My only thing is that I’m showing people how to quilt them continuously. I plan on writing a booklet which covers each of these 52 designs, but what if someone beats me to the punch? I certainly hope that doesn’t happen, but if it does, do I have any recourse? Not really. Only if he/she calls her book, “A Grid Design Every Week”. Then I think I could prove that my idea was stolen. But so what? What’s to really keep a person from doing that? In a word, “honor”.
After all this discussion, the question still remains: where do we draw the line on all of these issues? I surely don’t know as it seems that every situation is different. I guess my only advice that I can give to you is to put yourself in the original maker’s shoes. Regardless of whether it’s a pattern designer, quilter, teacher, etc., if you think you might be stealing a bit of his or her intellectual property, then don’t do it. If you were the one being copied, how would you feel about it? And I’ll freely admit that just writing this article has made me realize that there have been times in my past where I probably should have thought more about who’s material I was “borrowing”. All I can do is pray that I make wise decisions going forward, and never steal anyone else’s ideas or intellectual property.
Even though this is a very long blog (with no pretty pictures to help get you through the text), I feel like it has only scratched the surface of the topic. I sincerely hope that if you have some thoughts or experience on the subject, you will comment below so that others can learn from what you have to share! (Pardon the pun.)