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One of the awesome things about Twitter is that there’s the amazing community of crafty people who are so generous and smart and funny and wise. I guess there are communities like that for a lot of things, but it’s really wonderful to read about people who are helping each other and building each other up. We people who make stuff know that it’s not really a competition; we’re all part of a movement to get people to appreciate the handmade (and either make our stuff or buy our stuff, or both).
Occasionally a group of crafty folks gets “together” on Twitter for a big discussion about crafty stuff, which can be found under the hashtag #craftsocial. I don’t always get in on these discussions, but I did catch the tail end of one a couple of weeks ago and I wanted to respond to some of the issues that were being talked about in more than 140 characters.
I had at least part of a well-thought-out reply written down somewhere, but in the meantime I’ve lost track of it. I’m sure to find it as soon as I’m finished, right?
One of the topics, which is a perennial problem for people who offer patterns and finished objects, for free and for sale online, is the issue of people copying your work, whether they outright steal your instructions and post the pattern as their own on their website or take your instructions and make something to sell without your permission.
Stealing, of course, is always a bad idea, no matter the source or the circumstances. Things get fuzzier when people ask permission to use your projects, either as part of something they’re working on or to sell.
When people ask me to use my materials or to make objects to sell from my patterns, I say yes. I figure there are plenty of people out there who are doing the same thing and didn’t ask, so I shouldn’t say no to the ones who are nice enough to ask.
Also, a lot of the patterns on my site are really, really basic. I don’t feel like I should restrict access to my interpretation of relatively basic knitting patterns (my site is geared to beginners, so there are a lot of things like Garter Stitch scarves, plain Stockinette tank tops and basic socks that no one can claim are original ideas).
Of course, a lot of designers are a lot more creative in their approaches than I get to be focusing on newbies. And I can certainly understand how frustrating it would be to work so hard on an original design and put it up for sale only to see something that’s clearly a knock-off soon after.
There’s no good answer for that. Legal action is always an option, but issues of creativity and where ideas come from are hard to prove. As creative people we know it’s sometimes difficult to pin down where our inspiration came from, and sometimes similar ideas do come from different places (though of course outright copying happens, too).
What I try to do, and I think it would be great if other people did, too, is to be really honest about where my inspiration comes from. I’m about to start knitting a bodice that will be attached to a fabric skirt, for example. When I write up the pattern I’ll be sure to give props to the Mason-Dixon knitters and to Debbie Bliss, both of whom have patterns for such things in their books.
I might have thought to make such a dress without seeing this in their books, but I might not have, so I think it’s fine to give credit where it might be due. And of course my interpretation of that idea will be different from theirs.
As I mentioned, it’s not always clear or known where inspiration comes from, but I think most creative folks would be thrilled to see someone inspired enough by their work to try it in a different way. That’s a much better idea than trying to pass off the idea as completely original when some people are bound to know better.