Saturday, July 22, 2006

Copyright Scofflaws

I have been entertaining myself by reading digests from a Yahoo Group that was recently called to my attention. It's a humble little group and apparently consists of a small group of women who like to knit and crochet warshcloths and "kitchen witches" (I don't know what that is but I'm not sure I want to. And if that makes 'em happy, fine -- just leave me out of it.) Apparently, this Yahoo Group had an extensive database of knit and crochet patterns that were copied from various webpages and printed books/magazines, including patterns that appear on and that were published by large craft companies such as Bernat. The database was quite interesting; although the moderator professed profound ignorance of copyright law (surprise, surprise), she had carefully taken the time to delete the designer's name and all copyright notices and other information. (Interesting coinkydink, isn't it?)

Somehow, a group of knitting and crochet designers got wind of this database, although it's hard for me to imagine how their paths crossed. Over the course of a week, various knitting and crochet designers joined this list. Suddenly, more posts about copyright appeared on this list than you can imagine. It was fascinating to see the different approaches of the various designers. Some adopted the "take no prisoners" mentality: "You are breaking the law and must stop immediately, you stealer." Others tried to sidle their way in: "Y'all seem like a nice group of gals, I'm sure we can clear up this innocent mistake." Joan Schrouder in particular proved herself to be a class act, taking many substantive questions from the copyright scofflaws and very pleasantly and amicably trying to express her point of view.

The response of the warshcloth ladies was equally fascinating. The moderator got defensive and began banning people left and right. She set up some kind of shadow list, with a name like "[Original Group Name] 2" and said she'd delist anybody who didn't email her with their real name and email addy by the end of this week.

And of course there were the ones opining in great detail about copyright law. For example:

If I don't want someone to use my patterns I don't put it out there to be seen. If these people are putting the patterns on web sites or blogs, do they not except [sic] someone to use that pattern. ... I know people who put on their
patterns that they are copyrighted a[nd] think that they are. wrong!!! Unless the
have paid the fees, did the paper work and gotten a government copryight number
and certificate of copyright, that pattern is not copyrighted. Anyone who has
done all this should be able to show you they hold a true copyright. Until then
they are lying and should close their mouths until they do have what they say
they have.

My faithful readers know that the United States Copyright Office disagrees:

When is my work protected? Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

Do I have to register with your office to be protected? No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section "Copyright Registration."

Some members delisted themselves in solidarity with the designers while the moderator banned all further discussion of copyright. She was backed by knitting sociologists like this one, who stated

I am so sick of girls, yes I mean girls. Not matter where you go in life this is always the problem. Girls never grow up. .... If I could find a job and a group full of men I would join and live happley ever after. Drop this now. ... Enough said, done, it is finished!!!

Shortly after the tempest began to rage, the files were taken down, then mysteriously appeared again in their original form. Designer members offered to help create links to any patterns that would take the readers directly there and to help purge the files but so far this hasn't been done.

In the meantime, it bears repeating that the person who creates an original pattern automatically owns its copyright; copyright ownership means the designer gets to decide where and how and on what terms to distribute her work. Even if it appears on the Internet, on a free or for-pay site, it still is the designer's prerogative to decide where else it can go. Stripping off the designer's name and copyright information is dishonest, not merely because of the legal ramifications but because it deprives the creator of the humble satisfaction of being recognized by all as the designer of that pattern. And in this crazy world of knitting, that is, sadly, sometimes all the designer takes home for her work.


jillian said...

So sad, so so sad. And yet, I continue to learn there are huge swaths of the population that are ignorant, immature and just plain rude. So maybe I shouldn't be surprised.

Why can't we all live happley ever after :)

Sherry W said...

Won't yahoogroups take them down?

Anonymous said...

Oy. This teapot tempest just never goes away, does it?
You and I both know people who have based entire careers on stealing others' work.
But, I really think persuing every small violation is a waste of time.
Partly because there's very little new in knitworld and partly because you're talking about teeny pieces of a very small pie.
It's been my experience that cheaters don't reform- they just find new places to cheat from.
Not to mention it just gets so old after a while.

turtlegirl76 said...

I'm a member of another yahoo group that knits dishcloths, and the database of patterns there still maintain the copyright and link to the original pattern, as well as the pattern. As far as I know, the majority of pattern designers that the group uses (I'm under the impression all of them are aware) of the group and how it works (it's a KAL that sends a few lines of the pattern daily until it's done) but are they technically correct in the way it runs? Once the KAL is done, should the pattern go away and be replaced by just the link to the original pattern?

Cathy said...

It's been interesting - in that spectator sport kind of way.

Christina said...

I saw this on Girl from Auntie last night, and visited the Yahoo group. Wasn't it was more difficult to strip the names and copyright info than to link to the pattern in its' entire form?

Bridget said...

The "experts" on copyright drive me nuts, and instead of them taking the time to learn the basics, they just go to the next place to do the same thing. Aaargh!!

On another note entirely - "warshcloths" and "coinkydink" - you made my day!

Anonymous said...

People need patterns to knit dishcloths!? You mean those squares of knitted fabric that people use to scrub dishes when they're washing them?

Oh, you're making this all up. I don't believe it. Surely people really don't need patterns to knit dishcloths.

Do they?

Anonymous said...

Oh, la, Ted, what do you think keeps all those thousands of new yarn stores run by folks who learned to knit last Friday in business, now that the fluffy scarf craze is over?
I often crochet scarves out of scraps.
Because I like the endless combinations of color.
They are rectangles, worked lengthwise until I think they're wide enough.
Or I run out of scraps that look good together.
Did I mention they're rectangles?
In half-double crochet.
Hundreds are the times I've been asked where to get the pattern.

Anonymous said...

The copyright argument will never go away because some people will always feel that they are "entitled" to things, and that if a pattern is available on the Web, they can do what they want with it. As a side question, I took a Solveig Hisdal pattern from "Poetry in Stitches" that was too small for me, and the "Sonnet" pattern from Knitty's archives; if you look they are almost identical, with the "Sonnet" pattern omitting much of the shaping. I have done a redux and combined both patterns, taking elements I liked from each. Now, Lawyer Carol, who do I attribute the pattern to? Is it now "my" creation?


Elizabeth said...

My personal favorite from that Yahoo list was the message in which someone wrote, "I sudjest...". That was a pretty interesting spelling error, if you ask me.

The attitude I found most strange was the oft-repeated line that if we didn't want to use the free patterns, we should just not look, or go somewhere else.

I was quite impressed with the patience and restraint shown by a few of the knit_design members who tried to enlighten that group.

Anonymous said...

OMG OMG OMG Don't even get me started on this one! There is a particular male knitter who has taken images from my site, and even copy/pasted info from my online store to start his own online store. I've written to him on numerous occassions to tell him he is in violation of copyright laws. He tells me I can't copyright common words. (He has a poor grasp of the English language.) I pointed out that he even used my own typos! We had so many back and forths that I was forced to report him to his ISP. He's removed the info he STOLE from me, as well as MY photos that he kept posting in his blog.
(If you ever need to know how to stop people from linking to images on your site, I have a GREAT trick! Give me a shout.)
It bugs me how people, as stated, feel entitled to things that are not their own. It irritates me, as you can tell.

Anonymous said...

this is so crazy making!

but your take on it made me laugh.

brewerburns said...

Thank you for posting this. It never hurts to have a reminder of the essence of copyright law out there.